Singing the Sounds of the Season (Part 2)

“If it is possible to study Communism without indoctrination or to examine the ills of contemporary society without promoting the seeds of revolution, then it must also be possible to study sacred music (with performance-related activities) without parochialistic attitudes and sectarian points of view.” — Abraham Schwadron**

Every year, especially in November and December, MENC receives queries asking if it’s “okay” for students to perform music with a sacred text.

MENC asked members for feedback on this topic recently. Many responses reflected a balanced approach to the issue.

“We try to present diverse music at every concert, especially in the winter concert because personal traditions need to be honored and shared, but in a way that is appropriate for a community.”

“I have taught 15 years at my school and have never had a complaint about the Christmas concert (Yes, that is what the principal calls it.) I have a simple rule: I strike a balance between secular and sacred. My students sing of the Christ Child and also of Santa Claus. I also incorporate new and traditional songs.”

“Next year I’m sneaking in Handel’s “Cantate Deo”.

As a point of reference, member Rebecca Warnock asked Minnesota MENC choral teachers if music with sacred text has a place in the schools. Her results showed that yes, teachers thought religious music has a place in public school, but at about a one to two ratio to secular music.

Generally, her research showed that:
• 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.


** “On Religion, Music, and Education,” Journal of Research in Music Education  (Summer 1970), 157-66; Abraham Schwadron, Chair of the Department of Music, UCLA; MENC member; deceased 1987.

–Sue Rarus, December 14, 2010 © National Association for Music Education