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Handling Jewish objections to Christian repertoire

Hello all,

Thank you for all your help with this issue. I have spent a great deal of
time speaking to members of our community, and our board will be meeting
this week to discuss it.

I thought I would post a compilation of the 60-plus responses I received,
categorized by the lister's general point. The responses fell roughly into
the following categories:

I. Can't exclude Christian music (20)
II. Can't exclude Christian music, but give historical introduction to
sacred pieces (4)
III. Can't exclude Christian music, but try to represent all faiths (19)
IV. Can't exclude Christian music, but mention issue in a disclaimer or
mission statement (4)
V. Can't exclude Christian music, but allow dismissal of students during
performances (2)
VI. Could exclude Christian music (1)
VII. Miscellaneous responses (13)

Thanks again for all your help.


Lee A. McCoy, Esq.
Law Office of Lee A. McCoy
1114 State Street, Suite 318
Santa Barbara, California 93101

Hello all,

I am the President of the Board of Directors of the community children's
chorus in Santa Barbara, California. An issue has arisen during our most
recent recruitment, and I would appreciate any opinions you might offer me.

One of our Jewish families has raised an objection to pieces in our
repertoire that proclaim Jesus as being divine. This objection encompasses
everything from the Kyrie in a mass to the vast majority of Christmas
carols. I appreciate their position, which stems from being different from
the majority in our community and targets one more instance where their kids
are made to feel different. Our response that we are using this repertoire
for artistic and not religious reasons did little to appease the concern.

We are a decidedly secular organization and actively recruit all kids in the
community. I do not wish to adopt a repertoire which forces many in our
community to self-exclude; yet I am loath to have the board meddle in the
repertoire decisions of our Artistic Director.

Any ideas?


Lee A. McCoy, Esq.
Law Office of Lee A. McCoy
1114 State Street, Suite 318
Santa Barbara, California 93101


If you exclude choral music with Christian texts then you exclude the vast
majority of choral music prior to the nineteenth century. Choral music was
fostered in the Christian Church, that is simply a fact.

Clell Wright


I would stay on the "artistic reasons" for choosing the repertoire, and
make sure, especially at Christmas time, that there are not pieces with
Christian themes that are of little artistic quality. If we are going to
do a thorough job of enriching children with western (and other) art,
Christian themes are frequently going to be present. If you were to take
them to an art museum, would you feel obliged to eliminate the Medieval and
Renaissance parts of the collection from the tour? After all, the
principal "patron" on the arts at this time was the Church, and so most of
the art from these periods has Christian themes.

One other point, there is a lot of sacred music (most, I suppose, written
for the Christian Church) that focuses on God rather than on Jesus.
Settings of the Psalms, for example, are abundant throughout the periods of
choral music.


We on Long Island deal with this issue all the time! It seems that diversity
only goes one way! Good luck! And stick to your guns - the MUSIC is what is
important! Frances Roberts FrancesCR(a)


This is a real problem. Much of the great music is indeed Christian sacred.
My suggestion is that you find some HIGH QUALITY Jewish music to sing - ie
Chichester Psalms, Bloch's Sacred Service. I stress high quality for your
sake and also kids know when they're being patronized. Get in touch with
Josh Jacobson - I don't have his e-address on me at the moment - try and see if there's a link. BTW, you may find literature leads
at that site.
Benjamin Gruder

Hi! I´m a choral conductor from Argentina, and Jewish as well. I sang for
quite some time in a choir which repertoire was basically Latin American
Baroque, and most of the time the music was sacred, and devoted to the
Virgin Mary. Once I had this kind of objection you said about this family,
but the director told me that he chose that repertoire for artistic reasons,
and not religious, and that was enough for me. Besides, he told me he was
raised as a Catholic but didn´t practice himself. I think that this family
attitude is wrong because instead of letting their children enjoy and learn
about different cultural backgrounds, they are expelling them form the

I would try to find out if this family is orthodox (the Chassidic type)
because in that case anything you could say would be useless. I was studying
with those people for a while and they were very close minded and self
excluded. If not, then they should learn that some songs can be used
regardless of their origins.

