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To Teach Religious Music Or Not?


decafaholic
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I accepted a part-time job teaching public high school choir for the coming school year. This will be my first time directing a serious choir (I've done some children's programs before) and I want my students to get a well-rounded music education.

 

My plan is to start off the year doing pop songs that they already know and then move them into some harder stuff to challenge them and get them ready for competitions and music they might see in college choirs.

 

Here's my dilemma:

 

A LOT of classical choral music is Christian, because the great composers hundreds of years ago were trying to sell music and the music that sold back then was religious. It's beautiful and even as a non-Christian, I appreciate it, but I also don't know how I feel about performing sacred music in a public school.

 

There's even some modern music like "Baba Yetu" a Swahili song used in the video game Civilization IV that I would LOVE to teach my students because it's musically impressive and beautiful but I hesitate because it's the Lord's Prayer in Swahili. You can hear it here

 

I thought about incorporating a mix of songs from Christianity, Judaism, and maybe some Buddhist chants in order to be fair and to broaden their horizons. 

 

I feel like if I shy away from ALL religious music then I'm doing the students a disservice because there's a lot of great, challenging spiritual music out there.

 

What do you think? How can I give these kids a great music education and stay respectful to their own traditions and beliefs?

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Guest Marty

If it is a public school I would stay away from religious stuff, although I think the Swahili song may be cool on the grounds of diversity regardless of the content.  But for the rest of it, stay secular.  The kids get enough religion already, whether they go to church or not...

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In the heartland gospel will probably go unnoticed but a Buddhist chant might create a scandal.  The Lord's Prayer in Swahili would be an interesting compromise which would not encourage religion.  However you run the risk of somebody thinking you are summoning demons.  (My uncle thought rock music summoned demons so this threat is ever present.)

 

Best of luck to you.

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  • Moderator

Most of what we consider the classics were originally composed for church services.  Music emerged from a religious context.  It's all good IMO.

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Is there gonna be a Christmas concert?

Yes, I got the impression that they want a concert around Christmas time, although I don't know what they call it. We're gonna have to bust out our Spanish or Swahili or something around that time because I can only take so much of the traditional Christmas carols before I puke. 

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Eh, we're Westerners, and our history is full of religious stuff. The churches were the ones with money to pay the composers, and christianity was a strong social force even when it was just rich people commissioning stuff for themselves. If you've got a choise between equally good and challenging pieces where one's religious and the other's not, then certainly go with the one that's not. But I wouldn't choose lower quality music just for the sake of avoiding western history's dominant religion.

 

If you're in a sufficiently homogeneous fundy area, the parents might flip out at religious diversity. If that becomes a problem, you may be able to get the kids to have a more diverse view of the world just by learning non-religious non-western music.

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