I have had the pleasure of engaging children in music making many times over my years as a church musician (and I still do as a music teacher). When there is time and ability to teach them, they can learn just about anything and sing it with a good deal of success. Kids do not identify music as "difficult" unless you or their parents tell them it is. Despite the many success stories about the high level singing of children, parents still have a hankering to hear their kids sing their favorite praise and worship choruses or songs that are known as "typical" kids songs. I won't start to name titles, but there's a lot of nauseating music out there written "just for children."
A pastor friend lamented the fact that, after successful efforts to engage his youth in learning the hymn, "All Mankind Fell in Adam's Fall," a parent came out with this line: "They're only children. Can't they just sing 'Jesus Loves Me?'" I have observed that often the thing that comes between children getting good exposure to the catechetical hymnody of our Lutheran heritage are their parents and Sunday school teachers. It does not matter that the kids were having no trouble with "All Mankind Fell...". It does not matter that the pastor has proven the kids to have been be successful singing substantive music on several occasions previously. The parents cannot seem to wrap their mind around the salutary effects of this.
Folks, this is just wrong. Kids have NO TROUBLE learning music that adults may find daunting. The scholarly evidence is abundant and well documented, as is the anecdotal evidence. The resultant success of teaching young children substantive hymns is everywhere if one bothers to look. I can tell you stories as can many pastors and church musicians. Many have written eloquently on the subject. You find this phenomenon occurs across denominational barriers. You find it as a foregone conclusion in secular music education as well. Yet, despite the overwhelming testimony and even when successes occur in the parish, parents and teachers often resist this activity. There are many reasons for this and they are not pretty. One may be that the Sunday school teacher or the parent is not familiar with the music the pastor wants the kids to learn, so they are intimidated to teach it. Another may be that they do not like the song, so their personal preference stands in the way of the kids’ catechesis. Or, they are far more interested in seeing little Barbie or Billy up there in front of the congregation, so entertainment becomes the objective. Or they just want to "celebrate," or "recognize" the children in the service. There is much more to say, but, maybe another time.
Parents and Sunday school teachers need to quit imposing their pet tastes on the children entrusted to them. Let pastors and church musicians catechize these young people using, among other things, the music and texts of our rich Lutheran hymn heritage as it was always intended. Our young people these days are going to have many distractions that would threaten to get in the way of their catechesis. Parents, teachers, don't you be one of them!
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