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The two places where we make music with our children are in worship—both in their own and with adults—and in the RE classroom. To a child, the adult church service can seem stern and rigid, but it offers a wonderful discipline of order, calm, and ritual. The minister announces the hymn and the hymn number. The organist or pianist plays the hymn through once. At a designated point, the congregation stands and enacts the old tradition of combining words and melody, thoughts, and emotions in the singing of hymns.
Children need to be taught to embrace the past as well as the future. Beloved hymns like Folliott Sandford Pierpoint's "For the Beauty of the Earth" (Singing the Living Tradition, # 21) and Carolyn McDade's "Spirit of Life" (Singing the Living Tradition, #123) need to be part of children's religious life. I will show you how to teach and lead these hymns, but in the classroom you can supplement the singing of them with discussion about what the words mean. Pose simple questions like "What does Pierpoint mean when he says, 'For the love which from our birth, over and around us lies'?" You might have to translate a line or lyric into wording they can better understand.
You can let the imaginations of younger children run wild by starting a story that explains what the hymn means: "A little boy loved to play outside where a friendly bird followed him around and sang happy songs. It was a love bird, and it sang 'All you need is love,' and 'I love you, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah' and ... ." Have the children finish the story. They can. Then sing the first verse of "For the Beauty of the Earth" again to bring it all home.
The UUA publishes a supplement to Singing the Living Tradition called Between the Lines: Sources for Singing the Living Tradition, edited by Jacqui James. When you learn, for example, that John Newton—who wrote "Amazing Grace" (Singing the Living Tradition, # 205)—was a former slave-ship captain who repented and became an active advocate for the abolishment of slavery, it changes the meaning of his phrase, "that saved a wretch like me."
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Last updated on Saturday, December 10, 2011.
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