Hope this helps:
Nora Levin, Argentina


My advice, as you are a community group and not a school group is to leave it
where it stands. You made clear that you are a MUSICAL group and not a
religious one, so the ball is in the parent's court. If they want to exclude
their son/daughter from a great artistic opportunity, it is sad, but it is the
parent's problem and not the kids, although the kids are hurt by being
excluded. Good luck.
Craig Hawkins


Your posting was very disturbing to me because it seems to be one more
example of the politicization of music. It is impossible to run a music
program which focuses on Western Classical choral music without
acknowledging and performing Christian music. Since the Catholic Church was
the primary patron of the arts for hundreds of years it would be foolish and
inaccurate to eliminate Christian music.

However, there are also pieces through out the centuries which were used in
Jewish synagogues. You may be able to find out more about that repertoire
from our esteemed collegues in this forum.

I would recommend that you find a way to tactfully educate them regarding
the history of Western music and perhaps include more secular pieces in your
programming. However, I would caution you not to cave in to unreasonable
demands and remember that you cannot please all the people all the time. I
do think that your response regarding artistic reasons was appropriate and
correct and I encourage you to follow your initial hesitation against
allowing the Board to meddle in the repertoire decisions of your Artistic

I hope you will post a compilation of responses to the forum.


Lauren Flahive
Co-Founder/Executive Director
The Choirs of Our Lady Queen of Angels, Inc.
a non-profit children's choir


There is a wealth of Christian choral literature
because choral music was founded and funded by the
church for hundreds of years. By not utilizing choral
music which has a Christian text, one would be depriving
oneself to the majority of GOOD choral music in the
repertoire. The Christian text has inspired both
patrons and composers to create magnificent works! One
does not have to be a Christian to appreciate the
brilliance of artistry in these compositions. Most
sacred Christian texts can be taken out of context and
related to some secular event in one's life. For
instance, the Stabat Mater can be related to a women
seeing her son die before her very eyes. --Mothers of
prisoners witness their sons' executions. Whether one
believes that capital punishment is justified or whether
the one's execution is justified, it is expected that
the prisoner's mother would be devastated in a similar
way that the Virgin Mary might have been.--
The answer here is not to begin performing mediocre
Jewish literature to get others "off your back" unless
the music truly inspires you and your ensemble. The
issue here is not religion but art. People can believe
in whatever deity they want, but they can't deny
impeccable literature when they hear it whether it was
sprung out of Christianity, Judaism, Atheism, etc...

W. R. Shirah
(By my last name one would correctly assume that I have
a Jewish heritage, yet I can perceive that this issue is
clearly not one of religion)


The issue raised also applies to advocates for various other "screens" for
repertoire. I know a liberal UCC congregation where the director of
music/organist is required to submit all texts (including ancient ones) must
submitted for approval on the basis of theology, gender issues, use of
antiquated language and so forth. There is little latitude given for contextual
understanding of the pieces. It also goes along with the editorial norms
adopted for the New Century Hymnal--which the congregation also uses.

It is a fact that one cannot perform a representative cross-section of Western
choral literature without turning to the repertoire of the church. I cannot
imagine not doing works of Bach, Palestrina, Sweelinck, Byrd through Brahms,
Mendelssohn, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells, Bloch, Bernstein and
Poulenc for example. Perhaps the best thing to do is to adopt a policy
statement that works taught and performed are done so for their artistic merit
not religious expression. To set aside a huge part of the literature is not
appropriate and wouldn't well serve the interests of the community. Singing a
carol suite by John Rutter, doesn't constitute credal statement for this

It is a tough situation, but I don't believe it is right to disgard a large part
of our western musical heritage for parochial or political views. Perhaps the
parents would be more comfortable with their children singing in the local
synagogue youth choir.

Best of luck on this one!

Ben Baldus


> Our response that we are using this repertoire
> for artistic and not religious reasons

A very fine Jewish baritone of my acquaintance cheerfully sings masses,
requiems, etc. and says that he simply thinks of them as "art songs." I
think your response is sound even if not well received.

Melissa J. Eddy
Pro Arts Management
Austin, TX


Hi Lee,

My thought is -- stick to your guns. This is not a school choir, but an
auditioned (I assume) community children's chorus. Your artistic director
has the right to choose whatever repertoire he or she feels is best for the
artistic growth of the choir. Just look at the repertoire of any of the top
nationally or internationally known choirs; there is a wide range of sacred
and secular. Good literature is good literature - period.

