Jesus told Peter that He would make him into a "fisher of men" - but nobody told me when I was in music school that I would become a "fisher of choristers"! Being in a larger congregation, I don't have to worry much about getting adult choir members now that I have developed a program, but each year it gets a little harder to bring in the children.
There are many reasons for this. First, I'm getting older. I'm less hip than I used to be. Sure, a parent told me this year that her daughter was rejoining choir so that she could sing "for me" this year - so I guess I still have enough groove on for the 5th graders (!) - but I must admit that I've lost some of the appeal that younger directors have for children. But at the same time, I'm older and wiser, and am more savvy. So I don't think age is a detriment, just something for which I need to adjust and compensate.
And then there are the gazillion things that compete for children's attention these days. That is something one can readily point to, and a lament I've heard from many. But there were about as many soccer-crazed families in the 90's as there are today, and, while I would agree that it is more difficult to START a program in today's environment because of all the competing activities out there, I really don't think the number of options out there for kids today is a reason why fewer are choosing choir. Indeed, parents program more extra-curricular activities for their children today than they used to, and so the odds that one of the things they may choose to do would be choir have actually increased.
So what is it, then? I think the biggest reason it is harder to "fish for choristers" today is the huge amount of professionally recorded music that surrounds people in our culture today. It makes it harder for children to be convinced that they can make good music - especially if there is little music-making in the home, as is sadly the norm today. And the children today are the offspring of those who grew up after the big youth music explosion of the 60's. Those who came of age in the 60's and early 70's had parents who were from a previous era and so were more likely to be encouraged in music making. They were also encouraged by their peers as well. But now we are two generations into being surrounded by sound, and something has happened along the way. Fewer parents value music education. Kids are less interested in listening to each other. It is just so much easier to push a button. And music is seen more as something to be consumed rather than something to be enjoyed.
Couple the above with modern-day parents' inclination to let children themselves decide what they should be doing with their "extracurricular" time, and you really have a problem: most parents don't look at church choir as part of the education of their children, and children have no concept of what they can achieve and what joys they can experience through church choir. So they don't join.
Fortunately, we are blessed with a strong singing congregation at Bethany, and many of our members highly value the art of music. So I still have some parents who put their kids in the children's choir because they are continuing in the tradition of "the singing church", the name by which the Lutheran church used to be known. And I try to arrange trips for the older kids, as that is a motivator for them, and I go out of my way to talk to the kids as well. But even here most of the parents let their children decide whether or not they will sing in the church choir, and so I was pleased to find a new resource to help me with my "chorister fishing" this year: Children Making Music, a DVD Video for Children, Parents, and Congregational Leaders recently released by the LCMS Commission on Worship.
I'll review this resource over the next week, but for now let me just close by saying that I showed the segment for children from this DVD to our 4th & 5th grade day school students this past week, and will show it to the 3rd grade next week. I think it made a good impression on them, and so I'm hoping they had good things to say about making church music this weekend when their parents look into their school bags and get my latest invitation to join choir.
Maybe this time when Millennial Parent asks "Jane, would you like to join Cantor's choir this year?" we'll get few more children saying "Yes!"