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Aug 16, 2013 | Michael J. Diorio, PhD

Small Voices of Children’s Choirs Are Notes of Formation


[Diolog Magazine] Many church musicians in charge of adult and youth choirs often focus on the weekly process of “rehearsing and rendering.” However, we who serve as choral directors must also be cognizant of the duty to convey to our choristers the expectations of them as living members of the Church and as part of the larger fellowship within the world.


Throughout the weekly process of rehearsing, note scribbling, and intervals of frustration followed by moments of joy, there exists an omnipresence. This force, a quiet and sometimes subconscious truth, is the bedrock upon which any church music program should be built: Christian formation. In my experience, Christian formation is not regularly discussed within rehearsals, and neither is it defined as the impetus for youth involvement in choir programs.


In one of my rehearsals, I found myself confronted by a very difficult question in regards to the tragic school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. One of the boy choristers asked, “Will God send that shooter to hell, or will He forgive him?” I could offer no concrete answer but instead replied, “That is, of course, up to God...but you should all know that it is not only for the innocent that prayer should be intended, but for the guilty and troubled as well. Perhaps that man needed prayers, needed help, or needed faith. It is up to us to pray for the good that we know, as well as the horrible sadness that we can not understand.” 


The children shook their heads back and forth as if processing, and then agreed. Later that evening just such a prayer was requested in the choir room. And for the first time we shared together a deep and profound moment in one of the more meaningful prayers I have experienced as a director. That was a moment of formation, not only for the children, but for us all. Such teachable moments of conscience are that still, small voice of formation that transcends different faiths and backgrounds.


When a choral program is run well, children’s entire perception of what choir means to them will be based on the memories when they learned of social and personal responsibility—where unsolicited care and concern for another brought about important group discussions that helped form their societal priorities and a sense of ministry.


Helen Kemp, the celebrated children’s choir trainer, has noted, “If through this adventure of singing, a boy or girl has felt nurtured or uplifted, then this practice has been worth it. And those children in our choirs will be our next generation of leaders in church.”


Diorio is organist and director of music at Church of the Redeemer in Bryn Mawr, PA. 


Photo: Dan Moriarty