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 first of a three-part article that will examine the youth choirs of the church. Youth choirs have generally been defined or categorized by age groups. Traditionally, because of the fluid nature of youth groups, young people matriculated through several of these groups before reaching an agreed classification of adulthood. Churches assigned specific titles to these groups, which I will use in this writing (though all churches do not use this format). Traditional youth choirs were called Sunbeams, Cherubs, or “Buds of Promise” for children under the age of 10. The Intermediate Youth Choir served youth between the ages of 10 and 15; and the Youth Choir, or specifically, the Young Adult Choir, consisted of those at the apex of the age groups, usually between the ages of 16 and 21
Because of dwindling attendance and a lack of musical interest, many youths today do not participate. The youth choirs that seem to thrive are the Sunbeams or Cherubs because the majority of the children in the church belong to this age group, due to the involvement of the few younger parents or grandparents. What has also happened in many cases is that there is one all-inclusive youth choir that consists of children of all ages because there are not enough youth to adequately fill these separate categories. In addressing the question as to what has changed, it is because of the lack of parental attendance, dedication, and involvement in the church.
Attitude shapes many facets of youth choir involvement. There are examples of parents who want their children in youth choirs and demand that they participate. However, one prevalent issue is the lack of male interest, even when the parents force their participation. Outside of the general, “I don’t want to do this,” is a perception that if males participate in youth choir activities, it suggests they are feminine. This attitude is also reflected in the public schools where some potentially fine male voices will never be heard because someone has convinced them that singing is only for girls. When choir directors are faced with this attitude, these young men will halfheartedly sing in rehearsals or become distractions in order to minimize their participation. The visibility of adult males singing in the church congregation is probably the greatest solvent, along with exposure to the arts, where male singers display not only their talents but also their confidence and masculinity.
When the church does not have a measure of attendance from previous generations, there results a smaller number of youths. This is a corollary example. Because churches have to select from a smaller pool of attendees, youth choirs are smaller, with not enough children to field the three traditional youth choirs mentioned above. Nevertheless, the greatest challenge is not the lack in member numbers but the apathy of many parents toward being involved in the church. When parents refuse to have their children participate in church youth activities (whether it is choir groups, usher groups, etc.), it is a reflection of the parents’ connection to the Lord. Additionally, when youth are allowed to tell their parents they don’t want to take part in the activities of the church, it is an indictment on their style of parenting. When a church offers youth mentors in the form of workers and choir directors that church is invested in the youth, and those workers are dedicated to the future promise of the children. Sadly, when apathetic parents fail to acknowledge the wealth of these resources, it is the youth that suffer. When the church van comes to a house and a parent yells out the door, “They don’t want to come today,” it shows the parents are not invested, as it is the parents who should bring the children to church! Until parental involvement and dedication to the church changes, this issue will only worsen.
Youth who do not participate in church musical activities reflect a general apathy that is also found in the school systems. Participation in school music or music education programs, such as band, choir, orchestra, and theater, is down dramatically from a mere decade ago. Much of the frustration ensemble directors experience points to the fact that many students do not want to commit to anything that requires extra work. These youth might be labeled “lazy” (which may seem excessive); however, many students today seem more interested in video games than music. Since many of our church youth abstain from school music education, they cannot bring the talents and skills learned in school into the church