A Children’s Choir? Certainly!

By John Sutko

The Choir Quarterly, written by the SS. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church Choir (.pdf)

Father Vladimir Soroka wrote a wonderful article about the involvement and singing of children in the Church in The Orthodox Church a number of years ago. He stated that “the Children’s Choir provides an outstanding opportunity for Christian education of the children through the medium of music.” There is much that can be said about the participation of our children singing in the church and this pertains to the present church worship and prayer as well as for the future.

At SS. Peter and St. Paul Orthodox Church in Burr Ridge, Illinois, we began with ten children in the choir in September 2002. In 2003, the number of children singing grew to eighteen. We hope that we will reach thirty or more as we continue through 2005 and 2006.

The Children’s Choir was organized by contacting the parents of the parish children. We did this by letters, church bulletins, church announcements and even invitational posters. We asked that the children be between third grade and high school. The final decision, however, was to be made by the parents and the choir director.

The rehearsals were scheduled to be held twice monthly on one designated Wednesday evening and on a Saturday evening the day before the children’s participation in the Divine Liturgy. The rehearsals were to be 60 to 80 minutes in length. They would begin with a light vocalization that would cover the range and the intervals or scale patterns that the children would use in the hymns to be rehearsed.

Our first rehearsal was in September 2002, and the hymns the children learned and prepared were: “Bless the Lord, O My Soul,” “The Beatitudes (antiphonally sung with the senior choir),” “Holy God,” “Alleluia,” and “Receive the Body of Christ.” The participation of the Children’s Choir at the Divine Liturgy was an immediate success. The wonderful feeling and the spiritual uplift experienced by the children, the parents, the congregation and, certainly, by the priest and the choir director, added a new dimension to our Sunday Liturgy.

The children sing at one Liturgy each month. They sit in the front rows of the church, and they sing from the front of the church facing the congregation.

An Education in Worship

In addition to learning the music of the Liturgy and selected hymns from Vespers, the children are taught the importance and the prominence of what they are singing. Terms that they hear in church and that are connected with the music such as troparia, litany, Theotokos, Trisagion (which the children read aloud at services), prokeimenon, Presantified Liturgy, Alleluia and many more are explained to the children. At the same time, what they are singing is related to what is happening in the service at that particular moment.

During the first part of our choir season, which is before the Nativity of our Lord, Christmas carols are learned and sung in English and in their original languages. These are then presented at the end of the Liturgy during the recessional and also at the children’s “Yolka” or Christmas party. During the Paschal season the children will sing the Paschal antiphons and the Paschal Troparion in English, Church Slavonic, and Greek.

With the ages and ranges of the voices in the choir, the children sing in two and three parts during the services. All children learn the melodies of the hymns and litanies first and then they are placed in their proper voice parts. All of the hymns and materials as based upon and taken from our choir repertoire and are rewritten or adapted and even transposed for the children’s voices and ranges.

In 2004 the children have learned “O Lord, Save Thy People,” “O Heavenly King” and several psalms. At the Divine Liturgy, a typical selection of hymns will include: “Bless the Lord, O My Soul,” the Beatitudes (antiphonally with the adults), “Holy God” (sung in English and Slavonic), “Alleluia,” the Cherubic Hymn (antiphonally), the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, the litany after the Lord’s Prayer, “One is Holy,” “Praise the Lord,” “Receive the Body of Christ” (antiphonally) and “God Grant You Many Years” (both in English and Church Slavonic).

Choir Activities Also a Must

In addition to the children singing and rehearsing for the services, choir activities are also planned during the choir season. During Choir Month in November the children are guests of the senior choir at the Annual Choir Month Banquet. After the Nativity of Our Lord, a Children’s Choir Christmas Pizza “Bash” is prepared for them along with singing of the traditional carols and the popular carols of the season. When the choir season ends in June, a choir picnic is held during the summer months to climax the year.

Close contact and communication with the parents and the children has been the keynote of the success of this choir and such contact remains constant throughout the year. The announcement of choir schedules, and the schedules of rehearsals, services, and choir activities to members and to prospective members continues to be an important aspect of keeping the choir active, informed, and progressive. Nothing and no one is taken for granted. Everyone must encourage and take an interest in keeping our children an important part of our Church as singers. I also submit that the Children’s Choir is a plan and an insurance for the future of our Church.

As Father Vladimir Soroka also pointed out in his article, “We should not deny the young children of our Church the opportunity of singing in this ‘special choir.’ It is true that it takes a little extra effort on everyone’s part, but the end result is most rewarding” and, I will add, most gratifying.

John Sutko is director of the SS. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church choir in Burr Ridge, Illinois, and also the director of the Orthodox Concert Choir of Greater Chicago.