Last year was the first annual Lessons and Carols service at Church of the Resurrection, and even though I was in the choir, I think that one of my favorite moments was at the dress rehearsal a few days prior to the event, when the children's choir joined us for the first time. After months of preparation, we in the "big choir" got to hear for the first time the voices of the children of the church as they partnered with us to prepare some of the traditional carols and anthems we would be singing in the service. Their presence brought a sense of vitality and energy to the music that can only be present when children are. But also—and maybe you'll agree—there's just something about hearing children's voices singing about the things of God that reminds me of the simplicity of faith.
Not long ago I had a chance to sit in as Jennifer Spacek led a rehearsal for the children's choir as they prepared for this year's Lessons and Carols service. With thirty-two kids ranging in age from seven to fourteen years, she has her hands full. But even though she admits that the age range is challenging, she also recognizes them as "a strong group of singers," and finds it "very enjoyable" to lead them.
To say that the children in the choir have a big task ahead of them is no exaggeration. Not only must they memorize the words to several songs, they are also learning about choral performance—including paying attention to the director, Mrs. Spacek, learning not to fidget, talk, or giggle, or be distracted by the audience by looking for their parents, or wondering what the orchestra and the adult choir are doing.
As difficult as all those "thou shalt nots" are, one of the children's most difficult requirements is essentially learning how to read and speak words in order for them to be understood by an audience in a choral context. In part, this involves taking the articulated endings of words and "mashing" them up against the beginnings of other words to create a smoother sound. Take this line from the "Sussex Carol," for instance: "On - Chri - stma - snigh – tal - Christia - nsing, to – hea - rthe - new - sthe - angel – sbring"; or this line from "The Truth from Above": "An – da – tha –tseaso – no – vthe – year / ou – rble – stredee – mer – di – dappear." This just seems like a foreign language, doesn't it? And it's not always as easy as it looks, even for the adult choir. But whereas the adults have had a few months to work on getting it right, the kids get four rehearsals. I think they deserve extra figgy pudding, don't you?
The children are taking their role in the Lessons and Carols service very seriously, and it shows because they sound very good. When I spoke briefly with Charlotte Fawcett (7 years old) and Donny Dumper (11 years old) about being in the choir, a few other things became clear, as well. I could see that they weren't thinking as much about being nervous, or standing still, or falling off of the risers (which, I can attest, is a valid concern) as you might expect. They genuinely enjoy being in the choir because they get to sing songs they think are fun and participate in an event that is important to the church. They both even have favorite songs—Charlotte's is "Once in Royal David's City," the first song we'll all sing together in the service, and Donny likes the "Sussex Carol" for its energy and because the music is interesting. Before we finished talking, I wanted to know if there was anything they wanted to be sure I mention for them, and they both talked about Mrs. Spacek. Donny especially wanted to thank Mrs. Spacek for working so hard to teach them, even when she was sick.
I asked Jennifer what challenges the children faced and she said: "The children are really being 'called forward' by singing for Lessons and Carols. Much is being required of them. We are not only preparing the music, but we are talking about preparing our hearts, using the metaphor of 'packing a prayer suitcase.' Just like people consider their needs and desires when they go on a trip and pack accordingly, we are discussing what our hopes, desires and needs are for those who will attend the service, and we are praying for all these things. The children understand that the 'lessons' and 'carols' tell the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We have been discussing how important it is to help people focus on the message of the gospel! Often, this can be as simple as holding still while having to stand up for so long!"
Even if they might be nervous or fidget just a little, they know that Jesus will be with them to help them as they serve his church. Our young co-laborers have worked hard and have prayed for us to be blessed. As they continue to prepare, let's pack our prayer suitcases and join with them in prayer—for them, for visitors to the church, for our own sense of the simplicity of faith in Christ—and come to the Lessons and Carols service this Sunday, December 12, to see and hear what it's all about.
Story by Christa Countryman
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