by Craig Dunham, Headmaster
“Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Colossians 3:16
We sing a lot at Petra, and not just in choir or only at the elementary level. While there is plenty of music going on in our K4-6th grade classrooms each day (not to mention in our 1st-3rd grade violin program, or on Friday mornings as part of our elementary Great Assembly), our 7th-12th grade students gather for ten minutes of daily morning prayer and song, so named “matins” for the medieval tradition of corporate prayer and singing, scripture reading and response, and recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and various ancient creeds.
In addition to the morning music, we usually also offer a musical blessing together before lunch in the form of the “Doxology” or “Gloria Patri.” And, since music is one of the “four ways” of the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy) of classical Christian education, at some point in the months or years to come, I hope we can work in some “evensong” to end each day as well. (We also have plans for more formally-developed choirs and orchestras, but that’s another post.)
As a classical Christian school, we want our students singing ancient songs and participating in traditional liturgies that have been important to Christians for millennia. Sadly, few churches even reference many of these anymore (let alone use them), so ours is not only an attempt at morning prayer but musical preservation. In addition to several traditional hymns to date, we’ve included service music like “Venite,” which is a musical chant of Psalm 95; “Kyrie Eleison,” which the students have learned to sing in a beautiful three-part round; and (currently) “Dona Nobis Pacem,” with three different parts sung in harmony. There is no accompaniment and no sheet music; students learn by ear and attempt to blend their voices with those of others as we focus together at the start of our day.
Earlier this week, we gathered all of our Petra students into the gymnasium to take an all-school picture. Everyone did a nice job assembling themselves (which is no small task for 198 K4-12th grade students), but after the picture was taken, it seemed a great opportunity since we were all together to have everyone sing “Kyrie.” Perhaps the best way to explain the result is to quote one of Mrs. Snyder’s first graders, who excitedly told her on the way back to class that “everybody’s singing sounded like beautiful opera!”
While I’m unaware of this first grade student’s actual experience with opera, indeed (and with a little help from the live acoustics of our gymnasium), the students’ singing was beautiful. But even better than that one moment has been that all this week I’ve heard first graders, fifth graders, and freshmen (among others), whistling while they work and humming in the hallways these ancient songs of the faith.
What started out as joyful noise is metamorphosing into joyful music. As students learn these and other songs, we trust this venerable music will stay with and sustain them in good times and bad, just as it has done for so many saints before.
“Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.” Ps. 95:1
Translations: “Venite” (“Come.”); “Kyrie Eleison” (“Lord, have mercy.”); “Dona Nobis Pacem” (“Grant us peace.”)
Photos courtesy of Ashley Dawn Photography