Children's songs of joy: Worthy music helps fill many roles

Children of the Eagar Arizona Stake were recently asked what they liked most about Primary. Nearly every answer included singing Primary songs.

"I like to sing the songs," wrote Cassidy, a Sunbeam."The most I like about Primary is singing," explained Sheena, a Star A.

"I like sharing time, singing time and class time. I wish I could do that every day," replied Naomi, a Valiant A.

For children like Cassidy, Sheena and Naomi throughout the world, music is an integral part of Primary, said Betty Jo N. Jepsen, first counselor in the Primary general presidency. These little ones not only can have fun singing Primary songs, but also can learn gospel principles through these short, simple melodies.

To discuss the role of music in Primary, the Church News recently interviewed Sister Jepsen, whose responsibilities include the Primary music committee; Bonnie Winterton, a member of the Primary general board and chairman of the Primary music committee; and Michael F. Moody, chairman of the Church's general music committee. The general music committee and the Primary music committee worked together in the publication of the Children's Songbook. In separate interviews, Sisters Jepsen and Winterton, and Brother Moody spoke of the purposes of Primary music, and its effects in the lives of children.

"Worthy music is a tool to help children learn the gospel in a better way than just the spoken word - and in a fun way," said Sister Jepsen. "Music in Primary can do three specific things - create a reverent atmosphere, teach a gospel principle and help children feel the joy of singing."

Continuing, she said: "We can retain as much as 90 percent of what we learn through music." She explained that music "approaches information from another angle. Something about poetry is easier to remember than prose. Then poetry set to music adds one more factor that makes it so much easier to retain and to learn."

And Primary music is "so much fun," Sister Jepsen added. "This year we are learning the books of the Old Testament to the tune, `Do What is Right.' Children will remember these books all their lives by learning them to that tune.

But whether music is fun or sacred, she continued, music is a way of unifying children, regardless of ethnic, geographic or developmental background, and is a way of inviting a feeling of peace during times of stress or fear. (Please see accompanying stories on this page about how music touched the lives of children in Missouri and Wyoming.)

In speaking of the importance of Primary music, Sisters Jepsen and Winterton and Brother Moody offered the following suggestions to Primary music leaders, teachers and parents:

Use the Children's Songbook; take advantage of the many helps included in the back of this book. "This is the chorister's manual," Sister Jepsen said, in referring to the Children's Songbook. "It's a wonderful thing because families can also have a copy in their homes."

The songbook, available at Church distribution centers for $6.25, was published in 1989 and contains 241 songs in eight categories: My Heavenly Father, The Savior, The Gospel, Home and Family, Heritage, Nature and Seasons, Fun and Activity, and Prelude Music. Also included are suggestions for teaching songs to children, adding variety to songs, conducting, accompanying, and copying music. In addition, there are chord charts for piano and guitar.

Concerning the publication of the songbook, Brother Moody explained that songs were selected mainly from existing material and were chosen to provide a balanced curriculum. Various topics are covered in the book, he said, such as faith, repentance, baptism, the Word of Wisdom and temples.

Songs were also chosen that are "simple and memorable," he continued. "A good song is one in which you can almost hear the next note coming, and after two or three repetitions, it begins to be familiar."

In speaking of the selections, Sister Jepsen said that some Church members were disappointed because some of the "old favorites" were left out. She said a balance had to be found between including many familiar songs and choosing new ones. "There were a few principles of the gospel about which no Primary songs were written," she added. "Some new songs were chosen to strike a balance in teaching a total gospel curriculum."

Concerning children in non-English speaking areas of the world, Sister Jepsen and Brother Moody said the Church is planning for international versions of the Children's Songbook. For now, members in non-English-speaking areas are encouraged to continue using songs printed in existing Primary songbooks and in the Church's international magazines.

Concentrate on the gospel message being taught through a song. Speaking of the importance of teaching a gospel message through music, Sister Winterton noted: "Primary music leaders are teaching not only music, they are teaching the gospel through music. That is the main message that we would like to give music leaders in Primary.

"Music leaders are teachers and should prepare as a class teacher would prepare her lessons. A music leader should always keep in mind the message and the gospel principle that is taught in a song. Bear testimony to the children of the gospel principle."

Concerning teaching a gospel message through music, Sister Jepsen noted how each song is accompanied by scriptural references. "It's a good thing to review the references when you're teaching a song so you can really understand what the purpose of the song is."

Review songs and develop a core of favorites. Sister Jepsen emphasized the importance of reviewing songs frequently. "We all know how our favorite songs strike a chord - no pun intended," she said with a smile. "It is the desire of the Primary general presidency that we develop for our children a core of favorite music."

Sister Jepsen explained that as a song is repeated, children begin to identify with the spirit that attends the song - even the fun songs.

Be flexible with music in Primary. The formal times for music in Primary are the prelude, a prayer song, an opening song, a greeting song, possibly a birthday song and singing time.

Along with these formal times, Sister Jepsen advised Primary leaders and children to enjoy music informally. "Music can be a way to redirect listening, can be a way to recapture a reverent feeling, also a way to teach a specific principle. Music is a way to add great variety to your lessons and to your presentations and to keep children's attention."

Activity songs, she added, are helpful when children become restless.

Sing to children. "Children love to have adults sing to them," Sister Jepsen said. "They love a teacher to sing to the class. Children learn a different kind of closeness with having a teacher sing to them and with them."

She added that if a teacher is uncomfortable singing to children, such as to older children, he or she can use the "Children's Songbook, Audiocassette," available at the Salt Lake Distribution Center for $7. (Please see Church News, Dec. 11, 1993.) Primary leaders and parents also can make their own recordings of children's favorite songs, she said.

Be aware of age differences when planning music in Primary. Sister Jepsen said it might be necessary to divide older and younger children for some songs, as different approaches are used for various age groups.

She added that asking older children questions about some songs might be an appropriate way to use music, as older children use more abstract thinking. Games are fine, she said, as long as there as no winners and losers.

Realize the importance of the role of Primary chorister. Concerning preparation, Sister Jepsen said: "You don't need to be an expert musician. If you will look at the music and decide what the gospel principle is and then learn the tune, you can be a music leader."

Use the suggested songs in preparation for the Children's Sacrament Meeting Presentation. Sister Jepsen explained that every year Primary recommends a list of songs to be learned throughout the year in preparation for the sacrament meeting presentation. These songs, she added, are specifically chosen to reinforce the principles taught in sharing time throughout the year.

Sister Jepsen added, "Be cautious about encouraging children to sing loudly. "The most important thing is to sing beautifully, not loudly." She said the voices of all children are beautiful.

In addition, she said the use of visual aids in teaching music is acceptable, as long as they support the gospel principle being taught.

Sing Primary music in the home. In a letter dated April 24, 1989, concerning the Children's Songbook, the First Presidency stated: "Using these favorites in family home evening, and at other times, will strengthen understanding of gospel principles taught through music and will contribute to family unity." (See Church News, May 20, 1989.)

Speaking of Primary music in the home, Sister Jepsen said, "Primary exists to support the home; so does the music." She encouraged the development of family traditions including music, and that families have their own core of favorite songs - many of which can be from the Children's Songbook.

Regarding Primary music strengthening children throughout their lives, the "Preface" of the Children's Songbook states: "Someday you will be leaders of the Church and of the world. What you learn from these songs will help you to be faithful and to serve righteously. The good feelings the songs bring will give you happiness and courage and will help you to remember that you are children of God."

And, Sister Winterton added, "I feel that Primary music is a direct pipeline to heaven."

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