I am often impressed that our school is uncommon, and most of the evidence is of a cultural (rather than, say, a curricular) nature. High schoolers commonly hang out with kindergarteners; all sorts of quirky individuals fit well in our hodgepodge of personalities; clusters of chatting parents bring this administrator delight rather than angst. But one cultural ingredient that brings me particular encouragement is the singing.
If you walk the halls of ECS during an afternoon passing period, the odds are you’ll hear one of the cool kids singing. Strange, I know. If you go to one of our obligatory choir classes, you’ll see (and hear) students who are being challenged and stretched and who are having a great time doing it together. I suppose it should come as little surprise that the singing often carries on long after (and before!) the bell.
Recently (yesterday, as I write this), I got to be in Leavenworth (of all places) with 28 of our secondary Raggants where we had stopped for lunch on the return trip from the Trinity Evangel Church youth retreat. As we were readying to leave, the students congregated on the grassy hill in the town center. When I came to join them, one suggested that we should sing something. This suggestion was greeted with general enthusiasm. Next thing we knew, we had two dozen junior-high and high school-aged students belting out Psalm 94 (which shares a melody with the German national anthem, which is only fitting for a Bavarian village rendition) and Psalm 128 and Doxology in four-part harmony for all the tourists to hear, enjoy, or to resent.
Someone forgot to tell these students that Psalms are for church, that choir is for school, and that singing isn’t cool. Oops.
Yesterday’s episode reminded me again of how grateful I am for this part of our school’s culture…and for a number of reasons. I’ll offer three for now.
Readiness to sing is a hallmark of joyfulness. Generally speaking, folks with a song on their lips are in a good mood. God has given us much, so it is proper that we should be grateful and ready with our thanks and praise. Raggants sing a lot and they’re happy doing it.
Songs with substance are a fantastic cultural weapon. With Psalms and hymns, we combat the Devil’s lies and dour defeatism. Last summer, I was there when a smarmy knot of students stood near an altar to Jupiter inside the Vindolanda Roman Fort and sang (you guessed it!) Psalm 94. Risus est bellum! These same students sang an Isaac Watts’ hymn beside his grave and later sang “The Son of God Goes Forth To War” in a chapel frequented by Scottish Covenanters…many of whom were later martyred.
Each morning at Matins we give the students opportunity to get some good theology stuck in their heads before they head off to first period. The Apostle’s Creed is great, but “Crown Him with Many Crowns” is catchy. Singing loudly about the “Potentate of time, Creator of the rolling sphere, ineffably sublime” can have a powerfully orienting effect before parading off to Logic or Math class. Even better when you’re parading off to Walmart or the library.
Singing is countercultural. Sure, there are talented pop artists who can sing well, and many of them are today’s cultural idols. But generally speaking, if you want to make beautiful vocal music with your family or friends, you’re regarded as weird. And the more theologically substantive your song, the less you’ll fit in.
It turns out our students are immersed in a cultural context where singing Psalms is both cool and fun. That is grace. We sure couldn’t manufacture it. But I can’t help thinking that it pleases God, who is giving us the reason and the ability to sing. By His continued grace, may this only increase.