After Wausau School District Limits Religious Music at Holiday Concerts, Community Members Freak Out

Last Thursday, Wausau School District officials (in Wisconsin) sat down with their music directors to explain that their holiday concerts would have to be secular in nature. The choirs could sing Christian songs, but they’d have to sing a few secular ones, too, to balance it all out. If they couldn’t find a way to do that, the December concerts would have to be canceled.

And then all hell broke loose because those terms were unacceptable to everyone:

[Wausau West High School's] elite Master Singers choir group will temporarily disband and Wausau elementary schools will no longer hold holiday concerts as the result of a Wausau School District directive to limit religious music in December.

“This group [Master Singers] sings at Christmas programs,” [director Phil] Buch said. “We sing for nursing homes, grade schools, businesses. To do that without Christmas music doesn’t make sense.”

A Facebook group called “Wausau School District Cancels Christmas,” popped up, too, with a picture of the Grinch right in the profile:

Even a petition began lamenting against a “decision [that] appears to be unreasonable censorship, anti-intellectual, and an unwarranted attack on people of faith.”

You can understand why they’re upset, of course. How do you have a holiday concert without Christmas carols? And if you’re part of an elite choir, can you really have a strong classical repertoire that doesn’t include a large selection of religious-themed music?

But okay, let’s assume there’s a potential church/state separation issue here. Is it possible to distinguish between works that are purely devotional and works that are fundamental to musical literacy? Are the song lyrics promoting religion? Those questions and many others are worth asking.

Here’s a question for you: Would it be okay for a choir to sing a song called “Worthy to be Praised” (lyrics below) at a public high school graduation ceremony?

Ha, hallelujah, ha, hallelujah, 
You’re worthy to be praised. 
Ha, hallelujah, ha, hallelujah, 
You’re worthy to be praised. 
Lord, Lord I love You, 
Lord, Lord, I love You, 
You’re worthy to be praised. 
Lord, Lord, I love You, 
Lord, Lord, I love You, 
You’re worthy to be praised. 
Chorus 1: 

From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same, 
You’re worthy to be praised 
For the rest of my days, I will give You praise, 
You’re worthy to be praised.

I think the obvious answer to that is a resounding, “No.” Too religious. No redeeming value at a graduation ceremony.

But there was a public school that did that a few years ago. What was the name of it…? I wish I could remem—oh right. Wausau West High School.

In response to that incident, district officials assured the Freedom From Religion Foundation that they would be more cautious and exercise better judgment in the future with regards to their musical selections, for graduation and for music classes.

But you wouldn’t know any of that if you just read the articles in the media, anything on that Facebook group’s page, or the petition.

It looks like the school board is taking that warning to heart this year and actively preventing such problems from occurring before it’s too late, and good for them. It’s important to note that context matters. Religious songs can be sung at public schools, but promotion of religion is illegal. If you’re only singing religious songs at your annual “Christmas concert,” what other conclusion would a rational person have other than “They love Jesus”?

That’s what seems to be happening, too:

Buch said district administrators gave music educators at Wausau schools three options for December concerts, which typically contain a significant amount of religious music

It’s not like there’s a shortage of secular music that offers educational value. Any halfway decent music director knows that. If it’s not a problem to find that music the rest of the year, it shouldn’t be hard to find secular music in December, either. By all means, throw in a few songs celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. But if it’s mostly Jesus, it is problematic, and that’s what the school board is trying to prevent.

There’s a reason people in the community are flipping out over the new rules: They’re so accustomed to having their religious beliefs affirmed by the district that they can’t handle their privilege disappearing.

Yesterday afternoon, district administrators released this statement, confirming that they intend to follow the law and telling those who believe they’re trying to eliminate all vestiges of religion that they just don’t get it:

… it should be noted at the outset that at no time has the District prohibited the use of religiously-themed Christmas music in winter concerts or directed teachers to eliminate such music from the curriculum. Rather, District administration has taken steps to help ensure that religiously-themed music is incorporated into the curriculum and performances in a manner that satisfies legal and educational requirements.

They added that there’s “no set ratio of religious songs versus non-religious songs” despite what some of the irresponsible news articles have suggested (which is five secular songs for every one religious song).

By the way, people who actually know how the law works and have no connection to the district say the administrators are doing the right thing:

“I think the school district is on the right track, especially about how the programs should be educational, inclusive of a variety of kinds of music, and to be careful not to be overwhelmingly religious,” [director of the Religious Freedom Education Project of The First Amendment Center Charles] Haynes said.

… Haynes said it appears that Buch has overreacted in putting the Masters Singers on hiatus. “It has the feeling of taking my marbles and going home,’” he said.

Or Buch cutting off his nose to spite his face. There’s no reason his elite choir has to disband. They can sing all they want. They just can’t sing songs that are mostly devotional in nature. And if they’re singing in “nursing homes, grade schools, [and] businesses,” like Buch said, why would they have to sing religious music at all? I think the patients and little kids and corporate leaders would be thrilled to hear a trained group of excellent singers singing damn near anything. The concerts don’t have to be homages to Jesus and God.

None of that will matter to most of the Christians in the community, though. They plan to gather en masse at the next school board meeting on October 14.

I’m not sure what’s more cringe-worthy: The fact that so many Christians are mad at the elected school board members even though it was the hired administrators who made these decisions… or the fact that they’re saying we ought to listen to the experts in the music field as to what’s appropriate to teach students instead of the school board members, even though they argue the opposite when it comes to science curriculums.

(via Religion Clause — Thanks to Patrick for his help!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Rationalist1

    When my son attended public school here in Toronto, his school had an annual December concert (I actually forget the name of it). Classes and choirs performed the entire range of selections from traditional Christmas carols (The Huron Carol was my favourite), plus selections for Dwalli and Hanukkah. Every one seemed to like it, no one complained, it was a nice balance of traditions and as an atheist I had no problem with it.

