If you’ve snooped through the Pilgrim Choral Series or songs like “Joy Medley” or “Roll Away,” you’ve probably noticed that I like to arrange children’s songs. Not only that, some of the children’s song arrangements are meant to be sung only by adult choirs. Why would a choir waste time singing children’s songs when it could sing all kinds of amazing choral literature that has stood the test of time and experience and on and on? You’ll have to decide if it’s a waste of your choir’s time, but I know why I use them with my choirs. Let me tell you a little story.
Once upon a time (okay this was probably about twelve years ago), a fine choir came through our area and sang at a nearby church. They sang many fine songs by such esteemed composers as John Rutter and Moses Hogan to name a few. After the program, my wife and I asked her nephew, Ethan, who was four at the time, what his favorite song was in the program. We expected him to name one of the exciting songs near the end of the program (choir programs always have something fun and exciting near the end of the program, don’t they?), but he didn’t. Instead, he named a slow, melancholy, boring song—“This Little Light of Mine” arranged by Paul J. Christiansen. Surely a four-year-old boy would find that song boring, right? Wrong.
We asked him why he liked the song, and he said, “Because I knew the words.”
He, like all the rest of us, liked what he knew. That was a revelation for me.
It was a revelation for Maria right away. She got all excited and thought that if a child could like a slow, boring song at a choral program because he knew it, what would happen if a choir would deliberately choose to sing songs that children would know? Would the children like them? Would they love them? Surely they would.
Maria convinced me that I should arrange a children’s song so the children in the audience would have something to love. She suggested “Roll Away” as a good place to start. As I started humming through the song, a walking bass line jumped out and wanted to be sung. That’s when I started to get the revelation.
It’s one thing to sing children’s songs and expect children to enjoy them, but what about the adults? Would they like to sing the children’s songs? Well, maybe or maybe not depending how the song was arranged. If it was arranged to be fun for adults to sing, surely it would also be fun for adults to listen to, and surely children would love it very much. Maybe the children would even say, “That was so much fun! I want to sing in a choir when I grow up.”
So I started working on “Roll Away” hoping that something at least mildly interesting would unfold. I was excited to see it dovetail nicely with “There’s a Fountain Free,” and I was about to call it quits with a simple ending after “There’s a Fountain Free,” but Maria said, “No. You need to wind up that ending so much that your high schoolers will go crazy with excitement.”
Okay. You’re always supposed to listen to your wife, right? So that’s what I tried to do, and the rest is history. I don’t know who enjoys it most, the adults, the children, or the choir, but if all three are enjoying it, something is working.
So that is why I started arranging children’s songs and why I continue using them to this day. I hope children in every audience will get hooked on choir and will be excited about singing for the rest of their lives.