Good luck!

Trish Joyce, Director
Somerset Hills Children's Chorus
Bernardsville, NJ


To eliminate Christian music would eliminate 80% of the choral literature.
If the families are interested in their children EVER singing the masters
from Palestrina to Schoenberg, they need to get over it. :)

chris (SAMOChoir(a)


Hello Lee -
I fully understand the nature of your very
difficult situation. But the truth is that Choral
Music in any sense would not be represented
without the vast history of "Christian"
(I sang with the L.A. Master Chorale and the
Roger Wagner Chorale for 10 years.) We
had many Jewish bretheren in the Chorale
who sang because the MUSIC was great NOT
because they thought the Master Chorale was
trying to convert them. :-)

These parents need to realize just because you
sing a Christian text it doesn't mean you
necissarily believe the text. It is an artistic
expression. Just because I sing the role of
Medea doesn't mean I AM Medea and would
procede to murder my 6 children.
Performers must CHOOSE what they are comfortable
with in performing. If they are not
comfortable then they should probably not
participate. But you are the artistic director
and must not succomb to be pressured into
omitting worthy repertoire.
Try to get them to see this point, if they can't
then their performance "threshold" has come
to a crossroad at which they must choose.

Nancy Fontana


Dear Mr. McCoy,

I believe your response was appropriate. The art of Michaelanglo, the
architecture of the French Gothic, the choral music of Mozart... these are
all exquisite monuments of the human spirit, reaching to God in the most
sublime manifestations.

It is remarkable that Asian ensembles, connoisseurs and audiences (largely
nonchristian) have a greater appreciation for these masters of European art
than do European descendants currently living in North America! It almost
seems as though we embrace "multicultural inclusivity" as long as it
excludes European culture.

Does this person know that Jesus was a devout Jew, referred to as "Rabbi" by
his disciples? How about reminding her that, until 1900 years ago, the vast
majority of Christians were practicing Jews, and that Roman Catholics (and
many other Christians) following the lead of Pope John Paul II regard Jews
as "our older brothers and sisters in faith".

Ask her her to look at the Mass and recognize the liturgical foundation as
being Jewish (Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus = Kodosh, Kodosh, Kodosh) in
tradition. And how about emphasizing what we have in common, which unites
us as children of the same Father, rather than that which divides us and
denies the peace in which we all pray our children will live.


Patrick Flahive
American Federation of Pueri Cantores


Dear Lee,

I'm sorry you're having this issue! I support your response that this
repertoire is being performed for artistic reasons. That's really the truth.
To limit the repertoire is to limit your children's exposure to high quality
music composed by the masters of our field. Bottom line, it's educationally
sound literature that every chorus ought to be singing, regardless of their
faith. That is exactly what choral directors in public schools do. Also, the
Artistic Director should have the responsibility/freedom to program music as
he/she so chooses. The board should back him or her up completely. It just
isn't a matter of religious objection --its one of educational standards and
selecting high quality literature. You know, many protestants sing Ave Marias
and other texts yet don't venerate the Virgin Mary. It's something to think

I wish you luck!!

Dr. Julie Carter
Artistic Director, Fresno Choral Artists


If this is a community children's chorus, and this child has the option of
remaining or leaving, I'd stick to the classic choral literature.

The parent needs to understand the history of choral music.

In the future when you audition students, suggest you have the parents sign
a release of some sort that they understand that their child may be singing
various religious texts.

Don't back down because of this parent. MENC has a pamphlet on this topic.

Andrea Brumbach
Reading, PA


It is interesting that of the 180 singers in our symphonic chorus at a great
Christian Cathedral, our many Jewish singers are among our most loyal and
devoted singers, including performances of the Bach "St. Matthew Passion."
They love the music, and they love the cathedral. This love was given life
to them as children in schools where they heard and learned great sacred
music, much of which is in the Christian tradition.

