Happy Reformation Day - 500 Years!

Today is the 500th anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther's desire was to have an honest scholarly dialogue concerning some major concerns he had with the Catholic Church of which he belonged. His actions, however, started a major chain of event which resulted in what we now refer to as the Protestant Reformation. Check out this short stop-motion video for more information.

Portrait Photography with Kids

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A few summers ago, I taught a photography class to a group of kids at a state-wide music camp. Many of the students that attended the class had marginal cameras at best, but they learned to take good photos with the equipment they owned. That experience got me to thinking that a track which focused on photography might be a good option for our KWA kids at some point. Having been an amateur portrait photographer for several years, I’ve gleaned a few pointers to help beginners get started. The tips below apply mainly to taking portraits, but they can also be utilized in other forms of photography as well.

In my opinion, the primary difference between a snapshot and a portrait boils down to two things: lighting and composition. If one can grasp these two basic concepts early, then the other components of the photography art (posing, lens selection, camera settings, etc.) usually can be conquered later as the student continues to develop. Furthermore, neither of these primary items necessarily requires expensive equipment. 

Concerning lighting, one of the easiest and least expensive ways for a novice photographer to get great portraits is to shoot outside about an hour before sunset. At that time of day, the sun has moved behind local trees and/or buildings. Everything is still well lit, but the large open sky is providing the primary illumination - not the harsh sun. With a typical consumer camera, one will have about thirty minutes or so before it starts to get too dark to shoot. When shooting at other times of the day, I try to position my subject on the edge of "open shade" - still in the shadows, but just barely. Cloudy days are also great for portraits. The main point to remember is this: To make the most pleasing outdoor photos in most locations, avoid direct sun-light when possible.

Regarding composition, the general rule of thumb is this: Portraits usually look best when the subject's eyes are about 1/3 from the top of the frame. Most pictures also look the most pleasing when there is a bit more room in front of the subject than behind.

The other compositional component of which to be mindful is the background. Make sure everything complements the subject. While there are always exceptions, a good default approach is to make sure the background is not overly bright or distracting. Never be afraid to reposition your subject if the current location does not lend itself to a flattering portrait. Other than that, just experiment with what looks best. Move the camera position and/or your subject around within a scene until a location/angle is found that works best.

With these basic tips in mind, quality portraits are easily within the reach of almost any photographer regardless of their equipment, age, or experience. 

Former KWA Student Leads Youth Praise Band

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One of our former KWA students will be leading our newly formed youth praise band. Brianna is now in the eighth grade, and she has been taking guitar and voice through our Worship Arts Academy for two and a half years. Our immediate plan is for the youth praise band to accompany our youth ensemble as they lead worship a couple of times this fall. In the spring, this ministry will expand to leading worship on a more regular basis.

The picture included here was taken this past Sunday afternoon as the team rehearsed. The band's first worship leading opportunity will be in a few weeks. Our Youth Worship Arts Ministry is scheduled to lead a thanksgiving service for a halfway house ministry that our church supports in a nearby town.

While we've had talented singers in our Youth Worship Arts Ministry for years, having skilled youth instrumental leader has been a challenge. Hopefully, this is changing. Through the efforts of our Kids Worship Arts Ministry (large scale ministry) and our Worship Arts Academy (private lessons), our goal is to equip the next generation of instrumentalists and singers for worship leadership in the Kingdom. 

It's Christmas

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If you are looking for a good anthem to sing with any combination of kids, youth, and adults, "It’s Christmas" should be on your short list. Made popular and written by Chris Tomlin, the song includes a medley of "Away in a Manger," "Go, Tell it on the Mountain," and a new refrain entitled, "It’s Christmas." Our particular arrangement is arranged by Jay Rouse and is published by Word Music.

The included traditional Christmas carols have been given a jazzy/syncopated rhythmic treatment. Our kids seem to really enjoy it. We are singing the anthem as part of our Adult Choir Christmas program, and we are inviting any KWA kids present in the audience for that presentation to join us on stage as we sing it. We are also planning on incorporating the song into our KWA Celebration night the first Sunday evening of December.