    The crowd favorite, however, was when the grade 1′s and 2′s sang BTO’s “Takin’ Care of Business”. I wished I had recorded that.

  • Tyrrlin Flamestrike

    Good grief. As a former military musician, I know we were very used to including a large variety of songs celebrating the winter holidays. We played Christmas songs, Haunukkah songs, and there’s even a really nice Kwanzaa song (called “Imani”) out there.

    And of course, there’s the ubiquitous (and unkillable) secular “Sleigh Ride”.

    This is NOT that difficult. But I guess the Christians just have to feel *special*.

  • KMR

    I don’t get this. I grew up in the south and our Christmas concerts always had a wide variety of music in them. I remember singing “Hark how the Bell” (still my favorite and non-religious), Feliz Navidad, Frosty, Rudolph, some good ‘ol Silent Night…. Not sure what the controversy is. Did their previous concerts only have religious music? If so, they must have sucked.

  • badgerchild

    I was in four choirs my senior year of high school. Sang in two, accompanied a third, and was assistant director for the fourth. The lead soprano was a very gifted young lady, and an atheist, and a racist (yes). Since the school was in the South, and the director was diversity-conscious, our concerts frequently featured Negro spirituals. My stars, did that young soprano pitch a fit. I sat down with her and explained that her focus should be on the music and on her performance, and that any music could serve as a credit to her talent and professionalism. She asked me if I would be happy singing a Nazi recruitment song. That made me think. I told her I was able to separate Wagner from a crude propaganda ballad, and perhaps she should consider how she could participate in diversity while making a case that Negro spirituals offended her. We worked together and found a few meritorious choral pieces, written by black composers or lyricists, that weren’t religious and that didn’t have lyrics in a broad minstrel-show dialect. We went together to the director, who was irritated by our overturning of the curricular apple cart, and told us to sing what we were assigned or fail choir. Well, that wasn’t an option… but at least we tried.

  • Ubi Dubium

    Silent Night is religious, doesn’t count.

  • Timmah

    Yeah as the next two words after “Silent night” are “Holy night”…

  • Brian Westley

    So is Feliz Navidad

  • MMD

    Ugh. I’m a junior high band director and the winter concert is, by far, my least favorite one to program for. As a rule, I stick to songs about winter, snow, bells, and the like. No one can argue with that. I’ve also programmed music from How the Grinch Stole Christmas and other such TV specials. They placate the Christians because “Christmas” is in the title, but they have nothing to do with Jesus (especially when I pick “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” hahaha). But seriously, this is tricky to navigate sometimes. I’m glad that this school board is setting some loose guidelines for this.

  • badgerchild

    I don’t mean to be a downer… but honestly, the vast majority of Christmas music sucks, and the vast majority of what doesn’t suck was written and composed before Darwin made atheism defensible. Add to that the utter silliness of deliberately making secular songs that celebrate the birth of someone’s God, and the reluctance of people to fully engage with music that “commercializes” Christmas, and the willingness of choirs to sing Hanukkah and Diwali music, and it’s a big mess. It’s not impossible to find lovely secular Christmas songs anyway, but it takes considerable musical feeling and training and more research time than you’d think. I for one am disinclined to try to write them myself because Christmas is just something I tolerate, not something I want to spend creativity time on.

  • Timmah

    You should throw “Christmas at Ground Zero” and “The Night Santa Went Crazy” by Weird Al into the mix too.

  • badgerchild

    Ugh, count me out. Music that is, you know, musical, exists. Call me a snob and I’ll thank you.

  • Ubi Dubium

    For choruses for smaller children, the requirement to add secular songs should be easy. Throw in the Dreidl song, Rudolph, Frosty, and maybe O Tannenbaum and you’re good. It’s usually all unison anyway.

    For an elite high school group, it’s trickier, because you need to have challenging arrangements, to make the time spent on them worthwhile. And my guess is that the choir directors in that area are not familiar with enough secular holiday choral music to meet the requirement. Changing would mean research and buying music, and y’know, actual work and not doing it the way they always have, and horrible things like that.

    But there’s Carol of the Bells, that’s a no-brainer, great arrangements of Deck the Halls, and all the numerous versions of the Twelve Days of Christmas, and a wonderful set of three carols from PDQ Bach (Throw the Yule Log on Uncle John, O Little Town of Hackensack, and Good King Kong), etc etc. If the directors took the time to look, there’s a ton of wonderful music out there that their kids are probably not familiar with. What a great opportunity to teach them something new! Which these directors won’t take advantage of, because Jeesuz.

  • badgerchild

    PDQ rools. :D But to get the joke, you have to be familiar with what Schickele is parodying. That’s as much part of music education as is teaching the Bible to atheists so they can understand what they don’t believe in.

  • Brian

    Its not tricky at all…even the District understands this: Religious-themed music is ok, so long as you provide some balance, and limit it so it is not overtly religious.

    Even though I am an atheist, i still love Christmas (i view it as a holiday for giving, not the birth of Christ), and a big part of that is Christmas songs, whether secular, or religious (including Jewish songs). Beautiful music is still beautiful, regardless of the subject matter.

  • badgerchild

    Not really, given that the lyrics are simply “Merry Christmas and a happy, prosperous New Year” in Spanish, and “I want to wish you a Merry Christmas from the bottom of my heart” in English. It’s going to be really awful to find Christmas songs that don’t mention Christmas. :)

  • TnkAgn

    Bob Dylan recently did an Xmas album. Sucked.

