Sacred vs. Secular Syndrome Finale

It’s an on-going challenge for music teachers to find the balance between what’s okay to perform for holiday /seasonal concerts and what’s not.  Knowing this “syndrome” is an evergreen issue, teachers are learning to work through this yearly conundrum matter-of-factly. Ruminate on the myriad music teacher opinions sent by members…and add your thoughts here.

From the MENC 2005 Question of the Month survey (some of just hundreds of comments sent)

“The reason that there are concerts and two weeks off from school is because it is Christmas season, not winter season. Much of the greatest music ever written is sacred — it should be performed because of its intrinsic musical value, and should not be excluded because it contains a sacred text or is written within a sacred context. It is not an attempt to proselytize or coerce anyone. These types of works are consistent with the season that we celebrate, and have an educational and erudite purpose – to perform great works that are a fundamental part of American culture and that all students in American music education need have exposure to.”

“Music is a fantastic way to teach people about various cultures and religions. Only through educating people can we truly understand and appreciate other points of view and beliefs. Creating a balanced winter concert program that represents various cultures through quality music has never been an issue at the schools where I have worked.”

“This is the VERY first year in the 35 years I have been teaching that there has been a question as to the choice of December’s music. The comment from the parent was that the songs we had chosen didn’t represent all of the people’s beliefs in our community. Our school and its staff have always supported a ‘Christmas’ program.”

“Since I teach band, I think the whole issue is ridiculous, but I have actually had students refuse to play any kind of holiday music until they can see the words and know that it has NO religious content. I have never presented the music with the words where there could be controversy, but even the most beautiful music (“Silent Night”, for example) must be avoided for certain students even if the words are never discussed.  As long as I am not shoving a religious point of view down anyone’s throat, it shouldn’t be a problem, but after being called down to the office for a discussion of what is appropriate, I try to avoid the whole issue. I usually allow each band to do one holiday selection and then avoid the rest like the plague.  One of my students today said her mom was disappointed that we don’t do more holiday tunes, but after we have received repeated warning from our district’s lawyer about what is appropriate, I try to be very careful. I explained the federal law and told her I would love to do more, but I would like to keep my job. How SAD!”

“I call my concert a winter concert, but the emphasis is Christmas music. I do both sacred and secular selections. Almost every year I have a parent come up and thank me for including references to Jesus in the music. For the three years that I had a Jehovah’s Witness in the group, I worked with her mom to pick at least two or three selections that she could sing. For the other selections, she just stood quietly. I placed her in the back so she would feel more secure. When she graduated, her mother gave me a huge peace lily as a thank you for working with her family. If you know your students and their families, this should not really be an issue.”

“The easiest solutions are to move the concert to November or January and skirt the issue, or to simply play a music program without Christmas music. The concern with music today should be the cancellation of music classes in the elementary grades, the limited electives available in middle school that prevent students from fitting music classes in their schedule, and the size of the classes and the quality of teaching.”

–Sue Rarus, November 12, 2008, © National Association for Music Education