That's an historical fact, and as both an historian and a musician, I
believe that historical fact is more important in assessing musical
worthiness than contemporary political correctness, a fad that will surely
fade away soon. ("For every action, there is an equal and opposite

That will leave us where we started: with Purcell, Handel, Elgar, Vaughan
Williams, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Berlioz, Verdi, Hindemith, Poulenc . . .
and Bernstein, Shoenberg, Stravinsky, Ernst Bloch, to name just a few
composers of the first rank.

We regularly do outreach programs for the Girl Scouts and other community
groups to expose them to the music that they are not being given the same
privilege of learning in their "public" education that their parents and
grandparents learned as a matter of course -- and now sing regularly in a
symphonic chorus, regardless of individual religious affiliation.

Margaret Shannon
Program Annotator
Cathedral Choral Society


Dear Lee A. McCoy,

Your email message to choralist struck a chord and I empathize with the
position you are in.

I grew up in a 'secular' jewish family and am so grateful that my
parents never posed these kind of objections. My love of music and
choral music in particular was what drew me to wanting to sing in
choral groups. I had no knowledge of the religious aspects (in either
direction). (btw, I began singing in choral groups in high school and
eventually become a music major and received a masters degree in choral

Your stance "Our response that we are using this repertoire for
artistic and not religious reasons" is on the right track and I hope
you are able to resolve this issue without compromising the standards
of your organization or cowtowing to one irritated family. You are not
trying to convert any children through the use of the religious music.
Every piece of music, whether religious or secular, has historical,
musical value and artistic purpose.

Good luck.

Laura Ann Horwitz


You can't please all of the people all of the time. You did your job by
explaining your reasoning, but it didn't do any good. You can try
switching places with them, telling them some people may object to Jewish
music, but you still perform it. There's no way you can convince someone
who doesn't want to be convinced. Stand firm in your program and don't
change it for those very few who complain. Good luck and Yahweh bless
you!! ;-)

Josh & Nancy Peterson - Directors of Music
First United Presbyterian Church
1303 Royal Heights Road // Belleville, IL 62258
(618)-233-0295 (church) // (618)-233-0490 (fax)
(618)-566-7375 (home) // joshandnancy(a)


Dear Lee,

As a Jewish musician, I appreciate the sensitivity and care that you are
taking in trying to meet the needs of all of the community. You state that
your situation is one more instance where "their" kids are made to feel
different. I myself have been known to make a fuss when concert repertoire
contained only one culture/religion -- but to ask for either equal
representation or to ask for no religious music to be part of a concert
isn't practical. A great majority of the choral repertoire is Christian/and
in order to attract an audience, you must program for your audience as well.
Your answer about repertoire being chosen for artistic reasons is a good and
valid one. I would ask this family to give you their rabbi's phone number
and ask him/her if he/she would be able to offer a solution for you (there
are many different forms of Judaism just as there are many different forms
of Christianity -- so my answer might not please these people either). My
own personal solution as a child was to phonate without diction when the
text of a phrase was troubling to me. There are many Jewish choirs --and
if this family wants to sing only secular or Jewish music this might be a
better option for them. I would not worry so much about the children being
made to feel different. In the Jewish faith, we often choose to be
different as we follow God's laws as we understand them. It is a
requirement that we not conform to the societies we are in (for instance our
dietary laws) and it is not necessary for the societies to accomodate us. A
healthy respect, tolerance and caring combined with educating ourselves
about each other is what counts in my book. Good luck.

Sharon Steinberg



Argue that the music is based on heritage, both American and European. The
reference to Jesus in the performance context holds no more significance as
an individual belief than by proclaiming the Egyptian god Ra as divine or
heralding the almighty aspects of some long dead king or queen. The trick,
here, is to associate all of the texts with historical, social or national
contexts, each holding meaning in another time and place, separate from our
own. If the texts hold significant, sacred meaning for you or others,
remember you must separate yourself from these beliefs, just as you are
asking the parties in question to do. Focus on why you chose this
repertoire. If you selected it for it's inherent, musical elements, you
have a strong argument against religious prejudice. I can't help but wonder
whether or not you are prepared to exclude those children for a portion or a
complete performance based on their parent's objections. Are you also
willing to condescend to every social, political, or religious objection
raised from a pluralistic and diverse society. One thing is for certain,
whatever precedent you set will be strictly followed in the future.

