Count the Cost is a blog series designed for prospective parents. In our second installment, we asked our music teacher to explain why we spend so much – so much – time singing.
If you a spend a day at Cedar Classical Academy, you will quickly notice that we constantly sing together throughout the school hours. The morning begins with hymns in the opening ceremony, and then the singing carries on through the halls on the way to class and into theology class. Later in the day, students lift up their voices as they walk the hallways to head to art or music class (where they, again, sing). Lively songs for memorizing the Ten Commandments, the map of Europe, or the periodic table can be heard from the classrooms. At lunchtime, we sing a prayer to thank the Lord for our daily bread. The day closes with Doxology as students head out of their classrooms.
Why is there so much singing?
In his book Desiring the Kingdom, James K.A. Smith poses this challenge: “What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?” He invites the reader to view education as “a formative rather than just an informative project.” As our students are led daily to discover truth, goodness, and beauty in every discipline, we seek not only to inform their minds, but also to form and shape their loves and affections, so they will rightly love that which is true, good, and beautiful.
How do we see this through? We lift up our students in constant prayers, as He is the only One who can accomplish the “heart work” of faith and repentance. For our daily life at Cedar, we desire to build habits and rituals that train students’ affections. Repeated “habit-forming practices” or “liturgy,” as Smith points out, are the means to “get hold of our heart and aim our love toward the kingdom of God.” What habit-forming practices can we cultivate in our school cultures that will help shape and aim our students’ love and desire for the kingdom of God?
With this purpose in mind, we seek to establish a singing culture, among many other cultural facets, that goes beyond the walls of music class or church service. We purposefully set out to make singing a habitual part of the school day.
A Living Instrument
Singing uses the natural instrument that God has gifted us: our voice. Scripture urges us to sing of His steadfast love and wondrous works. Each of us is a living, breathing musical instrument unlike any other. Singing requires us to involve the entire body. Smith observes that “a song gets absorbed into our imagination in a way that mere texts rarely do… because it involves our body in a unique way.” Have you noticed how a song is often associated with a certain event, or how it can bring up memories of childhood, a loved one, or a special place? Before you realize it, the song comes to mind and find its way to your lips. There is no better way to weave beautiful words from Scripture and solid Gospel truths into the hearts and minds of our students than through singing.
Outside of Sunday services or maybe sports events, many do not sing out loud at home or in communities. Singing is often characterized as only for those talented or for the professionals. By providing consistent opportunities to sing together, we hope to slowly cultivate a love for it and to encourage students to make it an essential part of their daily life as joyful worshipers in the kingdom of God. Over time, we would be delighted to see this liturgy at school spill over into life at home: singing together in family worship, while doing chores, at bedtime, or in the car.
Tune Our Hearts to Sing Thy Grace
One of my favorite phrases in the hymn “Come Thou Fount” is: “Tune my heart to sing Thy grace.” Our school community needs constant tuning to reorient our hearts and minds, just as musical instruments do. Music is the gift of God that tunes the soul. We intentionally seek opportunities and carve out moments throughout the school hours to pause and lift our voices together. In the book Raise the Song, Kent Young calls this practice “singing in the cracks.” Thus, we begin our day with singing hymns: declaring His great faithfulness, praising Him for the beauty of His creation, and praying that He is to be our vision and wisdom. This sets our hearts and minds ready for the tasks ahead. When we walk the hallways, we sing of His amazing grace or of a mighty fortress that is our God. It lifts up the spirit, encourages a weary heart, and replaces complaints with songs. Before we start our meals together in the lunchroom, we take a moment to sing our thankfulness for our daily bread. As we end our day, we give thanks and praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Hymns are “sung theology,” said the Methodist preacher John Wesley. By purposefully weaving in these words and melodies throughout the day, we affirm God’s truth to ourselves and to each other of who God is and who we are in Christ. In singing together, we also serve one another. It is one of the ways to “let the word of Christ to dwell in us richly” as written in Colossians 3:16.
Loyalty Through Liturgy
Our habitual practice of singing together also builds a sense of community and unity in our school. Jarrod Richey mentions in the book Raise the Song that singing together inspires “loyalty through liturgy.” He points out that as we share a common repertoire of songs and hymns, it creates a bond within the school community and enriches it. The rhythm of the school day is punctuated by a certain song or hymn. In music class, we have been learning a few sea shanties from times past. These are sung by sailors to keep the work rhythm of hauling ship loads or raising the sails in unison, adding merriment to the task at hand. In the same way, our daily singing accompanies our tasks and keeps us all in the community spirit. The challenge of memorizing the periodic table or the map of Europe feels less daunting when it is sung with a lively tune. There is something powerful about taking a breath together as living instruments and uniting our voices in a song for a common purpose. What we hope you will notice and experience at our school is a beautiful-sounding environment that will bless anyone who walks into our building, where hymns, songs, words of poetry and literature, lively conversations, and joyful laughter are heard throughout the day.