Fiona Vidal-White is a musician, Christian educator, and liturgist currently serving at Church of Our Savior in Arlington, MA. She is the author of the hymnal My Heart Sings Out and its companion leader’s guide, designed as a musical resource for all-age worship. Her passions include the welcome and formation of all God’s people, especially children and teens, through teaching and learning, hands-on in-reach, and outreach and liturgy and music.
Read Part I of Fiona's reflection here.
What ideas should we consider when singing with children and intergenerational groups? A good starting point might be “how can I model and facilitate best practices in (church) music for children as they grow up?"
Also take into consideration the developmental skills of children, and the different interests and priorities they have in each stage of life, and the fact that their adults will probably be with them, and like to know that what we are singing has meaning and value as well as being fun. Then there’s the fit of the song with what’s happening in worship. Are we reading, praying, sharing a meal? What is the theme of the service? Baptism, a Saint’s Day, the different seasons of Advent, Lent, or Easter? Matching our music choices to enhance the teaching without being “teachy” is, I believe, a major role of simple congregational music.
In terms of teaching music to children, there is little I do differently. I sometimes break things into shorter chunks, always give a beginning pitch, and invite them to repeat words aloud as they use that process in school, but otherwise the beauty of our teaching method is that it works for all learners. As they learn the piece I encourage them to become the leaders and teachers for the wider group.
These days, my usual experience of paperless music is in Episcopal worship, for monthly Toddler Service (babies to 5 year olds and their caregivers) Big Church (a service specially designed for an all-age gathering) and “regular” services where children enter before communion. We want children to sing the same music as adults, so we begin by planning all our service music as paperless music. Here are a few of our favorites.
We regularly use the Peruvian Gloria (a “poster child” for call and response songs), which, over a year or so, has developed wonderful chords in its amens. Children are very familiar with the call and response format, and its simplicity allows for almost any contribution.We also use Santo Santo Santo, which we sing first in English and then in Spanish. Our congregation is predominantly Anglo, but our wider community and schools are not, and we want to model that in our church. At communion we sing From Hand to Hand, a song for younger children, from the hymnal Big Blue Planet. Here the adults are being drawn into the child’s world. The song has gestures which our minister leads, providing an opportunity for kinetic learning and playfulness.
Finally we have hymns that are strophic (written in verses) but include a response or refrain that children can memorize. Some of our favorites are Sing, Oh People by Marty Haugen, the creation hymn We are a Part of all Creation by Michael Hass, Bernadette Peters’ Bread of Life, and finally Fred Kaan’s Let us Talents and Tongues Employ, with the wonderful refrain,
"Jesus lives again,
Earth can breathe again,
Pass the word around,
These songs can be found in various places, but here are the numbers from my hymnal My Heart Sings Out.
Peruvian Gloria, 11
Santo Santo Santo, 26
From Hand to Hand, 49
We are a Part of all Creation, 131
Sing oh People, 101
Let us Talents and Tongues Employ, 50