This article first appeared in the parish magazine in February 2014.
I thoroughly enjoy my time at Sunday School Singing Practice each week. It keeps me out of church for the first half hour of the 9.45 service, so I miss the teaching that is offered through the readings and most of the sermon. However, I believe that is a worthwhile sacrifice as I’m sure I benefit from singing with the children as much as they do. And the children do benefit – musically and (I hope) spiritually. Sunday School Singing Practice is not just service or sacrifice. It is an investment. You may have noticed for yourself how much the children have developed in confidence when they sing for you each month; they have also developed in terms of tone production and tuning.
The current age range in Sunday School is, I think, 3 – 15, so it can be quite a challenge to find songs that will interest the older children yet still be accessible to the youngest. I have found that the older children are often generous in their willingness to sing ‘young’ songs; I have also found that the younger children can be quite remarkable in their ability to learn songs aurally when the lyrics are beyond their reading ability. I also make sure that they all understand what they are singing about. I have a clear memory from my own time at infant school of singing “I am The Lord of the dance settee”. How did Jesus manage to get away with dancing on the furniture? So, when learning new songs, the words are always explored, explained and understood.
Singing Practice is a very high tech affair these days. We use an IT system that projects the song words at a blank wall. The words change colour as the music plays, so the children are able to get a feel of the rhythm without the need for musical notation. We can choose to sing along with a recorded children’s choir, or to just sing ourselves with a backing track. Setting up, running and dismantling the laptop, projector and speakers is all done by children. I just stand at the front and wave my arms a bit.
I really enjoy singing “Love The Lord Your God” with the children in Sunday School. It is lively (we often hand-jive whilst singing it), and it seems to engage both the older and younger children alike.
Practises are always more exuberant than performances in church, but that doesn’t stop the learning. Within this jolly little song lies the fundamental principle of our Christian faith. The lyrics tell us all about this in beautiful simplicity:
Matthew 22 verses 34 to 40
One day a Pharisee came to Jesus Christ and he said “tell me what’s the greatest commandment?”
This is what He said:
“Love The Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, with all your strength.”
“Love your neighbour as yourself and do to others as you’d have them do to you.”
Musically, it builds through animated unison singing to a two-part round of the two commandment verses, finishing with all three verses being sung simultaneously. It is enormous fun.
In the Sunday School singers’ repertoire, energetic songs like this are balanced against more pensive songs such as “He’ll Be There” and “Everywhere Around Me”, which remind us of God’s constancy in guiding us and celebrates the glory of His creation respectively. Sunday School Singing Practice always ends with the very contemplative “Today”, which we treat as a prayer either to sing along with quietly, or simply to listen to while the music wraps itself around and within us:
Today is the day we’ve been given
To care for everyone
In all we do,
In all we say,
May this day be filled with kindness and with love.
Amen to that.