How do you choose music for your Christmas/Holiday/Winter or Non-holiday/December concert?

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This is a very exciting time of year as music teachers are selecting the music for their winter programs and deciding on a program theme.


What about selecting Sacred Music?

Nearly every year, NAfME has asked members about this issue, as it’s a perennial one. The conflict over performing or studying music with religious themes has morphed over time to include music that may be offensive for any number of reasons.

As a refresher for those who haven’t been following, here’s a classic example from 2007 that is still relevant today:

NAfME member Dan Hays of Nebraska was already thinking about his school’s holiday concert the summer prior. Dan wrote to NAfME (then MENC) to say: “I would like to do the “Hallelujah Chorus” on our winter concert. It was a long-standing tradition before I came, but now I would simply like to be able to do it once every four years, so every student will have performed it at least once in high school. Now, my administration is saying I must provide evidence that this is a piece of music that has educational merit and would be found on accepted or standard repertoire lists in different states.”

To help out, NAfME wrote to state leaders and others, and generally received the “thumbs up” on this piece of music. “Band Guy” from Illinois even wrote: “The entire Messiah stands as a monument to the Baroque period.”


How do you choose music for your concert?

The New York State School Music Association lists these guidelines**

  1. Music chosen should be high-quality literature that has clear educational value: musical, historical, and cultural.
  2. Selection of music should be based on the developmental level of the students and the overall curriculum goals of the music program.
  3. Music should be appropriate for performance.
  4. Music should be reflective of and enhance student awareness and appreciation of various cultures.
  5. Teachers should present the music in a sensitive manner, emphasizing the educational and multicultural value of the music, rather than any religious/seasonal aspect.


December Dilemma: December holiday guidelines for public schools

**Marschilok, Edward, (1991). Decisions of the New York Commissioner of Education Relating to Music Education. School Music News, 54(6).

Sue Rarus, December 1, 2011 © National Association for Music Education


Sacred Music: Forbidden or Essential?

Does music with a sacred text have a place in the public schools? It is the position of the National Association for Music Education that the study and performance of religious music within an educational context is a vital and appropriate part of a comprehensive music education. The omission of sacred music from the school curriculum would result in an incomplete educational experience.


It is hoped that with sensitivity to the issues raised, with careful understanding of legal aspects, and with consideration for personal feelings, educators will use the full range of music literature in an appropriate contextual setting.


Here is the official NAfME Position Statement on Sacred Music in Schools


Religiously Neutral Programs

Music educators should exercise caution and good judgment in selecting sacred music for study and programming for public performances. During the planning phase of each program, the following questions should assist the teacher in determining if the program is, indeed, religiously neutral:

  1. Is the music selected on the basis of its musical an educational value rather than its religious context?
  2. Does the teaching of music with sacred text focus on musical and artistic considerations?
  3. Are the traditions of different people shared and respected?
  4. Is the role of sacred music one of neutrality, neither promoting nor inhibiting religious views?
  5. Are all local and school policies regarding religious holidays and the use of sacred music observed?
  6. Is the use of sacred music and religious symbols or scenery avoided? Is performance in devotional settings avoided?
  7. Is there sensitivity to the various religious beliefs represented by the students and parents?


Are you wrangling with repertoire for the holidays?

Below we have listed pieces for you to read through, consider, and share your feedback. These are all suggestions from music educators, and don’t necessarily mean a NAfME endorsement.

Take a look through the list and share your comments or other recommendations below!


  • Let it Snow
  • Most Wonderful Time of the Year
  • Jingle Bells / Jingle Bells Rock
  • Frosty the Snowman
  • Wanna Build a Snowman
  • It’s Winter Again
  • Minka
  • Silent Night
  • Joy to the World
  • Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming
  • Sleigh Ride
  • Winter Wonderland
  • Deck the Halls
  • Believe
  • Fum, Fum, Fum
  • ‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime
  • Hot Chocolate (from Polar Express)
  • In the Bleak Mid-Winter
  • La Navidad
  • Don’t Eat a Poinsettia
  • Celebrate with Joy
  • Marshmallow World
  • The Nutcracker
  • Feliz Navidad
  • Children Go Where I Send Thee
  • It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
  • Do You Hear What I Hear
  • Still, Still, Still
  • Lord of the Dance
  • The Holly and the Ivy
  • Suzy Snowflake
  • Carol of the Bells
  • Hark the Harold Tubas Sing
  • Innkeeper
  • O Come Little Children
  • Holiday Parade
  • Little Drummer Boy
  • A Berry Merry Christmas
  • One Candle
  • Candles, Candles
  • Little Candle
  • Kindness and Light
  • Lullaby
  • Jubilate Deo
  • Beautiful Snow
  • The Twelve Days After Christmas
  • Dona Nobis Pacem
  • Pie Jesu
  • Climbin’ up the Mountain
  • Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening
  • Simple Gifts
  • Hine Ma Tov
  • Alleluia
  • Irish Cabin
  • Winter Fantasy
  • Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind
  • Solstice
  • Beams of Gentle Light
  • Inscription of Hope
  • Ocho Kandelikas
  • Hanerot Halalu
  • Greensleeves
  • Somagwaza
  • Metsa Telegramm
  • Shepherd Boy
  • The Colors of Las Pasadas
  • Hearts Around the World
  • (There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays

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What are your thoughts? Share with us below in the comment section!

Happy Planning!


Kristen Rencher, Social Media and Online Community Engagement Coordinator, February 13, 2015. © National Association for Music Education (