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The State of the Church Choir: Youth Choirs (Part 2)

by Dr. Barry C. Johnson

This will be an ongoing set of observations in a series that will examine the church choir. We will present several installments, in which I will examine categories or specific choirs, such as the youth choir, mass or adult choir, and male chorus. I will also explore the types of devotional services and the components of the choir’s contribution to the worship service

This is the second of a three-part article that will examine the youth choir of the church. In Part 1, the following topics were addressed: the three traditional titles of church choirs involving youth; dwindling attendance in church youth choirs and the lack of musical interest; the misconception that males do not belong in the youth choir; parental disinterest and its effect on church youth activities; and the general apathy of today’s youth toward public school music education.

A possible solution to decreased attendance and disinterest in youth choir, at least from the director’s role, is to select songs that are age-group related. Older youth are able to sing harmony in parts, as is done in adult choirs and Young Adult choirs, which is excellent training in the development of young voices. By this time, some of the males are already developing baritone-range voices and can struggle with tenor ranges, which is the staple of the S-A-T (soprano-alto-tenor) gospel choir. In working with these young men, patience and creativity is imperative, and one solution might be to settle for their doubling the soprano parts in a lower octave until their range develops. Female sopranos and altos will not have these issues; however, all of the youth choirs in this category will experience pitch problems. Pitch issues are not automatically solved, as found in the many adult choirs, however, constant training in these youth groups have a greater chance at reaching a higher degree of success.

Traditionally, youth who did not go away to college after high school would sing in the Young Adult choir group until they are “supposedly” ready to move up to the adult choir. Today, many youths who are 21 still do not want to sing with the adults. In many churches, the way to retain these youth is to extend the life of the Young Adult Choir, possibly by assigning it another name. Choirs for small children (such as Sunbeams) need a repertoire of “cute” worship selections that are exciting and will provide these young members with a sense of accomplishment. We should not agonize over teaching them “adultesque” songs they cannot deliver or understand.

There is something not quite right in the message of a 7-year-old singing about “climbing the rough side of the mountain.” Singing age-appropriate songs in unison will bring excitement into their delivery and provide these children pitch training that will assist in their development as they move to the older choirs.

The Intermediate Choir may be used as a musical transition and a bridge to the older Youth Choir. Experimentation in the learning of harmony and parts, while continuing to sing in unison, will offer a great experience for both the directors and the choir members. Remember that this is the group during which young people’s hormonal development will affect their voices the most, and their ranges could be “all over the place.” Nevertheless, this group can be the most exciting of the three because of their energy and well-placed passion for singing.

Our youth will have a commitment to the church that parallels the commitment of their parents. It is not the fault of our youth for missing rehearsals (or church) if the parental commitment is lacking. Children do not drive and cannot be picked up by the church van if their parents do not authorize permission. Therefore, the children, and ostensibly, the church, are dependent on the commitment by the parents if these youth programs are to continue to exist. Unfortunately, there are no other solutions to this dilemma. Lastly, and most importantly, the spiritual development of our youth must be based in a parental commitment to the Lord. Children may learn of Jesus in Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and the church, but the reinforcement of their knowledge and relationship with Jesus must come primarily from the home, where the parents are in charge.

Next month, we will examine the youth choir and the continued need for its presence in the church.

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