  • eric

    Even if good “secular christmas” songs are few and far between, one can still pick songs and music with a nonchristian audience and secular principles in mind. For example, there’s a huge difference between picking “Worthy to be Praised” (see above) and Handel’s Allelujah Chorus. One is world-recognized classical music, the other is relatively unknown and would seem to have been picked specifically for its religious value. Or how about doing Adeste Fidelis in Latin, rather than Oh Come All Ye Faithful in English. You’re delivering the exact same music, but its doubtful anyone would see singing a song in latin as proselytization.
    There are ways to be considerate. Disbanding the chorus…these guys aren’t even trying. They don’t even want to try and be considerate.

  • TnkAgn

    “Navidad” is “Nativity” in English:

  • Joseph George

    If they really want to sing about imaginary people there are plenty of Santa songs. . .

  • abb3w

    I’d also say a 5:1 secular:religious ratio seems unusually stringent.

  • badgerchild

    Yeah, so? And “Christmas” contains “Christ”. According to my Mexican sister-in-law, Colombian co-worker, and Argentinian friend, “Feliz Navidad” directly translates as “Merry Christmas”, no matter what the words literally mean if taken in isolation.

  • badgerchild

    Agreed on all points, except perhaps the point about Latin. I think the less-religious, one-step-more-distant perception of it is applicable only in places where Catholicism isn’t dominant. Surely singing the Latin Mass or the Ave Verum Corpus isn’t less religious than singing Bernstein’s Mass or something from Jesus Christ Superstar.

  • doctorq

    I always have mixed feelings about this because I was very involved in choir in school, and we did a lot of explicitly religious songs. The thing was, the director always had the story behind the song, and we always studied it, or it was important historically (Bach wrote it or whatever). A lot of these songs had more of a meaning than “praise Jesus” too… I just find it hard to believe that the director really chose those shallower religious songs over more interesting ones!

  • abb3w

    I’d add to the list of suggestions Peter Yarrow’s “Light One Candle” and Tom Lehrer’s “A Christmas Carol”.

    The downside is that both of those (and several you suggest) remain under copyright. I’m not sure to what extent paying for performance rights is a non-trivial factor for public school music groups.

  • abb3w

    To what extent is paying for performance rights a non-trivial factor in the selection choice? Much of the religious music is public domain, which may give an unfair advantage.

  • TnkAgn

    So nothing.

    I don’t even mind some traditional Xmas songs mixed in with secular ones at a school. My own daughter sang in a Mormon church, Handel’s Halleluiah Chorus when she was 12, and I was there to hear her. She has grown to be a fine and secular young person. I don’t think any harm’s done, although, as a retired teacher, I do think “Christmas” assemblies are better done in the churches.

  • badgerchild

    Santa’s a saint too, awkwardly. It is going to be literally and comically impossible to find a 100 percent bona fide secular song if your criteria are “no mention of God, Christ, Christianity, or Christians as important figures/themes”.

  • badgerchild

    That is, a 100 percent bona fide secular CHRISTMAS song.

  • MisterTwo

    My sister-in-law is an elementary music teacher, and being from a Christian tradition that does not celebrate holidays, incorporated ONLY secular Christmas music into her December program… all Santa Claus and Ho Ho Ho. But the community was upset about this! She wound up violating her own conscience and incorporating one or two religious songs, as well, being careful to choose songs that didn’t explicitly say that Jesus was born in December, and having the kids do those songs a capella.

    Of course, this is the perfect illustration as to why Christians should be all for separation of church and state. It just may not be their version of Christianity that becomes the official one!

  • TnkAgn

    I don’t know if it was badger or who, but now “Feliz Navidad” is stuck in my head.

  • KMR

    Yes I know. I was using that as an example of the variety we sung. We mixed those types of songs in with secular ones. Not that they are musical feats of genius but we liked them. Still do.

  • badgerchild

    Well, my great-uncles co-wrote the famous Perry Como song “One Little Candle”, which is often played for both Christmas and Hanukkah (the Mysels boys were Jewish and I think most of them were atheists). it does contain the word “prayer”, but my uncle Larry told me that he really kind of meant it as “heartfelt wish” and my uncle George thought it would sell better the other way. I would think my family wouldn’t begrudge performance rights to public school choir concerts, gee whiz. :)

  • Buckley

    As a professional Tenor in many, many choirs I can attest that it’s not that hard to throw in other music. At the same time, I can attest that I NEVER thought “I think I will be a Christian Now” after singing something overtly religious. It just doesn’t work like that. I think the appropriate thing is to mix in other music and then preform what you need based on the audience (like the retirement home for example). if they can’t balance well that’s a problem. We had a balance holiday program all the way back in 1985 in my district so it is entirely possible now.

  • KMR

    It isn’t Christmas until I sing that song full volume in my car to the chorus of my kids screaming, “No Mama, no!”

  • katiehippie

    “Santa Claus is watching you” by Ray Stevens (He’s everywhere! He’s everywhere! You can run you can hide but you can’t get away, got binoculars focused on you every day!) he he he he he

  • katiehippie

    Jingle Bells is a winter song too.

  • katiehippie

    That sounds awesome. it’s great to have a director that will do stuff like that.

  • Timmah

    Based on the amount of crying going on on the local newspaper’s comment section, the follow up story for when they have their board meeting should be intresting. What part of “We need to obey the law because we don’t want to get sued.” do people not get?

  • # zbowman

    The thing is, it doesn’t even have to be explicitly about the time of year, let alone a god, to be beautiful in the setting of winter. If I heard this at a Christmas concert, my hands would hurt for *days* from all the applauding…and I’m not even a fan of the game it’s from. It’s just beautiful.

  • Astreja

    I love PDQ Bach. Definitely something to add to a high school concert (younger students might not have the context to fully appreciate the parody unless they’re familiar with the songs that have been, uh, “improved.”)

    At Christmas I play in a couple of community bands, and there’s naturally a good balance of religious to secular music. The religious music isn’t a problem because it’s mostly instrumental (with a handful of singalongs for the audience) and the religious tunes are all classics like Silent Night or The First Noel. We also perform hymns at Remembrance Day ceremonies.

