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Letting Sundays Ring Out With Children's Voices
There's nothing like a troupe of bright-eyed eager children, all singing the same note—more or less—to add just the right spark of enthusiasm and inspiration to a Sunday service. What's not to like about a children's choir? Yet, for many of us it's all we can do to muster an adult choir. A children's choir seems beyond our reach.
But it doesn't have to be. Bob Simiele started one five years ago at Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church West in Brookfield, WI (370 members). He has fifty children and youth from age five through high school in one choir.
His secret? "I make sure it's a learning experience for them. And we work hard, but I make it fun also. Half the battle is finding a choir director who not only knows music but is good with children," he says. Simiele is a retired high school music director who is director of music at the church as well as director of the adult choir.
He gets kids out to Tuesday night rehearsals by challenging them and taking them seriously. "Our attendance is high even though we compete with soccer and scouts," he says. "Sunday morning practices can work, but picking another time can make choir more important and significant to them." Select music that's fun, educational, and conveys a UU message. Organize occasional choir social events.
"Don't make the mistake of expecting too little from children, he says, or what you'll have will be just a bunch of cute kids singing. I work them pretty hard. It's not just a fun thing." That hard work was recognized last year. Six of Simiele's young singers were selected to be part of the Children's Honor Choir at General Assembly.
First Church in Belmont, MA, is to gather a group of children to sing for a holiday or special event, then use that enthusiasm to build an ongoing group. Other considerations:
- Expect that a choir director will spend six to eight hours per week on a children's choir.
- A salary of $1,200 is a reasonable amount for a small congregation to pay a children's choir director. For larger churches expect to pay $4,500 and up.
- A children's choir that practices weekly might be expected to sing every four to six weeks.
Wendy Bartel is director of a children's choir (ages 4 to 8) and a youth choir (9 to 14) at First UU Church in San Diego. In the first year, funded by parents' donations, the choir grew from six to eighteen children. The following year the choir had its own budget line item. "The main thing is to have a couple of people interested in making the program happen, and rehearse at least three times a month," she says. "Repetition is important with young children."
First steps she recommends: talk to the religious educator, music committee, and director of music to determine if there is support for a choir. Then call a meeting of parents to determine their support.
For information on children's choirs, or to order a free Unitarian Universalist Musician's Network (UUMN) booklet on children's choirs, contact Alfa Radford at the First Church in Belmont, 404 Concord Ave., Belmont, MA 02478; (617) 484-1054.