From The Loft
with Music Director and Organist Jonathan Ryan
What perhaps sets our music program apart from many others, including nearly all in the DFW area, is what we call our ribbon training program for our boy and girl choristers. Some of you have seen the beginning of this program’s fruits when you’ve witnessed the Admission of Choristers in the Whiting Ceremony at our Sunday 9:00 services in the church on February 3 and March 31. Another one will occur on May 19, and we expect them to continue once or twice a program year. What you may not realize is what these boys and girls accomplish within their first year of choir in order to receive Admission and Choristers. It’s far more than simply being here for a few months!
It’s also much more than simply vocal or musical training, too. But let’s start with that. Our in-house, custom made curriculum for Admission includes training in posture, breathing, control of breath, and placing the voice in the correct part of the head. So, for example, a chorister must demonstrate that he/ she can provide good breath for singing without stopping for up to 16 beats (i.e. about 13 seconds), can sing a scale of 12 different notes and hold the final one for 4 beats, and must sing one verse of a hymn of their choice perfectly, i.e. in tune, with clear diction, correct breaths, a beautiful sound on each note, and with comprehension of the text’s meaning. It normally takes several sessions to pass these off.
Beyond these vocal components, our Admission curriculum includes choristers knowing the hymnal, that is, how to find both hymns and service music, and familiarity with our printed orders of service. It also includes in-house, custom made workbooks. Averaging 30 pages, these workbooks are self-explanatory, of graduated levels, and cover a large span of material. For Admission, the workbook begins with knowing how to read the treble staff, the names of the pitches, the rhythmic value of the most common notes, and how to count the beats in the music. We grade the workbooks during our ribbon training time as each page is completed so choristers can make corrections as needed. This ensures that they all know the material solidly.
Music and singing are only part of what we teach, test, and realize in ribbon training. The Christian formation portion of our Admission curriculum entails knowing the three postures used in our services and their meaning, as well as memorizing the Chorister’s Prayer which we pray together at the end of every rehearsal. The human formation portion for Admission is sitting well through 8 different services with excellent behavior and focus – sometimes, the most challenging part!
Typically, boys and girls in 3rd grade work towards Admission because they will have just joined choristers. Since our program has just started, we naturally have a number of boys and girls older than that working on Admission, and we often will have some because a boy or girl can certainly join after 3rd grade. I suspect that by now you can see that all the above is quite a full plate for an 8 or 9 year old child! And that is another important lesson they learn: in a culture that increasingly craves instant gratification and an easy way out, our children are learning the value of staying the course, not giving up, working hard on things that are challenging, and then enjoying the fruits of their time and work. This is an insight into what our young people are accomplishing over a number of months before they receive Admission and their white surplice in the Whiting Ceremony. I hope you are as proud as I am of these boys and girls, and find their leading of our liturgy even more inspiring now that you realize how hard they work for what they do (this is not even considering our actual choir rehearsals!).
Once a chorister is whited and admitted to the choir, he or she continues his/ her ribbon training by working towards earning the next level: the light blue medal. The color refers to the ribbon worn around the neck over the cassock and surplice in services. This ribbon holds the medal of the RSCM. These ribbons, along with the white surplice, indicate the status and achievement of the chorister in the choir (hence the title “ribbon training”). The light blue ribbon is followed by the dark blue, and then the red. Each ribbon entails the same elements as Admission, but at a more advanced level. For example, starting with light blue, a chorister must be able to sight read music, that is, sing a passage of previously unseen music exactly right the first time without any help. In the red ribbon workbooks, choristers ultimately are taken to a freshmen college level of music theory. The Christian formation part includes memorizing the Lord’s Prayer, the Nicene Creed, knowing the three parts of the church, knowing the liturgical church year and its corresponding colors, and knowing parts of the Bible. The list can go on!
While our ribbon training program, which is based on the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM), is a secret to how well our choristers sing already, it is also a big demand on our staffing bandwidth. We are grateful for the increased stewardship that led to the expansion of our music staff in 2019 to help us recruit, engage, and train these young people as leaders in our worship and central to our parish’s life.
I hope you will keep your eyes peeled for the new things we have coming up for our young people this fall! We will have auditions this month for choristers to start in the fall. We are excited to have our first annual chorister camp the weekend of August 23-25. This camp will be at Camp All Saints on Lake Texoma, is open to anyone in grades 4-8, and has no obligation to join choristers though there will be opportunities to audition. Contact Meg Harper, Associate Director of Music for more info. We also plan to begin a prepatory choir for those in Kindergarten to 2nd grade this fall, and further expand our chorister program to include a place specifically designed for high schoolers. Beyond that, we are planning both domestic and England choir tours for our choristers in the coming years!
Lastly, our chorister program is a huge outreach for our young people and young families. Please encourage any family with K-12 children to contact myself or Meg Harper. We’d love to hear from you and talk about how a child’s life can be transformed through being a chorister!
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