Leslie Garrett


Hi......I am a high school and community choral director and I am Jewish. I
have never, in 30 years of conducting choirs, had anybody object to Kyrie, or
other sacred texts. The only thing I do is to avoid overtly devotional
references to Jesus Christ in music that is less than the quality of the
masters. I also make sure each of my programs has some kind of diverse
element included. That does NOT mean that for every Christmas song there
must be a Hannukah song! That only means that I do not use music to convey a
message, and if I use sacred texts, then it better be damn good quality

I am especially careful in spirituals. There are so many good spirituals
that do not offend. "Every Time I Feel The Spirit" and "Ezekiel" play better
to a school audience than "Christ, Bring Forth Your Holy Spirit". Save that
stuff for church, man.

My last school concert included many sacred texts, but it also included an
African piece and a Israeli folk song. My December concert included "Jesu,
Joy of Mans' Desiring", but the concert was varied and educational.

Another thing is that in concerts, I almost always speak with the audience
before every song and do a little audience education. This helps the
audience understand the background and context of each piece of music.

Again, 30 years and no complaints. (YET!)

Irwin Goldberg
East Syracuse-Minoa High School
East Syracuse, New York

Good luck with your quest for fairness for all.


This situation is rather like having a club devoted to Renaissance art and
having someone object to all the depictions of Christ, Mary, et al in
works by Michaelangelo.
Perhaps if you emphasize the historical aspects of the music you propose
to perform? Just a thought.
Greg E. Shepherd



I think the whole issue of literature comes back to "why" we are teaching
it. Would you teach art without studying the great sacred masterworks.
There are many legal precedents in support of sacred music in secular,
public institutions. Even president Clinton signed a document stating that
it is appropriate as long as you do not advocate one religion over another.
I can try to get this info. for you if you would like. Most school board
people, as well as the general public, do not understand the actual
separation of church and state. How can we censor a large part of history
out of what we teach children. There are definitely other things going on
behind their arguments.

Michael Lisi
Learwood Middle School
340 Lear Road
Avon Lake, OH 44012



I work in a public school, where this issue arises regularly. A balanced
program of music from many traditions is the best defense, in my opinion. If
the only religious music your group performs is Christian, then it would be
difficult to see your group as strictly ecumenical whatever the intentions of
its governing body. If questioned about this at my school, the response is
that the music is chosen for artistic reasons, and if that's not enough, I
point out that many cultures are represented "because the world is a big
place, and the children are going to have more contact with a global
population than we older folks might." I've never had a serious argument
with that view (well, once from a fundamentalist Christian parent who didn't
really want *any* other influences to sully his daughter's
can't win 'em all!).

Good luck!

Ann Foster


Some musings, not necessarily for broadcast
in toto:

1) In NYC public elementary schools, music classes
are allowed to sing Hanukkah songs, and they do,
with gusto, even my Christian daughter, but absolutely
NO Christmas carols except the Santa/Reindeer
variety. I have not been able to get anyone to budge
on this issue, even though the Hanukkah songs seem
to me to be just as "religious" as Silent Night, talking as
they do about "days long ago."
Another case of overcompensation.

2) Any chance you could have an open repertoire policy,
where Jewish families are encouraged to suggest good
music from their own tradition that the kids could also
learn? Seems so simple to me: you appreciate "our"
music and we appreciate "yours" and we all learn to
appreciate good music no matter what the text does
or doesn't proclaim.

3) If I had severe allergies, could I object to choir music
about flowers and expect that choirs would no longer
sing them? No, I can appreciate a beautiful flower song
even if it makes me sneeze to have the real thing nearby.

4) It would seem the essence of performance that we sometimes
need to set aside our own beliefs and "proclaim" a text that
we don't believe. Last fall, my chorus had the privilege to
participate in the North American premiere of Philip Glass's Choral
which also included a children's chorus from Brooklyn. The piece used
a WIDE variety of texts, and the librettists said
"We have elected to present the original texts (Greek, Hebrew,
Sanskrit, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and indigenous languages) in one
language, English, to show the commonalities with which all these
traditions resonate." I am certainly glad that the 150 singers on
the stage didn't all boycott the texts they didn't happen to believe!
Not only would the performance have suffered, but the experience
would not have been as rich.