 

Chimes that Chord

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My previous post mentioned how we use baritone ukuleles in open “C” tuning to quickly play songs. There is another thing you can do with the same set of music. We have a set of tone chimes. These can be used individually to play melodic lines, but we also like to use them in groups to play chords. 

By assigning a different color to each chord, the kids can quickly know what chord they are playing. Currently, our chimes have a red piece of tape on the “C chord” notes, a yellow piece of tape on the “F chord” notes, and a blue piece of tape on the “G chord” notes. In our setup, I tell the kids holding “red” chimes that they only play on the C chords in the music. The “yellow”chimes only play on the F chords, and the “blue” chimes only play on the G chords. 

The kids catch on pretty quickly, especially when the groups are separated into distinct areas of the room. It is also very helpful for the director to be very overt with gesturing to the group that is supposed to be chiming at any given moment. The chimes can be used to chord a song alone while someone sings the song's melody, and they may be used at the same time as the baritone uku’s on the same piece of music. As the kids advance, the chimes can also be used to play the melody of a song. They are a very versatile tool to have one's ministry.

Baritone Ukulele Resources

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My son, Daniel, is in the second grade. The other day, he expressed an interest in learning to play the Baritone Ukulele. I showed him the basics, and he was quickly making music on his own. Remembering that experience, I thought it might be a good time to briefly discuss some ukulele resources we use with our KWA kids. 

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Baritone Ukuleles are normally tuned similar to a guitar, but we have chosen to turn ours to “open tuning” (key of C). We tune the four strings of the instrument as follows: C (lowest string), G, C, and E (highest string). Strumming with the right hand without pressing any strings with the left hand plays a C chord. Using the left hand to press one’s finger across all strings at the 5th fret yields a F chord. Pressing all the strings at the 7th fret yields a G chord. 

With these three chords, kids can play many songs, although some songs may have to be simplified to work.  Our biggest challenge has been to find simple songs that have an appropriate vocal range for kids when played in the key of C. Here are a few we have discovered that work well:

- Jesus Loves Me
- Father Abraham
- Deep and Wide
- Amazing Grace (sing down an octave)
- Silent Night
- Joy to the World
- I Saw the Light
- Amazing Grace / My Chains Are Gone

Teaching Rhythms to Kids

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I’ve found a great resource for teaching basic rhythm to large groups. The book is called “Sing at First Sight: Level 1.” It comes in two varieties. One is for individual purchase by the students. (It has a blue cover. I use that one with my private voice studio students.) The other one, pictured here with a purple cover, grants permission to make photocopies of the book for one’s class. This is the one we use for KWA. 

I primarily use this resource with my third and fourth graders. Right now we are only learning quarter notes, half notes, whole notes, and eight note rhythms. Each of these note-values also has a corresponding rest value. I first teach the kids to clap and speak the rhythms. Then, we pass out a single drum stick and play the rhythms on a garbage can drum. Finally, the kids repeat the rhythms again and do “drum rolls” on the half and whole notes.  It is fun to make games out of the exercises (i.e. girls against boys playing different rhythm lines at the same, etc.). The kids seem to really like it, and I’m enjoying helping them develop as musicians.

The Next Generation of Church Tech Personnel

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I had lunch with a good friend the other day, and he has agreed to teach an audio tech class to our older kids starting in January of 2018. It is our hope that several of those young students will get inspired with audio/visual technology in the church and decide to further develop their skills. The next generation of tech ministry personnel may come from this group of kids.

The teaching plan is to primarily focus on the audio side of church tech, but lighting and media may be covered as well, if time allows. We have several pieces of sound equipment sitting in a production closet that we use for various things throughout the year.  Starting with a small mixer, a couple of mics, a couple of speakers, and an amp, the class could easily cover the basics in a few weeks. Following this they could scale up to using more advanced equipment as time and student talent/interest allows. I’m really excited about this new addition to our KWA ministry.