    Buch should be ashamed of himself for throwing a hissy-fit and denying the singers a chance to perform. Fire him and hire a director who cares more about music than ideology.

  • Astreja

    I also sang in a high school choir. Among the pieces we performed at the Christmas show that year were Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus and Bach’s St. John Passion. They don’t write ‘em like they used to.

    As for “Worthy to be Praised,” it could be vastly improved if the arranger wrote “Tacet” at the top of Bar 1. :-D

  • Astreja

    For quick relief, look up “Carol of the Bells” as performed by Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Best Christmas song ever.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Atheism has always been defensible. It’s just that after Darwin(and before him, too), burning nonbelievers at the stake wasn’t culturally acceptable anymore, not even to Christians.

  • Gus

    I suppose Bill O’Lielly will be adding this to his list of attacks in the War on Christmas.

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    The people around here are going nuts about it and reading the comments on the local newspaper about it is interesting. One of the arguments that people are saying against banning the religious music is that it is the classic music and if you ban the classic religious music you are not left with much music to sing. They are also arguing that because the choir director introduces them to music from other cultures that he is not trying to promote Christianity. I have got a feeling that there will be people running next time for the school board on the idea of putting religious music back in school.

    As a side note I personally hate the elementary school concerts and did so growing up.The average person at the age cannot sing in key and it doesn’t sound very good.

    Here is a link to the local paper for anyone is interested and you can kind of see what the thought in the area is like

  • newavocation

    Why stop at promoting religion? Why not push the board to support religion too and pass around collections plates! It’s essentially the same thing. Hey why not let other businesses promote their wares too for FREE.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    A posting from their facebook page by Debbie Harper Mayle: WOW!!! I am in Oklahoma ad just read about this on FB. I can’t tell you all how tired I (and a lot of other people) am of having to be sensitive to the needs of non-Christians. Fine, I understand their rights but they are the minority. The majority of people in this country are Christians and we happen to love Christmas. I bet those non-Christians have NO problem taking that Christmas bonus or the days off for any Christian holiday.

    Because we are the minority we should just deal with it. There is your answer folks, pack it up and go home.

  • A3Kr0n

    Warsaw – There, I said it (it’s kind of a joke up here).

  • badgerchild

    The Christians don’t seem to have any trouble taking time off for Labor Day, I notice. Nor do many businesses give people the choice of taking time off or not on Christmas. And we call it the “end of year” bonus in our company. But I’m talking to the wall.

  • busterggi

    I’ve been told that believers in heaven will spend eternity singing songs of praise to their god – can’t they wait a few years before they’re sentenced to that?

  • baal

    If xtians got a christmas bonus and I didn’t, I would be very angry.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    When I worked for Gateway many years ago I jumped at the chance to work on Christmas day. I remember one person calling in for support and they asked me. What are you doing there on Christmas day? I felt like asking, why are you calling on Christmas day?

    Instead I replied, triple time.

  • AskAnAtheistBecky

    Navidad is the word used for the Christmas holiday. Literally nativity, pragmatically Christmas.

  • Houndentenor

    I’m probably a little high brow for this crowd but I love the Bach Christmas Oratorio as well as Berlioz’ L’Enfance du Christ. There’s plenty of great Christmas music. I also like some of the cheesier fare in small doses. I’ve also done a very fun doo-wop arrangement of the Dreidel song (backing up a famous NYC cantor).

  • Houndentenor

    Agreed. A lot of the “contemporary” Christmas music in addition to being trash (sorry, I’m a music snob. I admit it.) is inappropriate for a school setting. When I was in elementary school we did traditional music but at least gave it a social studies spin by singing music from all over the world and presenting various holiday customs. Since it was a school it made sense that we do something educational as well as entertaining. All of my elementary school music teachers were also church musicians but they didn’t try to get all evangelical. I’ll tell you what I hate about some Christmas programs: when I get stuck going to my parents’ church on Christmas Eve they can’t seem to focus on the Christmas story and have to go straight to the crucifixion. I guess there’s not enough guilt and shame in the story with the manger, angels and wise men.

  • Houndentenor

    About 10 years ago I heard a wonderful version of the 12 Days of Christmas that was a journey through music history. (The 12 maids a milking used ride of the Valkyries!) It was funny for music nerds and good enough to entertain everyone else. There’s tons of music. There’s also plenty of Hanukah music besides the Dreidel song. As a local cantor for suggestions.

  • Houndentenor

    He does indeed. I have performed in The Seasonings, but I really want to sing Oedipus Tex.

  • badgerchild

    That sounds like terrific fun :D I like the gutsy Deo Gracias of Britten, too, and The Holly and the Ivy, and the Cantique de Jean Racine, and I could go on for days. They can make me an atheist but they’ll pry my beloved songs out of my cold dead hands. :)

    I was just looking over the choral music of Peter Warlock, who wrote quite a lot of Christmas music in proportion to his total published output, and to my immense frustration, the unconventional pagan didn’t write a single non-Christian Christmas song. (rolls eyes)

  • Houndentenor

    LOL. No one has called it a Christmas bonus in decades. most of them don’t even come around until December. (My one job that had a bonus structure wasn’t turning a profit so I have never actually gotten one.) As for getting the day off, I remember one Christmas when I had a bunch of church gigs (wasn’t an atheist yet…well probably I was but hadn’t admitted it yet) and stayed in NYC for Christmas. since I was done by 1 pm on Christmas day I was at a loss to do, so I asked a Jewsih coworker what would be open. “Do what we do. Go eat Chinese food and go see a movie.” And that’s what I did. I’m sure plenty of people who aren’t Christians would just as soon have that day off on another day when they need it, but they don’t get that option. If Christians were forced to celebrate Yom Kippur like it or not we’d never heard the end of it. What bugs me the most about posts like this one is the complete lack of empathy and compassion. For a religion that is supposed to be all about compassion, I find precious little of it from most of its adherents.

