I thrived on the hymns of my Baptist church when I was small. My family was musical, and it seemed natural to listen to the counterpoint and sing in harmony. Thinking that I would love it, my mother put me in the children’s choir. To her great dismay, I rebelled and dropped out. It was unspeakably humiliating to me.
I thought we were going to sing things like the Doxology, the way the grownup choir did: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Praise Him all creatures here below!” It was wonderful, and contained nothing too difficult for children. Instead we were taught “He’s got the itty bitty babies in his hands,” and I wanted to cringe.
The choirmistress was put out with me. Didn’t I know that the great God had the itty bitty babies in his hands? I did know. I believed it fervently. But did we have to sound like itty bitty babies too? The girls seemed to be okay with this, but believe me, it is not the way to encourage boys to be devout.
Adults give children the music they like to hear children sing – which can be, but is not necessarily, the music children would like to sing. Or else adults give children bad music to sing, on the assumption that children have no taste. Perhaps they teach them the music they considered jazzy and with-it long ago, when they were in their twenties; I’ll never forget when I heard a troupe of children dutifully singing the schlock praise lyrics, “Lord, you know where I’ve been.” One wondered: Where was that? Perhaps they were all on the rebound from their third marriages and recovering from hangovers. Or had they just been in the cookie jar? Still worse, these days children are often merely accompaniments to taped music. Nobody expects them to sing loudly enough to be heard on their own. And so, of course, they don’t.
This is part of the reason why I found it so wonderful to hear two of my grandchildren, a boy and a girl, along with the rest of the new children’s choir at their parish. It was the choir’s first time out. They had been practicing for only weeks, but did they ever belt it out. They did all the liturgical music for the whole Mass, and they did it right. It was wonderful to see their glowing faces. They were getting to do what the grownups did. They were doing it tunefully, reverently, and well. They were serving God. And they loved it.
People of different ages need different reminders. When I was a young man, impious, arrogant, full of myself, I needed to hear “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
But when I was eight, desperate to grow up, what I needed to hear was “attain to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”