Multi-Generational Worship

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After weeks of rehearsals, the day finally came! At the beginning of our offering time of our second morning service yesterday, I quickly asked our Kids and Youth Worship Arts students to come to the platform. As students from all over the building poured into the isles, our youth narrators began to quote from Psalm 103. This was followed by four youth soloists singing verse one of the anthem. Then it happened. At a specific prescribed measure of the song, our combined Kid, Youth, and Adult Choirs began to fill our church with praise. It was glorious! What struck me was was not so much the quality of the singing, although I thought everyone did a outstanding job, rather, it was something much deeper. What we were expericing was a picture of what God desires of the church. From age 7 to age 70 worshippers and worship  leaders were uniting their voices together in praise. It was a wonderful taste of Heaven.

Music Mind Games

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While doing some research, I ran across the website, Music Mind Games. It is a secular music education site with an interesting approach to teaching music fundamentals. I really liked the solfege video of an original song entitled "Daily Do."  It is from a workshop the instructor did with a group of music educators in Spain. The music and corresponding explanation can be found here.

This is not an official endorsement of the Music Mind Games site, as I don't know anything about the site or the instructor running it. Having said that, I do plan on further exploring this resource as a potential asset for my ministry. I really like the concept of using games to teach music reading concepts to kids. Experience has shown that when kids can enjoy the learning process, they stay motivated to embrace the ideas being taught. Teaching with style is a core value of Kids Worship Arts.

Do, re, mi

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This semester I've decided to focus on teaching our kids to sing via an music education method called "Solfege." The "do, re, mi system" was made popular in our culture by Julie Andrews in the movie, The Sound of Music. However, this system has been around a very long time. It was invented in the eleventh century ago by a music theorist and teacher called Guido d' Arezzo. He was a monk who desired to devise a method to make it easier to teach music to his students. He utilized the opening syllables of a particular chant sung in his monastery. His system has been modified through the years, but the basic premise is still in place.

Today many music educators, including me, utilize a version called "movable do." Each pitch of a scale has a specific syllable associated with it. In this manner, the melody, or harmony part, of a song can be taught in a very singable manner. This gives the singers aural "handles" in which to learn the music and the skill of sight singing. In the nineteenth century, a man by the name of John Curwen added hand motions to the syllables. These motions, too, have been modified, but Curwen's original system can still be seen.

This brings us to today. By teaching my kids to sing Solefege, it helps them learn new music faster and makes them better musicians. It did wonders for my ability to sight sing once I learned this system in Seminary. It is a means to an end - the ability to sight sing choral music. However, it is a proven teaching tool toward that end, and the kids really seem to enjoy the teaching process of using the syllables and hand motions to learn a song.

Drumming KWA Kids

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For the past several weeks, my friend, Brandon, and I have been tag-team teaching our third and fourth graders. He teaches basic drumming, and I teach mini-keyboards and music staff reading. The kids really seem to be enjoying the class. The pic accompanying this post shows a few of the girls enthusiastically getting into what Brandon is teaching. It is amazing what a creative teacher can accomplish with just a set of inexpensive plastic garbage cans and a pair of drum sticks. Tonight, Brandon was transitioning the kids from the fruit rhythm counting (grape, kiwi, blueberry) he had utilized for the past couple of sessions to the more traditional beat counting method (1&2&3&4&). The kids caught on pretty quickly.

The full third and fourth grade class is pretty large for how and what we teach, so we divide the class into two groups each week. This evening while the girls were drumming, the third and fourth grade boys were taking a baritone ukulele class next door. The girls had just returned from that class a few minutes prior. (For more information on how we utilize fruit syllables in teaching rhythm, check out the blog post dated October 18, 2016. For more information about our baritone ukulele class, see the blog post dated October 19, 2016.)

Best Teaching Method?

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We've purchased the anthem, "Saving One," from Lifeway Worship to use with our combined Adult, Youth, and Children's Choirs. It is a wonderful multi-generation anthem - well written and with a vocal range that is just perfect for kids. Tonight, I'll begin the process of teaching the refrain to the kids. I've only allotted about 10 minutes of rehearsal time to teach it to them. As I see it, I have basically three choices: teach it by rote (play the song for the kids and then let them repeat it back), use solfege syllables (do, re, mi, etc.), or use numbers (1, 2, 3, etc corresponding to the pitches of the song's key, which in this case is F major.) There is really no wrong answer here, but one of these methods is probably better for teaching this particular group of kids. (See the included pictures below for examples.) The ultimate musical goal for this learning process is for the kids to learn the tools to be able to follow along in their choral music. (There are spiritual goals as well, but that is a different post.)