  • Art_Vandelay

    Technically, doesn’t just having the word “Christmas” in it prohibit it from being a secular song?

  • Mairianna

    I can’t tell you all how tired I (and a lot of other people) am of having to be
    sensitive to the needs of non-INSERT RELIGION OF CHOICE HERE. Fine, I understand their rights but they are the minority. The majority of people in this country are INSERT RELIGION OF CHOICE HERE and we happen to love INSERT HOLIDAY OF CHOICE HERE. I bet those non- INSERT RELIGION OF CHOICE HERE have NO problem taking that INSERT HOLIDAY OF CHOICE HERE bonus or the days off for any INSERT RELIGION OF CHOICE HERE holiday.

    Oh, some INSERT RELIGION OF CHOICE HERE live in such a small, small world…..

  • Houndentenor

    Well and the poster assumes everyone gets these holidays off. They don’t. Lots of businesses are open on Christmas day and those people have to work. I’m so sick of people assuming everyone has a full time job with benefits. A lot of people have to work when they are scheduled or they lose their job. A lot of them ARE Christians who’d rather have gone to church or spent the day with family than working their crappy (usually) minimum wage job, but they didn’t get a choice.

  • badgerchild

    Yeah, teeeeeeeechnically, OK. But YOU try singing “Xmas”. ;)

  • Darrel Ray

    They can always go sing any song they want at their church, or is that option too controversial?

  • Jim Jones

    You can sing it in German but the audience might invade Poland.

  • badgerchild

    Not much call for that these days, I’d have thought.

  • Jim Jones

    That’s why there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.

    How’s that working for these alleged Christians?

  • Jim Jones

    I bet the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain has done some good stuff too.

  • Ubi Dubium

    I want to sing the Missa Hilarious, but I don’t think that the religious types in my chorus would go for that.

  • Ubi Dubium

    I’ve sung that one! The first verse is a Gregorian chant, and the last verse is a Sousa march! The kids would learn some music history and also meet their requirement for secular content. Win-win.

  • The Other Weirdo

    I did nazi that coming.

  • Timmah

    Hahahahahaha “Christmas bonus”! In the roughly 20 years I’ve been an adult in the workforce, I have never ever EVER gotten a holiday bonus! I am pretty sure those only happen in the movies.

  • eric

    Huh. I’ve been to baptist, lutheran, anglican, and RCC services and I’ve never been to an xmas service that focused on the cruxifiction. I thought the nativity gospel stories were pretty much the ‘required reading’ for all denominations on Dec. 25th.

  • The Other Weirdo

    Wasn’t a Christmas bonus the impetus behind the plot of Christmas Vacation.

  • eric

    I think the religiosity is probably “more lost” on the audience (unless, as you say, the audience is predominantly Catholic). They may know its religious, but it doesn’t have the same proselytizing impact. Its often easier to distance yourself from the message and just enjoy the music as music, when you don’t know what the words mean.

  • Luc Duval

    As a public high school choral director, I say this administration is doing things right. I’m not active on this blog anymore, but posted a reduction of and solution to this issue a while ago if anyone’s interested:

  • Karen

    I just don’t get the controversy. I attended Catholic high school and our Winter program was always peppered with secular carols. (My favorite is “Sleigh Ride”, which strikes me as a real challenge to sing as a group. It was always on the program.) What’s so bad about mixing it up?

  • Ubi Dubium

    Probably technically. But if they take out some “everybody praise gawd at christmas” songs and replace them with “aren’t christmas trees and Santa and presents fun” type of songs, I’d OK it as secular enough. Because those aren’t pushing the religious belief, but the secular side of the winter festival. Rudolph mentions christmas, but I still think it’s a secular song.

    And if some of the religious songs are in other languages, I think that would also help, because either the kids won’t understand them, or they’ll learn something. I still think the addition of some non-Christian songs would be in order, but if I were doing the determination I’d be more lenient about religious songs in Spanish or Latin or German.

  • McAtheist

    Off the top of my head………………………………………….

    White Christmas, Sleigh Bells (I think that’s what it’s called), Winter Wonderland, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, Let it Snow, and my favourite – The Holly and the Ivy.

    And finally, any xmas music by Boney M, almost anything is tolerable with a reggae riddim – even Jesus.

  • McAtheist


    I grew up in Scotland (a long time ago) singing the ‘old English’ version of The Holly and the Ivy. Unlike the modern ‘jesusy’ version it really was about holly and ivy. On second thought, I probably should have omitted that one from my list.

  • IAmAGuest

    Come on, please be sensitive to us the minority, after all according to your beliefs you will have an eternity of time after death to sing whatever damn songs you like, while us the minority only have this life after which we will spend our time roasting in hell, screaming and gnashing our teeths.

    Selfish bastards!

  • UWIR

    If my employer feels like giving me a bunch of extra money, I’d really much rather get a bit of it in each paycheck. Getting it in a lump sum may make it seem bigger, but rationally it’s better to have a consistent income.

  • TychaBrahe

    I think that may be beyond the skills of an elementary school choir.

  • UWIR

    What’s next? Are we going to have to start being sensitive to the feelings of black people? Where does this end? Why can’t I just do what I want and not worry about the feelings of anyone else in the world?

  • TychaBrahe

    Some of the most beautiful holiday concert music we ever sang were secular songs. One was called simply “Snow,” and had lovely lines like,
    “Fall, fall, quiet and pretty.
    Fall all over the city.
    Cover every country lane,
    A month ago you might have been rain
    But oh, (hear the wind blow)
    Be a snow, be a beautiful snow.”

    I also know two separate descants for Jingle Bells.

