Wise men travel from East Vero

Wise men travel from East Vero

I began the morning ready to write my daily entry of this blog.  However, I got sidetracked by the fact that I had choir practice this afternoon.  Last Saturday, I had promised the choir that I would have CD’s of our Christmas music and the words of the new Christmas songs printed out for them.  By the time I’d finished my task, it was 1pm and I barely had enough time to rush out the door for Vero Beach and choir.

So, now, it’s almost time for the day to end and I’m just sitting down to do this blog.  Here are some of the questions that I’m asked after each performance of our Christmas play and music. 

“When do you begin practicing the Christmas music?”

In July of each year.  This gives the choir time to memorize all the words to the eight to ten songs that we perform.  This year our choir will memorize eight songs.  The first song will also be the final song.

“Where do you get your plays from?”

We write our own plays.  I write the Melbourne/Vero play.  Richard Stimson writes the Brevard play.

“Where do you get your music?”

That one is a tougher question.  Every year, it’s an adventurous search to find music for the next year.  In fact, I’ve already started looking for new music for next year.  By January, I’ve usually settled on our source and I begin preliminary preparations.  We have been able to get the music from many different places.  We need music that has good orchestration but not complicated arrangements.  In the past, we have used some children’s and youth musical. 

Several years ago after an internet search,  I discovered a children’s split track Christmas album.  That year, we sang the familiar carol favorites from that album.  Then the next year, I realized that it had ten Negro spiritual’s on it.  They were great fun to learn and sing.  The third year, I took different carols from the album and combined them with a couple of the spirituals the choir had really enjoyed from the previous year.  The title of the album is Gospel Christmas Songsperformed by the Cedarmont Kids.  

Let Heaven and Nature Swing was a youth musical that our choir enjoyed singing and the audience was extremely enthusiastic about.  The choir was especially happy to learn a simplified version of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.”  In the middle of that piece, the audience began to applaud.  As the choir continued singing, the audience stood on their feet to show their appreciation for the quality of performance the choir did. 

In years past and this year, I’ve slightly adapted the words to music to fit the Christmas season.  This year I’ve used selections from All the Best for Youth.  This is a four volume set.  I’ve adapted a few of the words to make these songs more Christmasy.  We begin with our title song, “Above All Else.”

Here is a list of the songs we will be using:

  1. “Above All Else”
  2. “Here is My Heart”–A song Mary sings to the Lord.  At the end of the song, an angel will appear to Mary and explain that she will bear God’s Son.
  3. “His Strength is Perfect”–A song Mary sings after a disappointing encounter with Joseph.  Joseph will stomp around angry as the choir sings.
  4. “We’ve Got Something to Say”–The song sung by the Angel that appears to Joseph.
  5. “O, Lord, My Rock”–Mary and Joseph sing as they prepare to go to Bethlehem.
  6. “And I Cried, Holy, Holy, Holy”–I changed some of the words to this song so that the song is “And The Angel cried, Glory, Glory, Glory.”  Here, of course, the angels appear to the shepherds.
  7. “King Jesus Is All”–This becomes “Messiah Is Born” and it is sung by the shepherds as they go to find Baby Jesus.
  8. “God is Gonna Finish”–Is the Wise Men’s song as they travel to Bethlehem to find the Baby.
  9. “Above All Else”–This will be our final song.

We usually have a story that wraps itself around the songs.  However, I don’t have to have that until mid-August because play practice begin in September. 

Are you able to obtain good music for your choir at Christmas?  What is your best source?

Introducing new music to your program is always a challenge.  And it doesn’t matter if your members are musically advanced or developmentally delayed.  At the Special Gathering of Indian River, which is a ministry within the mentally challenged community, we do classic ministry–discipleship and evangelism. 

We call your worship times–chapel because we desire to be subordinate to the local church.  The definition of a chapel is a time of  worship that is somewhat less than a worship service.  However, we do many of the same things that you would do in a worship service.  Praise and worship are an important part of what we do.  

While all of our members enjoy some form of music, many of them have not been taught or encouraged to sing for most of their lives.  Therefore, teaching new music can be an especially difficult concern.  After several decades of trial and error, this is the method that I find works best for me.

From the beginning, I teach new music to the choir.  These are my best singers and they are the people who are most enthusiastic about singing during worship time.  I try to encourage my choir members to understand that they are part of the worship leadership and they will lead others into worship by their example. 

Occasionally, I find a member who comes into choir because he or she feels it will be great to be able to go to other churches and sing.  The choir sings special selections during our worship time.  Being up front appeals to them.  They learn quickly, however, that choir is hard work and I expect them to put forth the effort that getting up front requires.  In this way, they either become enthused or they leave the choir.

Second, about a year ago, I began using the new music as a before-worship funtime.  I will often sing along with the members in a silly kind of way.  Or I’ll let people come up front and show off.  In general, it’s a relaxed, happy time of learning.  I’ve found that this helps me to connect with our members.  It gives me about 15 minutes of playful time with them before worship begins. 

In this way, I also find out what songs the members like.  I can also figure out which songs may be too difficult.  “Big House” is a great, fun song that our members love.  However, it is too hard for them to sing.  I still throw it into the mix about every six months because they love it.  Yet–and this is an interesting observation–as much as they enjoy “Big House” during the “fun-time,” many of them show frustration on their faces during the praise and worship time.  Perhaps the reason is because they understand the seriousness of praising God and they want to be able to participate during the worship time.

