We’ve got a great volunteer who has directed the Children’s Choir for the last couple of years. She also helped with VBS this year with the songs. Both of these are quite below her skill level as a Eastman Grad, but we are very glad she takes the time.
We were thinking a bit about the contrast and crossover between what we sing during VBS, what we sing for worship, and what others do. VBS tends to reflect Christian Contemporary usually with a couple of older hymns and spirituals updated. To date, especially with younger kids, we’ve kept the choir singing simplified hymns in unison. As we started to look at the upcoming choir year we mused a little on what we were trying to do with those young voices and characters.
First, what we as adults give our kids to sing and read is telling them what is appropriate. We are giving them the social scripts. They will receive others and get some that sneak under our noses, but whatever we give them tells them “this is what we expect”. Second and following on that, giving them most modern songs laced with guitar riffs to be sung in worship I think flattens their world. It obviously flattens it in regard to time joining in with the general world treating anything older than 1990 as inaccessible or “boring”. But it does something worse I think. The Sacred gets flattened into the mundane. To replace that feeling of “holy” we amp up the emotionalism through 60 hertz sounds, syncopated rhythms and guitars. But that isn’t the entire story.
There is always the question of why are Negro Spirituals not in that CCM category, or why do they feel proper where others don’t? Why is it ok to sing Go Tell It on the Mountain or Were You There compared to much white CCM? My general thought there is that context matters. Those songs came from a people who six days a week were slaves. On Sunday they were free. Why Did David dance naked (2 Sam 6:14) and it was appropriate? Because he was bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. Something that doesn’t happen every day. Like those negro spirituals. Most CCM is just rich white people bringing what they see, hear and live everyday into a holy place with them. Instead of the songs of deliverance, it becomes the songs of acceptance.
So, part of what I think we’d want to try and teach, the social script that we’d like to give our kids, is an extra dimension in life, the sacred. The sacred doesn’t have to be stiff and formal, but we should be aware of the fact that this is Holy Ground. And being aware of the sacred, they can gain an appreciation for sacred music as an art and expression of its own and not just level the world to what is on 93.3 FM. Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the grace of Christ. Are we singing “exciting” songs because the world wants us excited so that we are good consumers, or are we singing exciting songs because we are free in the presence of Almighty God? The context makes the choice. Are we forcing the excitement through music tricks and performance, or is it a natural wellspring?
We might have a few VBS style songs this year, maybe a tradition arrangement paired with a VBS arrangement, but the point is to teach the difference and why each has its place. And to know and understand what that place is.