In subsequent weeks, I hope to pass out the anthems we've purchased and sing from the music. Of course, the anthem sheet music will not have either Solfege or numbers to guide them. They will have to follow the melody line on their own. I'll teach them to musically connecting the dots with their eyes as they learn to make their voice follow the rise and fall of the top notes of the melodic line. My desire is for the kids to be able to follow their pitches in the music and not merely just sing the words. 

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We're Off and Running!

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School has started back and we, too, are back into full swing around here with our Kids Worship Arts Ministry. For this semester, we are continuing our basic ministry structure. For the first 1/2 of our time, grades 1-6 are in a large room, and we do a lot of singing/worship discipleship. The tone is upbeat, and I really work hard at keeping things interesting.

For the second half of our time together, the first and second graders have a dedicated space and choir time. The third and fourth graders move upstairs for a music exploration class. Our fifth and sixth graders have a choice between handbells, sign language, and drama.

I'm in charge of the third and fourth grade breakout class this semester, but I'm got some awesome folks leading along with me. We are starting out with basic sight singing, garbage can drums, and baritone ukuleles. As the semester progresses we may add hand chimes, Boomwhackers, and mini-keyboards. We are basically just exploring various forms of music, as the "Music Exploration" name implies. The class is full and the kids seem to really be enjoying the journey. (As a matter of fact, we have so many kids in the class that we are having to divide them. While one group is doing ukuleles in one room, the other group is doing garbage can drumming in another. After a few minutes, the kids swap and experience the other instrument.)

The Adventures of Captain Obvious

This should be obvious to me, but last week I was again reminded that if all I do in rehearsals is have the kids sing songs, I'm churning out singers, not worshippers. It is important to make sure the kids not only learn the notes but also absorb the meaning of the songs. Case in point, last Wednesday we were scheduled to sing a fun song about love. I set up the song by letting the kids tell me their favorite super hero. We continued the conversation with my asking about the coolest super power they wished they possessed. Their answers varied. I then focused the discussion by talking about how love was the greatest power in the universe because God is love. Then, I had some kids read the first few verses of 1 Corinthians 13. We then sang the song, "If I Don't Have Love." Takeaway: Look for teachable moments.

Worship Arts Academy Resumes Soon

Our church's Worship Arts Academy is beginning its third year this fall. We offer private lessons in guitar, piano, organ, drums, and voice. Our piano and drum studios take students as young as first grade, and our guitar and voice studios start kids in the fifth grade and up. (We have had great success with adult students as well.) It is really cool to see how God is using this component of our music and worship ministry at FBC. Our goal is to help each student discover and develop his/her God-given talents in a manner that will glorify Him.

Hymns! and More!

As I was downloading the newest curriculum from Celebrating Grace for our 1st-2nd Grade Choir, I noticed that they have a hymn emphasis as one of their curriculum's components! I'm really excited about this because it ties in with my plans to use hymns this year as a teaching tool to help our kids learn to read the music on the staff. So many of the songs the kids typically sing today have rhythms that are way to complex for the kids to actually read from sheet music. As a result, those songs can only be taught by rote. This has it's place, but they will never reach their fullest potential as musicians unless they learn to read from printed music.

What I've come to realize is that the hymn book is full of wonderful songs that are musically appropriate to teach beginning musicians how to follow along on the staff. The added benefit is that the kids are also learning doctrine from the hymns, and they are also learning the historical songs of the church. It is a win-win situation.

The awesome folks over at Celebrating Grace are way ahead of me. Each semester in their graded choir curriculum they include several hymns - providing printable melody line sheets for the kids, full accompaniment sheets for the pianist, demonstration CD's for the kids to hear how the song goes (with kids singing in a proper but not affected manner), and accompaniment trax for the songs.  Cool. (To be fair, the hymn emphasis is just a small part of their curriculum, but I love that they are including this component in addition to all the other musical and doctrinal things they are teaching the kids through music.) Their company is certainly worth a look if you are looking for a quality way to enhance your children's choir ministry. www.Celebrating-Grace.com