5) I think the artistic director chooses the music, and unless it's WAY
out of the scope of human decency on some score, folks should
just calm down and participate in the whole, or not, as they feel
compelled to do.

Christine Hoffman
The Dessoff Choirs


Might I suggest your Artistic Director consider works by Allan Naplan.
Beautiful Hebrew repertoire for children's voices.

David B. Springstead
Director Emeritus
Norfolk District United Methodist Mens Chorus


Dear Mr. McCoy,

Have you thought about having programs be celebrations of various cultures'
observance of e.g., the Solstice, etc. ?

Arlene Sagan


religious perspective must not want to explain someone elses beliefs to their
That's not true.
explained to them, then they shouldn't sing in such a group....... Stick
to your guns. >>

I missed the original post.

If there are Christian religious songs being sung, are there Jewish religious
songs being sung?

It must be difficult for Christians to understand why a Jew, or other
religious believers, would not like to always be singing Christian songs when
their own literature is not getting equal time or even a glance.



We have faced similar questions in our community-based children's choir
program and have incorporated the following statement into our brochures for
auditions and new members.

As a classically based program, we strive to choose repertoire of the
highest musical standard. Our choices represent a wide variety of styles
and historical periods. Because of the nature of choral repertoire,
religious texts are oftentimes used. We try to avoid texts written in the
first person. We also endeavor to balance religious texts of one faith with
expressions of other faiths."

This has helped us answer questions, although it does not satisfy every
parent. We have become more sensitive to the literature we select and no
longer do the carol sing-alongs we occasionally did in the past. And -
those type of big Christmas programs attracted the biggest audiences, so our
crowds have diminished a bit for that concert, which we hate. I also regret
that there is some some Christian rep. that I don't feel comfortable using
anymore. Last December's concert included 9 Christian pieces, 3 Hebrew
pieces, 4 sacred Old Testament pieces, and 11 secular pieces. The bulk of
the Christian pieces was a suite called Dancing Day by John Rutter that the
advanced choir sang. No one complained.

I've also had complaints because our main concerts are on Friday nights
(Sabbath), but cannot find any way to change them to any other day, so more
orthodox Jewish families find it difficult to participate.

I love the diversity of our culture, but it does bring challenges.

Pam Schneller
Blair Children's Chorus
Nashville, TN


Absolutely, Jewish music should be sung as well as Christian, and perhaps
even some other faith sources--how about American Indian? However, the
largest bulk of choral music over the centuries was written for the
Christian Church, and eliminating this from the repertoire is a disservice
to students. In a community group, it also seems inappropriate to sing
contemporary Christian music that is primarily "Jesus" oriented when there
is plenty of common ground in religious texts between the Jewish and
Christian faiths. This, however should not be cause to eliminate singing a
Mass setting as art music or other such similar circumstances. Or to not
sing Christmas Carols and Hanukah songs on a holiday program as a cultural

Eloise Porter
Encore Choirs
PO Box 354
Shelburne, VT 05482


In our handbook under "curriculum" we state:

"The music chosen in commonly from many religious and secular traditions and
performed in many settings, and since the repertoire is not selected to
intrude upon anyone's personal beliefs it is essential that all singers be
willing to sing all repertoire."

If music of many religious and secular traditions are not being programmed,
it is a valid question. Quality music exists outside the Christian
tradition although the largest body of material to draw upon is from that

Alin Cass
Artistic Director
Classic Arts Programs, Inc.
Warsaw, Indiana


Dear Lee,
I was confronted with a similar problem when I was an elementary music teacher
in Ohio. It was a tradition in that particular school to have a Christmas
Program where all the classes performed for each other ending with a carol
sing. The growing Jewish community objected (and rightly so), so the school
board came up with a compromise that we would ensure the Holiday Program would
be a balanced one: mainly secular holiday music, but if a Protestant carol was
sung, then a Jewish song would be included.

