Monday, September 21, 2009

A Music Workshop You Could Do in Your Own Congregation or Synod Gathering

On Saturday, my husband and I were part of a Synod District Youth Event (our district is one county, Broward, and the one ELCA church in the Bahamas--that church didn't come). The organizer decided to focus on music. We had primarily elementary and middle school youth in attendance, although there was a toddler here and there, as well as about five high school students.

We started the day by having each youth make an instrument. They had a variety of containers to choose from and dry rice and beans to put inside. Voila! A shaker. We only had one or two accidents where the rice and beans got out of the shaker, but those were easy to clean up.

The youth spent the morning travelling in small groups from room to room. We had 4 rooms set up, each with a different instrument: handbells, drums, guitar, and xylophone. I helped my husband, who was leading the drum session. We've been collecting a variety of drums and shakers, mainly African, for years, and on Saturday, I thought, ah, perhaps this is why--how wonderful that each child can have a drum or shaker.

At each station, the youth learned at least one song. They might not have had time to learn the instrument (especially with the guitar), but they learned the song that the adult was playing on the instrument. With the drums, we did "I Want Jesus to Walk with Me"--a great song to go with drums. The youth also learned "Allelu, Allelu, Allelu, Alleluia, Praise Ye the Lord," "Our God is an Awesome God," and "We Are Marching in the Light of God"--and since some of them had command of non-English languages, they were able to sing--I'm sure I heard both Spanish and French Creole.

After a pizza lunch, the youth did a scavenger hunt questionnaire, where they had had to find the person in the room who was an acolyte, the person who had 4 siblings, and so on.

Then we moved to the sanctuary, where the youth prayed and sang songs they had learned. In the larger group, each child couldn't have his or her own drum, but I was impressed with how the children shared the drums--two or three per djembe.

For a final treat, a steel pan drum band came to play some songs. This part might be the hardest part to reproduce, but any group would do. You haven't really heard "Amazing Grace" until you've heard it on the steel pan drum. We were lucky in that the church organist of the host church played in a group, and they were happy to play for us. The youth were most appreciative.

It was great to see the youth of different churches come together. It was great to work with different adults to give them a good experience. I suspect that in this time of shrinking school budgets, where arts programs are the first to get slashed, it will become more and more important to have exposure to the arts in the churches.

I also liked our model because it got the adults interacting with the youth, and our day didn't rely on imported curriculum--thus it would be easy to reproduce in other churches and in other denominations which could use whichever songs from their traditions worked best. It did rely on adults having instruments to share, but many churches have that resource. It was hands-on, and youth went home with an idea of how to make instruments, and how to use their voices, the instruments that are with them all the time.

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