Sacred Music, Studied and Surveyed

“In one school district, I named the concert according to the weather. We did not have a ‘winter’ concert; we had the ‘Cold’ concert. In June, we presented the ‘Hot’ concert”. — MENC member, MENC Question of Month survey, 2007

Ever wondered…

  • What attitudes do American choral educators have towards the place of religious music in public schools?
  • How do choral educators explain the use of religious texts to the students in public school classrooms?
  •  How can choral educators encourage expressive singing of religious music without promoting a religious experience?In 2006, MENC member Rebecca Warnock asked these questions of Minnesota MENC choral teachers; 102 members responded, and via their responses, Warnock discovered:
  •  Religious music has a place in public school at about a one to two ratio to secular music.
  •  Teachers feel free to choose literature, but with due caution.
  •  Practicality comes first and ideology second in literature choices.
  •  Many teachers are familiar with school policy on this topic, and most are not worried if  there isn’t  a school policy.
  • The majority thought that the religious aspect should be understood in historical context.
  •  One-third “seemed to express a dismissive attitude toward the text”, saying they explain to students that the text is “inconsequential”.  A few reported that they explain to students that the piece is deeply spiritual.
  •  A majority saw no danger in encouraging expressive singing, nor did they fear it would promote a religious experience. Many respondents described ways to manage this issue.“I do both winter fun music and some sacred, but I let my students know that we are learning the music portion of it and not instilling the religious portion of it. The students usually are not concerned about it until we start working on dynamics, expression, diction, and phrasing. At that point maybe one student will say, “Are we allowed to sing this?” and my reply is we are not looking at the religious connotations of the song, but the musical elements of the song. In all my years of teaching (twenty-five), I have only had one student who transferred out of my class because she could not sing any religious or patriotic music. I have taught in Texas, Connecticut and North Carolina.” MENC member, MENC Question of Month survey, 2007
  • Rebecca Warnock’s master’s thesis is titled “Religious Music, Public Schools: A Look at the Implications” (University of Minnesota, 2006).MENC’s Position Statement on the Use of Sacred Music in the Schools
    –Sue Rarus, October 29, 2008, © National Association for Music Education