The Bible and Music in Children’s Songs

The Bible and Music in Children’s Songs August 14, 2019

Another topic that I cover in my class on the Bible and Music is the use of the Bible in children’s songs.

I also had a student make excellent use of a children’s retelling of the biblical account of David and Goliath in crafting a song on the subject. It hadn’t struck me until they did so that this could be a useful technique in the process of trying to create a song about a biblical text. If one isn’t simply setting the precise words of the text, then there is a real value in boiling the text down to its essence, its essential features, and working from there.

On the other hand, there is a tendency for children’s songs and children’s Bibles to eliminate essential material and not merely simplify biblical stories, but to radically transform them and change their meaning in the process.

Either way, children’s songs about the Bible are not taken as seriously as they should be whether as a topic of research on the reception and interpretation of the Bible, as a focus of classroom discussion, or as a place where serious efforts are needed to provide alternatives to songs that misinform or oversimplify in ways that are likely to prove unhelpful and perhaps even unhealthy in the longer term.

Of related interest, Sojourners had an article about a new children’s album by Ellie Holcomb, Sing, Creation Songs.

Academic Minute on how children and adults think differently about religion

The Scandinavian Christian Music Industry and Transatlantic Pentecostalism

Music gets an honorable mention in this post:

Episode 6: What I Lost When I Lost My Faith

Cindy Brandt shared some thoughts on parenting in such a way that children do not grow up to become religious fundamentalists. Children’s songs, I think, have a role to play in that.

See the recap of a conference about music and poetry in the Bible by Richard Rohlfing at Durham University:

Recap of Durham’s New Song Conference on Hebrew Poetry

Also related to the Bible and music:

How Church History (Re)taught Me the Value of Old Hymns – and Vice Versa

Review: ‘Leaving Eden’ in the New York Musical Festival

Trying to Sing the Oldest Song

Review of Sound and the Ancient Senses in Bryn Mawr Classical Review

A couple of my past posts on telling Bible stories to children and about one particular song focused on creation:

The Hippopotamus Song

The video embedded in that post has gone missing, but you can find another one here:

How Children are Led Astray into the Sin of “Biblical Literalism”

 

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  • John MacDonald

    When I was younger and feeling low, sometimes I would sing this verse in my head to help me feel better (I’m not Christian, but the verse still made me feel better):

    I see my soul coming down the mountain /
    I see my soul coming ‘cross the sea /
    I see my soul coming back to Jesus /
    Because through Him, my soul comes back to me

    I think it was a slight improvisation of a known Christian song, but I can’t really remember!

  • John MacDonald

    I just saw this trailer for an upcoming series about a church choir that looks fun: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcnNmiLQ6GE

    • It does look like it will be worth watching – thanks for drawing it to my attention!

  • James, your class might enjoy the setting of the entire text of Jonah that I have done based on the interpretive key of the accents by Suzanne Haïk-Vantoura. The English version is in two parts in this playlist. There is another more serious exploration of humanity in the 7 part Unleashing Leviathan on the same site.

    While the ‘plainsong’ version of the key is often strikingly beautiful, the melodies also lend themselves to development. I have made Jonah into a suite for strings also. It is clear that some psalms have a definite form when interpreted through the accents (e.g. Psalm 96) but recently I have worked the whole of Psalm 33 and the form is much less evident though the experiment works after a fashion. I will post it to YouTube later this week.

    Those interested in the Hebrew could develop similar ideas in Hebrew or even in Hebrew+ English or other languages. The stylistic possibilities and variations are endless. What you have is a defined cantus firmus over which compositional development can be extended. It feels like the beginnings of music all over again. In the Jonah work you will find some variations on a theme from a famous opera suggested by the setting of the accents from the accents in chapter 2.

    It would be great to have this performed.

    • Thanks as always for sharing your musical endeavors. I do hope that at some point full-fledged albums with your musical arrangements will indeed be available…or at least YouTube videos with ancient instruments and real human voices!