The director straightens my robe and the red tie around my neck. It’s choking me a little, and I fidget, trying in vain to loosen it. The other children are even wigglier, as I stand quietly and obediently, awaiting instruction. The frazzled choir director lines us up, pleading with us to stay still and in our places. She is mostly successful, as only the most rowdy children begin to move again. Although we are only vaguely aware of what we are about to do, we sense that it is important. And big.
We parade out of the back room and onto the stage. I can hear people clapping and “Awwwws” throughout the crowd. We line up in three rows and our director shuffles the stragglers back into place. She takes her place in front of the choir, and with a big grin on her face, reminds us with her big hand motions to keep our eyes on her. The piano plays the intro, and we launch into the song that we have rehearsed over and over for months.
Standing next to the lit up Christmas tree filled with white crocheted angel ornaments, we sing Away in a Manger in our sweet little off key voices. I am not scared standing in front of so many people. I feel safe nestled amongst all the other children. We sing loud, miss a few cues, smile our cute toothy grins, and the boy next to me waves to mom. The people applaud loudly when we finish.
Many of my early childhood memories are vague and fuzzy at best. Even this one is a tad fuzzy (after years of directing children’s choirs, I filled in a few details.) I do vividly remember standing in front of my Methodist congregation one December Sunday, no more than four or five. I remember those white robes and little red ties (I think they may have been made out of gift wrapping ribbon.) I can see the crocheted ornaments on the tree. For months, the song Away in a Manger was drilled into our heads until we were singing it in our sleep. To this day, when I hear that song, this memory niggles at the back of my brain.
Last year, my sister invited me to their church’s hanging of the greens, where the entire church participated in decorating the sanctuary for Christmas. My five year old nephew was singing with his choir. I was pleased to discover that he shared his debut performance song with me. The kids were absolutely adorable as they sang those sweet verses.
There is something about children’s choirs that is just precious. Having worked with children’s choirs over the years, I have a high respect for anyone that can wrangle those little guys together and get them to sing in unison. It can seem like an impossible feat.
What is it about children’s choirs that seems so special? For me, I think it’s because they’re so unassuming. Their presentation of musical talents is not all about them. They’re excited to perform and show off their hard work, but it’s not in a prideful way. With adult music ministry, sometimes it feels like a talent competition. It’s not like that with kids. They just want to sing. They don’t need to get caught up in church politics or worship styles.
When I stood up in front of that congregation so many years ago, I wasn’t thinking about impressing people. I wasn’t thinking about the style of worship. I had simply learned a song and was proud to share it with those who cared to hear it. And though I was barely beginning to understand this great God, I grasped in a small way that we were singing for a bigger purpose.