  • TychaBrahe

    Deck the Halls is a traditional song that only includes the word “Yule” three times. The regular melody is pretty simple, but in high school we sang an arrangement that had the women’s and men’s voices alternating verses while the other sang a pattern of sixteenth notes.

  • TychaBrahe

    Tom Lehrer’s Christmas song rocks.

  • UWIR

    Jingle Bells? Frosty the Snowman? (Or is he a metaphor for Christ?) White Christmas? Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas?

  • TychaBrahe

    You haven’t been listening to the right songs.

    The Christmas Bells by Loreena McKennitt is one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.

  • cryofly

    How about singing in praise of the students and teachers who put in the hard work?

  • cryofly

    How about a song in praise of the students and teachers who put in the hard work?

  • rwee2000

    If they were Muslim the school would bend over backwards to “accommodate” them, the ACLU wouldn’t breath a word, but then again Christians in general won’t kill the administrators.

  • # zbowman

    I wouldn’t *go* to a concert held by an elementary school choir, so I’d never hear this at one. XD

  • Zexks

    [quote]They can sing all they want. They just can’t sing songs that are mostly devotional in nature. And if they’re singing in “nursing homes, grade schools, [and] businesses,” like Buch said, why would they have to sing religious music at all? I think the patients and little kids and corporate leaders would be thrilled to hear a trained group of excellent singers singing damn near anything.[/quote]

    While I agree there should be room for all types of music in the presentation, the part above is a pretty big assumption. If they all live in some dinky town in the middle of nowhere (pop. of 38k in wisconsin) then I’d imagine it’s a safe bet that the majority of people there are christian, and as such would have no problems with what you statement that I quoted, and depending on how devout they are, they very well might have issues with people singing anything but praise songs.

  • UWIR

    Just to help anyone planning on searching for it, it’s “The Bells of Christmas”.

  • Miss_Beara

    Lord, Lord I love You,
    Lord, Lord, I love You,
    You’re worthy to be praised.

    That is really lazy songwriting.

    I went to a Catholic school and we sang the usual Silent Night and stuff but never anything like “Lord, Lord I love you.” Egads.

  • Ubi Dubium

    I’ve heard that one, I think. I’ve also heard an arrangement of it written in 7/8 time, which should be plenty challenging for a high school chorus.

  • UWIR

    Both “Navidad” and “Nativity” are variants of the Latin word for “birth”.

  • Thomas Moberg

    ATTENTION EVERYONE READING: I am an atheist and I am also a Wausau West Master Singer. I have never been offended nor will I ever be offended by the singing of sacred texts. roughly 85% of all choral songs ever written are in some way shape or form sacred texts. Phil Buch is a man of faith and a man of integrity and I have the highest respect for him not only as my teacher but as my mentor and friend. The love he gives to his students is something you will never understand. Quite frankly, I find this article to be crass, poorly researched and emotionally biased. It is a trespass not only against my teacher but against me and everyone else in the choral programs here at Wausau West. No, we have not had solely religious concerts. We also sing in Russian, French, Italian, Hebrew, Latin, Czech, etc. to say that we propagate a specific religion or culture is preposterous. It has never been an issue as far as almost every board member is concerned. most of them realized this was an issue when it aired in the local paper. Once again, I am a firm atheist, but unlike most people, I am a rational and sensitive person. To all of you atheists who pride yourselves on logic, please ask yourselves why taking every known musical masterpiece and stripping it from my repertoire is truly going to do. You want a person to fight for, I AM THAT PERSON, and I am telling you today that you are hurting both me and your own cause. Theology is not a fight; it is a personal choice. The reaction from the community, from MY community is absolutely justified. Last year, i sang in the Isaac stern auditorium in Carnegie Hall with the Wausau West Concert Chorale. I met the world famous composer Karl Jenkins and shook his hand. I ate in five star restaurants and i did a solo dance in the Cotton Club with the woman I had a highschool crush on for three years and never had the courage to tell. I am personally at the forefront of the attempts to revoke this measure by the school board. I am asking you, BEGGING YOU, please stop this pointless offense. Phil buch has made NO transgression against you. stop.

  • Thomas Moberg

    Qui pugnabit pro iustus causem duabus oris expeditionem ducere.
    Latin for “those who fight for righteous cause lead a two faced crusade.”

  • Houndentenor

    There’s always a couple of things. One is a song called “Mary did you know” which is more Stabat Mater than it is about Christmas. These are fundies. Praise choruses and crappy pop music sing in a bad lounge singer style.

  • Nancy Mac

    Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, jack frost nipping at your nose… Best holiday song ever. Nate King Cole

  • TCC

    How do you defend Mr. Buch’s decision to suspend the groups rather than simply ensure that secular songs are included with religious songs? Why is that such an onerous requirement that Mr. Buch would rather have no choirs than comply with that requirement? No one is saying that you should take every religious song (which is not synonymous with “every known musical masterpiece”) and “strip it from [the] repertoire”; we’re agreeing with the board and administration that the repertoire needs to include secular songs as well, many of which could also be considered “musical masterpieces.” The fact that you have missed that core point of the article doesn’t speak well for your supposedly logical and rational position.

  • Itarion

    Chess nuts boasting in an open foyer…

  • Jeff See

    I always felt that the Dreidel Song, and the doo-wop style, was always too high-brow to be fully appreciated by us lesser types.

  • b s

    Anyone heard Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas”? Excellent song.

