Advice on a Teen Choir, please!
  • Friends,

    I recently learned that the new part-time youth minister at our nearby Cathedral is looking for a teen choir director to sing for one mass a month. I jumped at the opportunity and sent her an email explaining my musical experience and eagerness to help bring sacred music to the Liturgy (I didn't mention "chant" or "Latin" in this first contact, not knowing her stance and wanting to get into dialogue).

    She responded very cordially and wants to meet, however, she says she "is looking for someone who realizes the importance of a teen choir, and who is open to contemporary music." She mentions hoping to model the Mass after "LifeTeen".

    Needless to say, this is not quite my vision and I would like to present a much richer option to her, however, my proposal would probably carry a lot more weight if I had some kind of model or example to point to. I know there are teen/youth choirs out there that sing beautiful Sacred Music and that this is even a DRAW for many teens. She is not likely to believe this, though, unless I can offer some evidence. If any of you wonderful folks can point me to successful sacred music youth/teen choirs that you know of or are connected with, that would be terrific. Any releveant advise, especially on how to present the next step of the dialogue, would also be great. I can only think what a blessing it would be to our diocese and Cathedral if my hopes could be realized.

    Thank you in advance and please keep this endeavor in your prayers!

  • Why don't you BEGIN by "going with the program" and letting the kids use some contemporary music that is at least doctrinally and theologically sound ... then build from there by introducing ONE short chant or simple polyphonic piece. Gradually, introduce them to more and broaden their horizens.

    I do mean GRADUALLY - this can't be a 6 month plan. Try a 3-5 year plan.

    My $.02
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    Does anyone know whether St. John Cantius in Chicago has a choir for youth? I remember there were many youths at the Colloquium, and they sang very beautifully.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 4,995
    I don't want to discourage you, but just as a caveat, Life Teen and chant are at opposite ends of the spectrum. These are two visions that are very hard to bring together.

    That said, have you seen this thread?
  • I would strongly caution against working with a program based around LifeTeen and contemporary music. It sounds like the music director, and by implication the clergy, either don't know much about or have consciously rejected the possibility of young people's enthusiastica involvement in the Church's own music. While many will say that positive change can frequently be effected by establishing one's personal and professional credibility under current conditions and then using that credibility to move toward better things, this strategy is extremely limited in its effectiveness to achieve excellence for children *here and now*. It also occupies ethically dubious ground, in that singing less-than-orthodox words (as will always happen in commercial religious music) and, at times, using profane musical styles are moral ills.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,588
    Is there a music director in the parish? Claire didn't mention whether the MD is involved. If the MD is more understanding of the Church's teaching on sacred music, maybe you could work together to do something good.
  • There is a Music Director for the Cathedral and I am aquainted with him, but I get the sense that he may not be involved with this project. Melissa, with whom I am in dialogue, is a recent college graduate hired as part-time youth minister to "revive" a youth ministry program for the parish. I do not know how musical she is, and it is possible her goal of a "LifeTeen" mass may be because it is the only "draw" she knows of. She may not be totally closed to, but simply unaware, that there is a better option.

    I would like to be able to present a kind of proposal for her to see how more sacred music would be not only more appropriate, but a potentially better draw. The repertoire may include a few reverent contemporary pieces, but would be more centered around sacred hymns and simple chant. Providing an example of a parish that has good fruits from this would be a plus, I'm sure!

    Hope this sheds a bit more light on the scenario. I actually signed on with a forum account here (been a reader since the Colloquium but hadn't written anything) because I want to prayerfully and thoughtfully make my next response and thought some input may be helpful. I'm looking for tips and examples to illustrate the benefits of chant and traditional music for for a youth outreach. Probably all she knows is OCP, and I want to present a clear and attractive picture of my vision!
  • (deleted)
  • Give it your best shot, Claire. I prefer to assume ignorance to hostility. Even if she doesn't want to go with any of your suggestions, you will have performed some educational function.

    As a "bridge style," you might propose Taize or music by Margaret Rizza. Harmonically more traditional, allowing for a variety of instrumental accompaniments, and moving away from hand-waving, over-wrought "jesus is my best boyfriend" ballads to what I think of as an "external worship focus" (aka "it's not just about me").

    Good luck.
  • don roy
    Posts: 306
    i find with youth, enthusiasm for an open ended choir commitment dampers over time. what has helped me is to find a specific service or forum to sing at, plan the needed rehearsals and open it up to audition (knowing full well of course that you wouldnt actually refuse anybody. kids generally want to be part of something if theres a chance they cant be-go figure). having a specific schedule and goal makes you in a better position to compete with soccer and saturday night.
  • Thank you for your help, and please keep this endeavor in your prayers!

  • G
    Posts: 1,384
    Sorry I am just reading this now, hope information is still of use.
    St John Cantius does have a fine youth choir, mixed voices; Br Chad directs it. It is called the Holy Innocents.
    They range from small children to high school age, and my impression was that the older singers "mentor" the younger.
    Their enthusiasm, devotion & reverence, and their musical quality is quite remarkable.
    Although some of their music seems particularly suited to young voices, I have never heard them sing anything I would feel at all abashed to sing as an adult.

    There are also many fine choirs associated with Pueri Cantores.

    Further, there is a national Catholic youth choir that, if I recall correctly, gathers at Collegeville every summer -- Fr Anthony Ruff may have been involved? Anyway, their repertoire showed a real commitment to excellence. (I just saw on their FAQ page, Fr Ruff is the chaplain and director)

    The Choristers Guild publishes quite a bit of music and has other resources that might be useful to you.

    Once a month doesn't seem excessive, but I can see don roy's point, open ended commitments can seem like too much of a demand, at least initially.

    MJBallou said:Harmonically more traditional, allowing
    for a variety of instrumental accompaniments, and
    moving away from hand-waving, over-wrought "jesus
    is my best boyfriend" ballads to what I think of as an
    "external worship focus" (aka "it's not just about me").

    Good criteria.

    Is this a cathedral parish group, or a diocesan effort?
    The suggestion of a multi- lingual, multi-culturall repertoire can be very attractively "inclusive" and a way to bring in Latin as a matter of course.

    Learning chant as esoterica can be very appealing to young people, (who love knowing things we old f... folks don't know.

    I think you should present a proposal that encompasses a great breadth of eras and styles -- that are good and liturgical.
    There is plenty of fine contemporary and 20th c. literature to choose from, (Rorem, Lauridsen, Hovhaness, Berger... Rice)

    Make it clear to here, (but not necessarily to your choristers,) that to some extent the experience should be educational. Your singers should get some kind of formation, both religious and musical out of it, or its not worth their time or yours.

    Make sure that the Youth Minister knows that not all music, not even all religious music is appropriately liturgical.

    I'm a big fan of rounds for learning the concept of polyphony and for enjoying if not instant, at least fast gratification.

    And finally, just as the Word takes precedence over His creatures, the words should take precedence over the music.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • Thank you very much -- your links, comments and advice are very helpful! Especially the point about "multi-lingual, multi-cultural" exposure. This teen choir (I understand she is talking about 8th grade and up) is not a Diocesan-wide thing, although I'd hope Catholic youth from nearby parishes who might like to join up would be welcome.

    Melissa and I have a meeting/interview tomorrow morning, so I appreciate prayers that the Holy Spirit direct and guide. :)
  • P.S. I know Br. Chad (I live only an hour from Chicago), and have experienced his fine work. In fact, I've sung under him on a few occasions when he needed a "fill in". :)