What about you?  What are the ways you have found that make learning new music fun and exciting for your members?   

Over the past few weeks, I’ve observed that several people have reached The Special Gathering blog after googling “music for mentally challenged people.”  Therefore, I decided to do a couple of entries about music. 

Over the past 20 years working within the mentally challenged community through the ministry Special Gathering, I’ve found that our members’ taste in music is varied and complex.  However, there are some songs that seem to hit their praise and worship buttons. 

First, let me explain.  I’ve had years of formal and informal musical training.  But I also have the worst eye-hand coordination known to mankind.  Therefore, I don’t play any instruments.  I don’t play them even badly.  That means, that I have to depend on someone else to play the piano or guitar. 

When we lost our piano player about 15 years ago, our executive director suggested that I begin to use CD’s with musical accompaniment.  He even bought me a CD.  (He had heard me play the piano.)  I wasn’t happy about the CD’s that I found.  They seems too simplistic and terribly outdated.

There is a pattern to the songs that I find works well with our members.  Reviewing quickly, the selections are singable songs with simple but very melodic  melodies.  (I remember the first time I heard “The Sound of Music.”  I know that song was my immediate reaction. Of course, I didn’t know that song but I could sing it anyway.  That’s what I mean by melodic melodies.) Second, these are songs with words that have lots of repeating phrases. 

The CD’s that I’ve depended on for years are  All the Best Songs for Youth (split-channel).  It is published by Lillenas and the product number is LILLENAS DC-9214S.  It is a four CD set with 98 songs.  Almost all of the arrangements are excellent.  Some of them (“Pharaoh, Pharaoh”) are too silly for our members and somewhat childish.  However, when you want to have fun, they fit in perfectly.  Most of my members only know the songs that I teach them. Consequently, they are happy with the oldie goldies because these ancient favorites are new to them.

I’ve purchases perhaps 50 other CD’s but I keep returning to All the Best.. when I’m frustrated because nothing else seems to fit.  If you’ve looking for something new and you don’t have this set of CD’s in your collection, it’s a must have. 

What is a CD that seems to minister to your members?  Maybe you don’t use CD’s.  What musical instrument do you think works best for them?

Okay, the title of this blog is a terrible pun but it is important to discuss what kind of Christian music appeals to mentally challenged people.  Do mentally challenged people like rock and roll?  rap? children’s songs? contemporary worship music? classical? hymn? gospel songs? scripture choruses?  country and western?

The answer is yes.  People who are mentally challenged are like everyone else.  Each person has his particular preferences.  Sam listens to his music through his CD player all day.  He loves opera and classical music.  Pam’s earphones are part of every outfit she wears.  Her radio is always tuned to the local county and western station. 

I had one young woman who stopped coming to Special Gathering because I interjected a couple of our praise songs that had a heavy bass guitar.  Her church background taught her that anything with a heavy beat was demonic.  She wanted hymns or gospel songs.  However, most of our members jump up and dance in their places when we start praise songs with a heavy rock-and-roll influence. 

My highest functioning young woman with autism has an off-the-charts IQ drove me crazy for about two years with her “Silly Songs” children’s tapes.  She insisted on playing them on our two hour Saturday drive to Vero. 

There are some songs that I believe do minister to our members.  First, there are the songs with simple words and singable melodies.  The currently-popular song, “Here I Am to Worship” is a good example.  There is a singable melody and simple words.  Some scripture choruses are good, especially if they are taken from the Psalms.  The natural cadence of the Psalms lends itself to repeats, which means that our members can pick up the words more quickly.   Many contemporary songs written in the ’60’s through the 80’s give you an excellent selection. 

However, some of the currently popular songs are unsingable for our population.  “Big House” is a contemporary song that our members love. We have worked on it for almost a year.  Nevertheless, our members are still clueless until we come to the chorus which they love. 

It’s a big, big house with lots and lots of room.  

A big, big table with lots and lots of food. 

A big, big yard where we can play football.

It’s my Father’s house.

Part of what has happened in current contemporary music is what happened with the hymns.  When many of the hymns were written, the church fathers wanted to teach Christian principles during the singing times.  Therefore, complicated truths were woven around the melodys.  The songs were called hymns, because they taught a princple about HIM.  “Great is Thy Faithfulness” is a favorite hymn of mine.

When gospel songs were introduced in the 1920’s through 50’s, they served the purpose of helping to share the testimony of the person.  They reflected the evangelistic revival fires of the early 20th century.  Fanny J. Crosby is the heroine of the gospel song.  These are more simple testimony songs.  “My Jesus, I Love Thee” is a wonderful gospel song.

Hymns and gospel songs are more complicated to sing and understand but they teach principles that are important to the church.  Our contemporary music has begun to reflect the need to teach the truths and principles of the faith.  Therefore, the songs have become more complex.  “Shout to the Lord” has become a contemporary classic.  It is a contemporary song that is sung in the most traditional churches. I found that it is more complicated than most of my members can comprehend. 

Are there songs which your members find especially appealing?  What are some of the missed words that your members may use that make our hymns humorous?  Such as the great favorite of many of my mentally challenged members, “O, Come, all Ye Face full” or for the diet conscious members, “I will Slender All.”