Wednesday, March 5, 2008


Or perhaps, epiphanic …

The Goshen College Women’s World Music Choir performed at the Central Division ACDA convention on Thursday, Feb. 21. They were the first choir I heard at the convention, having arrived too late to hear the first choir in that first set on the first day. I could have gone home satisfied, fulfilled, and energized for a new initiative at College Church. (For more reasons than I have time to comment on, I’m glad I did not go home then. But I could have!)

As I watched and listened to these women, I had an epiphany regarding youth music in the church. It is a perennial and thorny question: how to engage high school youth meaningfully in a church music program? College Church long had a vibrant, large, viable youth choir, which sang regularly in morning services and learned repertoire which I still use with the adult Chancel Choir here. Generations of students participated in the choir, and many went on to significant musical study and careers, and not a few continue in all sorts of ministry right here. But that fell to the wayside before I came along, and in spite of heroic attempts at resuscitation we are now about 20 years past the youth choir years. High school musicals (including a touring group), special services and events, what might be called “guerilla youth choir” (meet 4 times to prepare one thing, sing then disband) – the attempt to keep students somehow involved in a traditional choir program has taken a number of creative and successful steps.

But can we say we have youth music if there is not something ongoing? Even if it is seasonal, if it is not ongoing, and on the books, we’re just limping along, making it up, hoping for the best, and ultimately just fooling ourselves.

All of this was so not in my mind as I drove to Grand Rapids early Thursday morning, eager to get to the convention, eye on the clock (and the time zone change), thinking about my organizational duties later in the day. Not in my mind as I sat down, breathless, to hear the Goshen College Women’s World Music Choir. (To be honest, I had made it my goal to arrive in time to hear the Greenville College Choir, third on the set.) What I heard – and saw – completely revived me. It was an epiphany which prompted a number of conversations during the convention, which sailed home with me on Saturday. And I could hardly wait to talk to our high school pastor about it.

World Music Choir is the way to re-establish a youth choir program at this church! Our high school students go overseas every other summer, working with missionaries in Latin America, Africa, Eastern and Southern Europe, and the Caribbean. They always come back impressed with the gathered worship in the cultures they serve. They always wonder “why cant’ we sing/dance/clap/worship like that?” As time passes, they return to their normal routines, lowered expectations, and parochial youth music culture.

I am delighted that our high school pastor seems as enthusiastic as me to establish a World Music Choir. We will scheme and plan and in the fall launch this endeavor, building on this summer’s World Impact trips to Bulgaria, Wales, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica and Spain. I will ask the students to bring back examples of the music they hear and sing, and this will shape our first year’s repertoire. Our second year will precede the next World Impact summer – and that year we will prepare music from the countries to which the students will travel and serve.

A World Music Choir provides opportunity for youth to contribute uniquely to the music ministry of a church, engaging more of the senses than a traditional choral experience, and an antidote to CCM or popular-music-influenced worship music. Rooted in folk cultures and expressions from the church around the world, the Choir will also contribute to and build the congregation’s global awareness and connection to Christian worshipers in diverse cultures.


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