Now, in Alabama with my own community children's chorus, we have been having
trouble with Church of Christ families objecting to sacred music performed with
instruments!!! In our handbook that is given to every auditioner's parent to
read before agreeing to accept membership in our chorus, we have included a
paragraph that states:

"Please note that our repertoire includes music of many different cultures
and styles, in many different languages. Often sacred music (accompanied and a
capella) is chosen for its educational and aesthetic value, not to preach or
proselytize. If our repertoire conflicts with your personal beliefs, this
matter needs your consideration before making a commitment to join HC3."

Some people will decide they cannot in good conscience join our group - we are
fine with that; but it's better to find out before they join the group, then
afterwards. Hope this helps!

Anne Chelekis
Founder and Director, the Huntsville Community Children's Chorus (HC3)


I am the artistic and admin. director of a non-profit children's chorus. I
have a disclaimer on my contract with parents that says something like this:
Singers perform a wide variety of literature from both sacred and secular
sources, and all singers are expected to sing all selections. I may also
have something in there about how they are presented from a historical and
cultural perspective, not a religious one. I am away from home, or I would
quote from my contract form.

A point to make with these people is that professional singers sing and are
paid for singing music of all religious persuasions. Christians sing and
are paid to sing for Jewish High Holy Days. Jewish singers are hired as
paid soloists in Christian churches. Professional choruses sing music of
all faiths. Singing a variety of repertoire increases cultural
understanding. Parents who don't wish their children to be exposed to a
different religious perspective must not want to explain someone elses
beliefs to their child. I have never heard of someone being converted just
by singing music from a different faith. I say if they are so narrow-minded
and fearful, after this is explained to them, then they shouldn't sing in
such a group. They have been given the choice and you are not excluding
them. Stick to your guns.

Best wishes,
Eloise Porter
Encore Choirs
PO Box 354
Shelburne, VT 05482


You can't be all things to all people. Music is a form of acting;
just as you don't have to be a murderer to play Macbeth, you don't
have to be Christian to sing a mass in concert. If their religious
convictions are such that they can't encompass this idea, they should
find a group that caters to their needs.

Does your group have a mission statement that speaks to this? If not,
the Board should consider it. The large-scale mission of the group is
the Board's responsibility, even if the details are left to the
Artistic Director.

Next year you'll have Jehovah's Witnesses telling you they can't sing
Halloween or Fourth-of-July music, since JWs aren't allowed to
celebrate any holidays. Then you'll have fundamentalist Christians
telling you they can't sing because you DON'T do any sacred music.
You can't satisfy everybody. You have to choose a mission and stick
with it, and do it only with those members of the community which
share that mission. Kids benefit from having their parents stick to
their principles, too, even if it means they can't sing in your choir.

Allen H Simon
Soli Deo Gloria


I think that the most important thing that we as conductors can do is to
simply be sensitive. And to interpret that any way that one must given
one's individual situation. If I as a conductor feel that it is simply
enough to introduce a Christian piece to a mixed crowd and explain that they
need not "believe what they're singing," so be it. Of course, there will
certainly be times when "being sensitive" will mean including a Hannukah
song (and hopefully an authentic one) on a holiday program for the sake of
making Jewish children feel more included.

I write this as a strongly identifying Jewish person who happens to be the
music director at a Catholic school. I simply love the "Christian music" of
the world and find that it is some of the best stuff ever written. I feel
very privileged to have gone to a public school where a) Christian music was
allowed to be sung which enhanced my appreciation of not just Christian
music or choral music, but music in general b) we were never asked to
"believe" what we were singing c) there was always at least one Hannukah
song (albeit, usually not a great one) on a holiday program which made me
and several others happy and glad to be recognized (although, I will say
that Hannukah is a relatively minor Jewish holiday which has been magnified
to match the allure of Christmas).

By all means, the best music out there should be sung and taught (as long as
it is not openly "against" another religion and is something that can be
thought of as having universal appeal)... but all directors should be
sensitive on this issue in whatever way they see fit.

