On any given Sunday, you’ll find Edie Johnson surrounded by the voices of Church Street’s youngest members.
Starting at three years old, kids are invited to join Kinder Choir, and once they have reached first grade, they move on to Primary Choir. Third through fifth graders join the Chorister Choir, and the Youth Choir is composed of 6-12 graders with some additional college singers.
And while singing is certainly on the agenda each meeting, Johnson and the music ministry staff have a broader mission.
“Our goal is not to train them to be a professional musician,” Johnson says, “but it’s to train them to be able to participate and understand the [worship] service.”
Johnson leads the children in exercises and lessons that help them meet that goal. Most weeks, she uses a hymn that will be sung the following Sunday to teach rhythms and music notes — and to also keep the kids moving, which has been key as kids have participated virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For example, Johnson recently taught the refrain of “Lift High the Cross” and asked singers to march to the beat. While they may not have known the words, the kids were learning rhythm through the movements.
“They’ll hear these or see these in our service and hopefully sing along and do the motions,” Johnson says, adding that she hopes songs like “Away in a Manger” will help kids participate in the virtual Christmas Eve service this year.
Johnson also hopes she is building confidence in the children not only in singing, but just being in front of audiences. During a normal year of in-person meetings, she asks children to sing on their own as a way to share their skills.
“When I hear them and see them sing with confidence by themselves, I feel like, ‘okay, this is really the way I want it to be,’” she says.
Missions Chair and mom to 5-year-old Kinder Choir member Katie Heatherly can already see confidence building in her young daughter. Heatherly is a member of the Church Street Adult Parish Choir and says her daughter often remarks that she feels like she is following in her mom’s footsteps when she sings in the Kinder Choir.
“She has learned how to feel confident in her ability to sing praises to God,” Heatherly says. “…Hearing her so confident brings joy to my heart.”
Singing isn’t all you’ll hear from the children’s choirs, though. Johnson often uses games like BINGO and Jeopardy to teach the basics of music theory. Mom to 11-year-old and 8-year-old sisters Maria Dahunsi can see how games have helped them grasp Bible stories, church traditions and music notes.
The Dahunsi girls, left, record for virtual choir presentations during 2020.
“The children’s choir has provided a rich learning experience which has helped my daughters enhance their singing abilities and confidence standing in front of audiences,” Dahunsi says.
“My kids singing in the choir reminds me of some hymns I had forgotten and the beauty in hymns. I benefited a lot from my home choir singing as a child and a young adult,” Dahunsi adds. “These experiences had impact on my Christian journey, and I as a parent can see the positive role Church Street’s Children’s Choir is playing in my children’s appreciation of music as well as their spiritual journey.”
The Dahunsi family has a long line of music lovers, including Maria’s dad who loved hymns so much that he co-authored a book about hymns and the stories behind them. In fact, choir at Church Street is a family affair for many.
Staci Stalcup’s 14-year-old twins are in the Youth Choir, and her 11-year-old and 9-year-old are in the Children’s Choir.
“Having all four children involved in the music ministry at Church Street has allowed them to glorify the Lord through the beauty of music,” Stalcup says. “Such a strong impact in their lives and our lives as a family allows us to continue our growth in our work with the Lord.”
In addition to developing their musical talents, Stalcup says she is thrilled her kids have the opportunity to meet other children and youth who want to praise the Lord through music. Heatherly echoes that sentiment.
“She has made best friends in choir that I am quite confident will last through her childhood and hopefully last through her lifetime,” Heatherly says.
Once a month (prior to COVID-19), these young singers join the Adult Parish Choir during worship, and you’ll see some familiar faces in the Family Christmas Eve service on December 24 at 3 pm on YouTube.