Pedagogical Principles of Cross-Cultural Congregational Song

By Koops, Lisa Huisman | The Hymn, Autumn 2007 | Go to article overview

Pedagogical Principles of Cross-Cultural Congregational Song


Koops, Lisa Huisman, The Hymn


Many congregations today embrace the practice of singing songs from other parts of the world, having heard and accepted the rationale that singing world songs helps them to pray for people from those areas, to recognize the diversity of the Body of Christ, and to practice hospitality to members of many cultures within their congregation and community.1 However, some of these congregations struggle with learning and singing songs from musical practices other than their own, a challenge encountered by choirs and congregations around the world.

In his address to The Hymn Society at the Vancouver Conference in 1999, C. Michael Hawn called for attention to the issues of cross-cultural congregational song,2 including how best to teach it. The purpose of this article is to explore principles of the pedagogy of cross-cultural congregational song. These principles are based on the analysis of interviews with four worship leaders and educators familiar with the joys and challenges of leading congregations in cross-cultural song.3 Each discussed teaching methods and strategies, common barriers of teaching cross-cultural song and possible ways to overcome these barriers, and how to balance issues of authenticity and accessibility in leading congregations in cross-cultural song. After briefly describing these four individuals, I will discuss emergent themes based on their interviews, and explore principles for teaching world music to congregations based on these themes.

This research complements existing literature containing suggestions on teaching cross-cultural song to congregations.4 The four individuals I interviewed included many of the suggestions made by these authors in their discussions, such as the importance of teaching melodies vocally, rather than with a guitar or piano, and the use of the gathering time before a service as time to teach new songs.

While the lists of teaching behaviors to pursue or avoid found in the literature are helpful, in this study I was interested in looking deeper at pedagogical choices and processes that serve as a foundation for techniques and strategies. In discussing the challenge of teaching cross-cultural song to congregations, I approach the subject from the perspective of a music educator, having taught early childhood music, elementary general music, middle school choir, and a university elementary teachers' music methods class. Teaching music from other cultures is of great interest within the field of music education as well as in worship, and we can borrow from music education when developing a pedagogy of cross-cultural congregational song.

Four Enliveners

I had the privilege of interviewing four accomplished individuals who are scholars, worship leaders, and educators in order to find out more about teaching congregations to sing cross-cultural music: Alison Adam,5 C. Michael Hawn,6 Lim Swee-Hong,7 and Helen Phelan.8 Hawn uses the term "enliveners," learned from Roman Catholic educator Michael Warren, to refer to congregational song leaders who energetically and carefully facilitate cross-cultural singing in congregations;9 this is an appropriate tide for all four of the study participants.

Alison Adam is based in London; she is an enlivener who works with congregations in the United Kingdom and further afield to lead worship and present workshops on singing and liturgy. Formerly a member of the Wild Goose Resource Group (a worship project of Scodand's Iona Community), her teaching technique and repertoire, while thoroughly her own, strongly reflect the ethos of the the Iona Community. Adam's experiences in empowering people to sing, even when they do not believe in their own voices, have led her to develop excellent strategies for introducing cross-cultural songs and encouraging congregations to sing.

C. Michael Hawn is Professor of Church Music and Director of the Sacred Music Program at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

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