    “They sold me a dream of christmas
    They sold me a silent night
    And they told me a fairy story
    ’till I believed in the israelite
    And I believed in father christmas
    And I looked at the sky with excited eyes
    ’till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
    And I saw him and through his disguise”

  • Thomas Moberg

    Phil Buch did not suspend the choirs, he has suspended master singers because we arrive at school 40 minutes earlier every morning to practice before school. he doesn’t want us to waste our time practicing music that we may not be allowed to sing. we don’t know what music we are allowed to sing because the committee that was formed by the administration and instructed to approve music selections did not get around to confirming his selections for master singers. Like I’ve said, the article is very poorly researched and mostly based off of emotional bias. however, all of the selections we have for master singers so far are ALL secular. Jingle bells medley, and winter wonderland. There is also to be a meeting to see if master singers is even going to continue to exist after this. you are missing key facts and this is in no way a personal insult, so please do not take any of it as such. please note that the reason i go to school every morning is being taken away from me. Please note that this program, which has in a couple of instances prevented the suicides of some of my closer friends is now at risk of complete disintegration for the purposes of semantics. please answer me this; give me ten secular songs written for choirs that you would pay to hear? What gives you more credibility than me. this article certainly doesn’t; it was copy pasted and then subsequently bastardized from every news story that originally ran it. Do you even understand what master singers is? any marginal concept of what you are weighing in on? It is a program that students work for FOUR years to achieve. it is an honor only bestowed upon 15-20 students each year and can only be auditioned for by the top choir; concert chorale. I can name you 100 musical masterpieces. They are secular, but thats because they were written in times such as the Baroque period in europe when musical revolutions were taking place. everything was controlled by the church. we cannot afford to omit knowledge simply because we dont like it. that is the position taken by the people who reject climate change and evolution. Do not make that mistake, because that choice has serious ramifications for people who have no power. for the people who are absolutely helpless and must simply watch their programs crumble. you have no way of understanding how absolutely inhumane this action is. It was not our choice to call the music we sing religious, it was yours. we call it artwork. you call it offensive. leave us alone.

  • Erik Jensen

    Do you have any evidence for this claim about Muslims or are you just making stuff up? Are you aware that the ACLU sued a Muslim charter school in Minnesota based on establishment clause violations?

    I don’t get this right wing Christian meme that Muslims and atheists are on the same side. The only thing we have in common is that you hate us both.

  • Kevin_Of_Bangor

    Yes, it was.

  • Timmah

    The only person who seems to be stopping you from practicing is this supposed “man of integrity” Phil Buch. He is giving every appearance of someone who was told he can no longer exert his Christian privilege so he is taking his ball and going home.

    All the school board wants is to review what they are planning on singing to make sure there is no risk of getting sued. Why didn’t he just show them the list and say “Look you can’t dally on this I need to know asap if anything on here is going to be an issue.” But no, he just said forget it I’m shutting this whole thing down forever.

  • jeo

    Christmas music (the good, classical, religious stuff) is all about traditional Catholicism/Anglicanism, which is the one version of Christianity I like, because of it’s aesthetic and artistic beauty. The modern, yucky Protestant songs like “Mary Did You Know” and “Christmas Shoes” are unbearable. I wish the Protestants would have kept up their “protest” of Christmas as popery.

  • jeo

    There’s nothing wrong with religious (Catholic) Christmas carols, in fact they are the most beautiful in terms of the melodies and music… most would be considered “classical” music today. And I find it interesting that Americans call their Xmas concerts “winter concerts”, when winter in the northern hemisphere begins on December 21, which is usually several days or weeks AFTER such supposed concerts occur.

  • jeo

    Nat King Cole didn’t write it, a Jewish songwriter did. I miss the days when Christmas wasn’t relegated to “xtian sectarian propaganda” in American popular culture.

  • jeo

    Supreme Court precedents in the U.S. usually indicate that religious holiday displays are constitutional as long as they are displayed as part of a “larger, secular display”, for example a nativity being displayed alongside Santa, Frosty, reindeer, etc.

    The 5-to-1 ratio of carols here seems to fall in line pretty closely with that, but as a huge fan of the classical carols, I have absolutely no problem with hearing them as long as it isn’t in a context of evangelism. And since they are Catholic songs, it usually isn’t.

  • Jim

    “The Holly and the Ivy” is not secular.
    Verse 2: “The holly bears a blossom
    As white as lily flower
    And Mary bore sweet
    Jesus Christ
    To be our sweet Saviour”
    This goes on and on for the remainder of the song. It is one of the most explicitly religous carols I know.

  • allein

    Do you happen to know if that 12 Days is on Youtube or somewhere? I’d love to hear that.

  • allein

    She’s right, I have NO problem with not going to work on a day when the building is closed and I wouldn’t be able to open the door. And I’m a non-Christian and I love Christmas, too.

  • badgerchild

    Jingle Bells and Frosty are simply winter songs, and the others refer to Christmas. I think it’s telling that Irving Berlin, who was openly Jewish, wrote a Christmas song. So, incidentally, did my Jewish great-uncles. I think there’s basically no getting out of mentioning Christ unless you literally replace all mentions of Christmas with “winter holiday” or some such. But you know what, I just simply don’t have a problem with Christmas songs mentioning Christmas. :)

  • allein

    When I worked retail the only days we were closed were Thanksgiving and Christmas. I never minded working other holidays because I got time and a half, and some of them we closed early so we still got to actually celebrate the holiday.
    (And I love the customers who say “you shouldn’t have to work on a holiday!” …well, then, you shouldn’t be shopping…!)

  • allein

    Not to mention the people who actually have critical jobs like emergency services and hospital employees.

  • allein

    We get a Christmas card from our management team…they all sign it (most of them I can’t even read), then they have them printed up. Usually they just distribute them at the office but last year they actually sent them to our homes. It’s nice to know we’re worth the price of postage. ;) Oh, and every year we get a sweatshirt of some kind. My dad has a nice collection because they’re always too big for me.

  • Cyrus Palmer

    Yeah, neither atheists nor the school board disbanded your group, your teacher did. Pleading with us will accomplish nothing. If he thinks singing for the sake of singing is a waste of time, why is he your music teacher?….

