Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. Psalm 98: 1
Music therapists use music and musical instruments to help improve children’s motor, communication and social skills. Teachers employ music in their classrooms to make lessons entertaining and memorable. Music educators know that hearing quality music enhances listening skills, but children also respond emotionally to music, learn vocabulary, memorize easily and have fun while they’re at it.
So when it comes to strongly connecting children to their Catholic faith, music is a powerful way of doing so. After all, St. Augustine of Hippo is often quoted as saying: “He who sings, prays twice.” [The Latin cited for this is Qui bene cantat bis orat or “He who sings well prays twice”].
Faith-based music for kids need not be cutesy, repetitious or sing-song (think: “Jesus Loves Me”) to be engaging, contends director of Music Ministries Dr. John Romeri, who heads up Christ Cathedral’s adult and children’s choirs.
“There is a wonderful moment of connection when children go to church on Sunday and they say, ‘Oh, I know that song!’” Dr. Romeri said, referring to children who learn hymns at home or in their Catholic school classrooms. “With hymns, of course, come Bible stories, since the music we sing is rooted in Scripture. Kids don’t just want to sing feel-good types of songs.”
Music is integral to the Catholic liturgy, Dr. Romeri says. “Our liturgy is a sung liturgy, a dialog, and it is musical by its very nature.” Just as children learn the alphabet by singing it, so too can they sing the Lord’s Prayer often before they can recite it.
“Music plays a role in teaching kids about the faith, but it is up to us as educators and music directors to give them the very best music,” he adds. “Our summer camp is a good example of that. We sang two pieces in Gregorian chant that are 1,000 years old, as well as a composition that is less than three years old.
“We offered kids the whole breadth of our repertoire and they sang what we gave them,” he notes. “If you give children the very best music, they love it.”
At Christ Cathedral, 50 children in grades 4 to 6 from nearly every parish in the Diocese of Orange sing in the Children’s Choir. As one of Bishop Kevin Vann’s choirs, the children sing at his will, performing on second Saturdays at Christ Cathedral and at special Masses and events throughout the year.
The Children’s Choir is now rehearsing for the Christmas at the Cathedral Masses, at which its member will sing with members of all the other cathedral choirs, as well as an orchestra. For those performances, Dr. Romeri notes, the children will sing nine-tenths of the repertoire the adults are singing.
“Great music inspires children,” he explains. “When we sing Christmas carols, we can feel and taste and smell Christmas. We want to offer children music that evokes the same for all the seasons. Repetition year after year requires music that can bear the weight of the liturgy” and not grow tiresome.