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Erin DeYoung on Teaching Worship in Christian High School Music Classes

Erin DeYoung teaches orchestra at Calvin Christian High School in Grandville, Michigan. Her students helped lead worship at the 2013 Calvin Symposium on Worship.

In this edited conversation, she shares ideas for teaching worship in performance-based music classes in Christian high schools.

It’s not common practice for many Christian high school band, choir, or orchestra directors to teach their students about worship. Why do you do it?

I’ve been doing more of that as I work on my Master of Arts in teaching degree. In MA classes we talk about trying to pose overarching questions. For music performance teachers, these questions could be, “How does music convey emotion to listeners?” or, “What does it mean to have or speak a musical language”? In Christian schools we can also ask, “What is worship?” and “What does it require?”

Practically speaking, how do you make time to teach about worship while rehearsing students for concerts, festivals, or playing in chapel?

The big challenge of teaching performance-based classes is that it’s easy to miss opportunities for thinking and talking about what we have learned. At least six times a year, our school has days when classes start two hours later than usual. Students go through their daily schedules but have shorter class periods. I use those times for discussion.

Also, during exams I have students do a project. For music and emotion, I ask them to choose an orchestra song and pair it with another medium—maybe a painting or their own creation—that conveys the same emotion. They have to describe this link, choose a musical response to that emotion, and present that response too.

How have you helped your orchestra students learn about worship?

We’ve talked about the basics of Christian worship as a dialogue between God and people. That metaphor was new for many of them. It helped them get beyond focusing only on the mechanics of music or worship.

Sometimes I invite other people to talk with them. Karel de Waal Malefyt directs the choirs and middle school orchestra in our school system. He talked with them about being part of The Choral Scholars, another group that has sung at the annual Calvin Symposium on Worship. Greg Scheer, a local minister of worship, came in to talk with them about leading worship.

Did playing at the worship symposium influence your students’ views of what worship is?

That was eye opening! We talked about worship both before and after the symposium. So many students talked about how the symposium gave them a bigger picture of who God’s people are. They were surprised that so many people would come from far away to worship together.

Katie Shaw, a violinist in her senior year, said, “I really enjoyed playing with the people there, unlike our other concerts, where we play for the people. It made me remember how many other Christians are actually out there and how we all can join together.”

How might these insights make a difference in how your orchestra students experience chapel services at school?

We’ve been talking about barriers to worship as we think of leading a school chapel. Student talked about feeling insecure or uncomfortable singing in front of other people. They often feel tired in chapel. They don’t always relate to whoever is praying.

When I asked how we could overcome these barriers to worship, students said things like, “We expect to be entertained, but worship is about God” and, “Worship requires us to be in dialogue and be in God’s presence.” We talked about how being able to worship requires the maturity to stay mentally engaged.

Read about Erin DeYoung’s experience of helping young musicians lead worship. Read a story on increasing participation in high school chapel services. Listen to a workshop on planning and leading worship in high school chapels, offered at the 2012 Calvin Symposium on worship.