  • TCC

    Semantics? Are you kidding me here? There is not merely a trivial difference between a religious and a secular song. And it is patently false that there are no good secular choral pieces; there are tons of them. If you’re limiting yourself to only certain periods, yes, that may make it more difficult, but no one – not even the board or administration, unless you’ve got evidence not presented here – is saying that all religious songs are off-limits. If Mr. Buch is so concerned about not being able to perform songs, then shouldn’t he take more initiative to make sure everything is fine – or, that aside, just make a better effort to work on material that is not going to be objectionable? If you work on secular pieces while you’re getting full approval, the time won’t have been wasted. But this business of just throwing up your hands because you’re afraid that you might not be permitted to do 10 religious songs is absurd. Mr. Buch needs to own his decision if he’s not willing to meet a reasonable standard.

  • TCC

    And if all of the songs really are fully secular, then the decision makes even less sense – as it does if the group might not exist in the future, since it would be better to make the most of a final season/year if the group won’t exist anymore. You’re not making this decision seem more sensible with this extra information (again, if true; I have no more reason to find you credible than you do me).

  • Epinephrine

    Same here, though my wife started at a butcher shop and got a bonus last year! The weird part is that we’re openly atheist and the owner is Jewish, but it does prove the existence of the mythical Christmas bonus!

  • allein

    Your posts are very difficult to read without paragraph breaks.

  • Conuly

    Hilariously, the original lyrics are a springtime song.

  • Conuly

    Technically, but given how many non-Christians celebrate the holiday in a secular fashion I suspect most people would just quietly not care.

    There is HUGE difference between “Oh, Holy Night” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”. And I won’t even get into “worthy of praise”, which as far as I am concerned isn’t even worthy of capital letters. I hope the tune is amazing, because the lyrics are nauseatingly insipid.

  • Fred


  • Houndentenor

    Here you go:

    I also like this version from Straight No Chaser:

    Since this music is all so familiar, it’s nice when someone does something creative with it.

  • allein

    Thanks :) I’ll check ‘em out when get home.

  • jao

    Strangely enough, the lyric was originally “Christmas” in Deck the Halls but was somehow, somewhere changed to “Yuletide”.

  • midnight rambler

    No kidding. I can’t see how anyone would allow that in a church, much less in a school.

  • anonymous

    Maybe. But beheading them remains acceptable for some Muslims

  • rwee2000

    Let’s see, prayer accommodations in Dearborn Public Schools so does Parkdale High School near Washington DC, so does Parkdale High School in Riverdale, Md. So during school hours and sometimes on school grounds. Muslims are allowed, with the school “blessing”, to leave they class and pray, something they supreme court has outlawed for christens. I could point out where the ACLU has time and time again gone after STUDENT led pray sessions yet ignoring they same when it comes to muslims. So much for that anti-establishment clause.

    BTW I am and Atheist, and there should should be NO religion in school.

  • 3lemenope

    After Googling longer than is generally healthy, I could find no credible source to back up anything you just claimed. A cite that doesn’t make me spontaneously laugh aloud would be appreciated.

  • rwee2000
  • rwee2000

    christianpost. com/news/should-muslims-be-allowed-to-pray-in-public-schools-michigan-says-yes-98695/

    stevedeace. com/news/prayer-back-in-school-for-muslims-only/

    Don’t know how to use Google do you?

    (take out the extra space between the . and com this board doesn’t seem to like links.)

  • 3lemenope

    I’m sorry, but I spontaneously laughed aloud.

    The first article blew its credibility in the very first sentence with what I can only properly characterize as an outright lie. They also had a web widget on one of the banner ads which played really annoying MIDI muzak, which didn’t help at all.

    The second was a blog (which leads me to believe you’re confused a bit about what I asked for) whose tagline is “Fear God. Tell the truth. Make money.” LOL number 2.

    It’s not my Google skills so much as your ability to separate the digital wheat from the chaff, so to speak, that is in question here.

  • rwee2000

    “It’s illegal for Christians to pray in public school, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.”

    But it IS illegal for Christians to have any school sectioned pray in school.

    You stated “fAter Googling longer than is generally healthy, I could find no credible source to back up anything you just claimed. ”

    I took a few seconds to look it up, I’ve found many, many references to not only that example but to others as well

    http://www.prnewswire. com/news-releases/cair-mich-school-district-apologizes-for-bible-study-forms-63147182.html

    And then

    http://www.arabamericannews. com/news/index.php?mod=article&cat=Community&article=6610

    Again a few seconds of searching, I would suggest you upgrade your skills.

  • 3lemenope

    But it IS illegal for Christians to have any school sectioned pray in school.

    And if that was what that first sentence had claimed, then I wouldn’t have called it a lie. Of course, it didn’t, and it was.

    The rest of your “articles” don’t even cite any primary sources. Nothing from CAIR, nothing from the district, no evidence or quotes whatsoever from any person that would indicate that this is something other than a right-wing fever dream.

  • rwee2000

    Maybe a Supreme Court ruling would help you. Again a quick Google search would have done it. I’m beginning to doubt your search skills. This case dealt with with student groups praying AFTER school

    http://www.oyez. org/cases/1980-1989/1989/1989_88_1597

    No problem at all, can have student prayer and student groups after school

    The problem is this is DURING school.

    http://www.oyez. org/cases/1960-1969/1962/1962_142

    The court ruled that SCHOOL sanctioned prayer is illegal. Now since this is on school ground, during class time it makes it illegal, Note nothing in this ruling prevents prayer on a voluntary basis during their free time. But this isn’t “free time” its class time which makes it school sanctioned and can’t be held during class time. Thus Christions ARE forbidden to pray in school. While the school sanctioned pray is allowed for Muslims to pray during school hours during instruction time.

  • 3lemenope

    Are you actually under the impression that prayers must be

    1. organized
    2. communal
    3. spoken aloud

    to be prayers?