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Unity in Harmony: Planning an Intergenerational Choir

Remember family gatherings for the holidays, the festival of food planned for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners? Everyone is invited to bring something to the table. Even ordinary dishes like green beans get dressed up with sliced almonds or onion rings. Leaves to the dining room table are hauled up from the basement; in quite a few households a card table might be tacked on to the end of the dining table to make enough room for everyone—from the very youngest babies and toddlers to the oldest grandmothers.

One of our greatest needs today is to allow the entire body of Christ to gather in worship. In 1 Corinthians 12-14 Paul reminds us to consider the whole body of Christ, not just the parts. It’s not just a few members of the family who gather for worship; it’s the extended family that is invited to the table for spiritual food and nurture. Gathering a diverse body around the table is our challenge as contemporary worship leaders. It is also our biblical mandate. It is our call to find unity within diverse gifts, needs, and preferences. In today’s climate of specialization, niche markets, and focus groups, this concept is counter-cultural. But it’s one that many of our churches need to rediscover today.

We’ve all heard many reasons from pastors, church staff members, parents, and congregations for why we can’t worship together. But that remains our call. Modeling unified worship for our congregations through an “intergenerational choir” can be a significant beginning in bringing together the body of Christ in meaningful and vital ways. If we can sing together . . . we can worship together!

Prior to cooking a festive meal, the intelligent chef needs to ask some questions: What’s the occasion? How many are coming? What’s the budget? Is there enough room for everyone? Similarly, when planning an intergenerational choir, some questions must be considered: What’s the occasion? What are the resources available? How much space is there to work in? How much time do we have?

Choose Your Menu Wisely

Begin by thinking through the worship occasion that you’re planning for. What vocal/choral groups are available to you? Does your church have a children’s choir, youth choir, a worship ensemble, adult choir, soloists, or other ensembles? What about instruments? Do you have organ, piano, keyboards, orchestral instruments, guitars, drums, or handbells?

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can begin to consider appropriate repertoire and music selections, including anthems written for intergenerational choirs (see sidebar, p. 13). Many of these have a variety of accompaniment parts and options for you to consider. In addition, the creative conductor can adapt simple praise songs, canons, hymns, and other musical offerings for an intergenerational choir.

Quality Ingredients are Essential!

Take time to celebrate each part and to draw the attention of the entire group to the unique parts that make up the whole. Make sure that each group knows the unique part they play in bringing the anthem or song to God in worship. Maybe one group introduces the melody, another adds a harmony, while another adds some spark with a rhythmic ostinato. Whatever the case, teach everyone the purpose of the parts as they relate to the whole. This builds teamwork and models the diversity that we have within our unity—think 1 Corinthians 12. And it’s a terrific model for the congregation to see as well as hear.

Plan Adequate Cooking Space and Preparation Time

You’ll want to rehearse separately with each part of the intergenerational choir and only then bring the choir together for a group rehearsal. Remember that just as the last few minutes prior to the meal being served are almost always the most harrowing, the joint rehearsal will usually be a bit hectic and chaotic. Prepare yourself and the individual groups for this—knowing what to expect will help alleviate frustration!

Presentation Is Everything!

Take time to think through the logistics. Again, ask questions in advance: Where will everyone stand? Will everyone be able to see? Do we need multiple conductors? Does the choir need to sit down? Are there enough chairs? When do we come forward? We’ve all experienced at least one occasion that courted disaster because these questions had not been thought through in advance.

As in the presentation of an exquisite meal, a little thoughtful reflection and planning ahead of time can allow our participation in worship to have the fullest impact on both the congregation and those participating as we present our best gift to God.

Leave Room for Dessert

A great meal deserves a great finish! In the European tradition, there’s always some time after a meal for diners to just sit and converse, typically while enjoying a sweet dessert and a strong cup of coffee. The idea is not so much to eat more, but to reflect, to converse, and to simply enjoy being in the presence of those you’ve eaten with. This is also an excellent model for bringing an intergenerational choir together. A plate of cookies and something to drink will help to bring this about. But the most important result will be the time people spend together and the conversation they enjoy.

Take Time to Reflect

Afterward, take time to gather as a group and reflect about the experience of participating in the choir together. Ask the adults,

  • What was meaningful to you when the children/youth joined us?
  • Did you learn anything from singing together with our younger singers?

Ask the children and youth,

  • Did you notice a difference in the sound when we sang with the adults?
  • Was singing with the adults different than what you thought it would be?
  • What did you learn from singing with the adults?

Questions like these promote reflection that can break down some of the stereotypes that are often associated with people of different generations.

Increasingly, we are faced with the cultural pull to render the body of Christ into fragmented parts rather than as the gathered whole. Let us lead our congregations in a renewal of health and biblical obedience. Leading in unified worship, we become a living answer to the last recorded prayer of our Savior, who prayed for unity among the faithful (John 17:20-23). The intergenerational choir brings diverse ages together and unites the body of Christ, allowing us to visually say and powerfully sing, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6).


Resources for Intergenerational Choirs
  • “Allelu, Sing Praises!” Michael Jothen. Choristers Guild CGA779; Popular/contemporary; for 3-part voices (any combination); keyboard, percussion (tambourine/congas). Use for a general anthem of praise; Palm Sunday.
  • “The First Song of Isaiah,” Jack Noble White. Belwin-Mills, No. CMR 3347; admin. Warner Bros. Publications. (See also SNC 74.) Traditional/contemporary; SATB/unison; keyboard, drums, guitar, handbells. Use as a general anthem; prayer response; benediction.
  • “Climb to the Top of the Highest Mountain,” Carolyn Jennings, based on Isaiah 40. Kjos C 8118. SATB/children, with organ/keyboard. Use for Advent.
  • “The King of Glory,” Austin C. Lovelace, based on Psalm 24:7-10. Choristers Guild CGA 198. Unison/SATB choirs/congregation, with organ/keyboard. A great festive anthem; for Advent or Palm Sunday.
  • “With All My Heart: A Medley,” arr. Lloyd Larson. Alfred Music 21526. For 2-part, any combination of voices (be creative!) and piano.
  • “Brightest and Best of the Stars of the Morning,” Jonathan Shippey and Reginald Heber. Hinshaw Publishing, available Spring 2005. SSATB/Children’s choir with organ/keyboard/handbells (5 octaves)/horn. For Christmas.
  • “We Thank You, God, for Teachers,” Mark Patterson and Carolyn Winfrey Gillette. Choristers Guild CGA 1021. Children’s Choir (unison)/Youth Choir (SAB)/Adult Choir (SATB), with keyboard.
  • “Silent Night, Silent World,” Sally Albrecht and Jay Althouse. Alfred Music 22783. For 2-part voices with keyboard and special narration. Use for Christmas/Christmas Eve.
  • “I Praise You, God,” John Ferguson and Debra Rienstra, based on Psalm 139:13-16. GIA, CICW series 6360. SATB/Children’s choir, with organ. For general use, baptism, or Sanctity of Life Sunday.
  • “Life Unfolding,” Helen Kemp and John Ylvisaker. Choristers Guild CGA 877. Antiphonal children’s choir/Adult choir, with piano/handchimes (2 octaves) or Vibraphone.
  • “Glory to God in the Highest,” Robert McIver, based on Luke 2:14. Choristers Guild CGA 722. For antiphonal choirs (divided children or youth or both)/SATB, with keyboard/2 treble instruments in C/tambourine. For Christmas.
  • “Come, Christians, Join to Sing,” Robert Hobby and Christian Bateman. Choristers Guild CGA 1003. Children’s choir/SATB choir/congregation, with organ/trumpet.