Being a choir director in a school setting we always have to walk a fine line when it comes to singing religious pieces. Even though probably 85 percent of all choral music is religious based and to avoid religion would be avoiding a substantial chunk of our music history and be a disservice to the students we teach. I especially feel strongly about teaching each of my groups one Africian American Spiritual. February is Black History Month, Spirituals are the bases of ALL music that is truly American like jazz, blues, pop, R&B, AND it is a HUGE chunk of our American History.
OK, Amy, tell us how you REALLY feel.
Since I teach in a private school I have always had more leeway than if I were to teach in a public school. When I say leeway I mean that I have always been able to perform whatever I want, as long as I tried to be diverse and touch on many cultures and religions.
This past week has been a test on all of my aforementioned beliefs.
One of my Sixth Grade Chorus classes is singing the spiritual Ain' a That Good News. Two girls decide that since they are Jewish, as are over half of their classmates, they don't feel comfortable about singing a song about Jesus.
OK Amy here is your teachable moment.
So I go into my spiel about how this is part of our history, how I don't expect them to believe what the song suggests, but that I think it is important that they learn about that culture by singing a song that the slaves actually sang. Well the conversation that ensued turned into a big ol' middle school hissy fit. Some kids mad at the two that don't want to sing and some kids sticking up for the two. Come to find out that just as this
I love my accompanist, she always has my back.
My Middle School Chorus consisting of seventh and eighth graders are singing the spiritual Little David Play on Your Harp. In the song the text Hallelu is repeated throughout the song. Here is one of the conversations between me and a couple of my students.
Student 1 - Ms. Roscigno I am not allowed to say the word Hallelu.
Me - Why not.
Student 1 - Because of Lent.
Me - You gave up the word Hallelu for Lent?
Student 1 - No Hallelu means the Lord is risin and he doesn't rise until Easter so we can't say that Hallelu until Easter
Me - (trying oh so very hard not to laugh) Well don't worry Hallelu does not mean the Lord is risin, I promise.
Student 2 - Well even if it did mean that we have had over a thousand Easters so far so just pretend you are talking about last year. Anyway this song is a Jewish song.
Me - I am pretty sure that this song is not part of the Jewish culture.
Student 2 - Is the David we are singing about Jewish?
Me - Yes
Student 2 - Is this song entirely about David and his harp?
Me - Yes
Student 2 - Well then....
Me - uhhhhh
My Upper School Chorus is singing a Shaker Song called Ye Followers of the Lamb and as we are rehearsing it another admissions tour comes walking in. The administrator who is giving the tour is one of my most very favorite students mother. After the tour leaves my student says "Oh great, my mom is going to ask me AGAIN, why we only sing religious songs."
So I am pleased to announce that next year my entire programming will be chosen from the Disney movie The Jungle Book.
Until PETA comes and gets upset that we are portraying animals in a unfair light.
- A Ro