Ethan Nash



Hi, Lee.
Years ago, here in Brasil, five musicians of Curitiba Simphony (the capital
of Paraná state) refuse to play pieces of african-services (something like
voo-doo) inspiration, because they were believers (baptists or pentecostals,
I'm not sure). Well, the numbers of musicians (5) among all the orchestra,
was not so significant, so they were dismissed to play those especific
pieces. What about the singers to be dismissed to sing those specific
I hope it helps.
Deuel Duarte


Mr. McCoy,

here are a few suggestions which may or may not work in your situation:

1. all the child(ren) who object to the song to be dismissed from having to
sing or perform the song. Pros-solves problem. Cons-child may feel left

2. Stress again the importance of the artistic viewpoint and the values for
which your organization stands for. You might even try to encourage your
artistic director (in a unofficial way-over lunch!) to include one or two
traditional Jewish songs to give a balance. Pros-gives a multiculural feel
to the group; allows the choir to honor the differences that each child has;
makes the jewish children feel a part. Cons-other children may not like the
musical selection.

3. Cut your losses. The fact is: you will not please all the people all the
time. Personally speaking, I feel this would be a final option and should
only be used as such. Pros-solves the problem. Cons-bad press.

Hope it helps!

Russ Donaho
Associate Pastor of Worship
Iron City Baptist Church
41 Mandy Lane
Anniston, Alabama 36207
email: russ(a)


If sacred Christian music were the ONLY good example of choral music
available to your children, I would not agree with the Jewish family's
complaint. But there is so much other great stuff, I can not understand
your problem in excluding it.

Ruth McKendree Treen
Chatham. Massachusetts


Hello Lee!

I have much to say about this. Plus, having been raised in SB I have a
connection to the Jewish community there. I would, however, suggest you
contact my mother (Lynette) and/or father (Naftaly), whose views would probably
echo mine:

Dr. & Dr. Glasman

I forward your email to them and encourage them to contact you, too. If you
are not able to establish contact with them please let me know.

Ilan Glasman


Mr. McCoy,

Though this is not a solution, it is an opinion that many as myself
acknowledge. If a person vociferiously objects to a majority opinion,
causes trouble or threatens in anyway (such as not allowing kids to
participate, legal action, etc.) it shows they are not comfortable in
their beliefs and are very unstable with regard to how they personally
feel and how they have taught their kids. I would allow my children to
sing anything that does not advocate hurting another (as some rap music
does), or obviously denigrate another. Their are absolute truths
(though their aren't today in our "relativistic" age-everything is
relative-what hogwash). One living in a federalist republic as we do,
must bow to the majority opinion or not participate.

I am an agnostic...I am firm in my own personal belief system, have
taught, and continue to teach my kids the great Judaeo-Christian beliefs
because I feel they are the foundation of Western thought and
inter-relation with others, and I am allowing my kids the right to
choose from this system of thought/action or any others THEY may
discover along the learning path if the system teaches respect for
others, decent interrelationships and absolute truths....

This family has a right to believe the way they want...if they feel weak
in their beliefs, or are scared of their kids changing beliefs, they
should "bow out", or start their own musical organization within their

Jerry Hatley, D.M.A.


Please publish results of findings.
Virginia Moravek
Edison, NJ


Dear Lee,

I would be interested in following the dialogue on this subject. I am
Conductor of the University of Toronto at Scarborough Concert Choir and
repertoire choirs. I've been very successful in avoiding problems of
repertoire by simply presenting them for their artistic value. However, in
the back of my mind it is always important to remain sensitive to people's
beliefs and traditions. We must communicate to many of our singers of
different traditions that the music though written for sacred reasons today
do not have a place in most liturgies. Many times these selections will only
be heard in concert format, similar if I may draw the illustration of the
armour used by Knights of old. The only time we see these costumes now is
either in context of a theatrical performance or in a museum.

All the best with your dilemma.

Lenard Whiting
University of Toronto at Scarborough


Will you publish results? I'd be very interested in responses you get...
Celia Canty


Hi, Lee.
I would recommend reading a couple of articles on this subject that appeared
in the Choral Journal, March 2001. One my Nick Page and the other by me.
It's a complicated situation. You have to deal with both reason and emotion.
Josh Jacobson


I have a similar problem with some of the religious preferences in my choir.
One group objects to Ave Maria type pieces becasue of the reference to Mary,
the another objected to Sh'ma Yisrael because it's sacred in the Temple. I
have refrained from Ave Marias until this one kid passes through, though I
know I shouldn't have to. The Jews who objected to Sh'ma, have left the
Chorus. I'm interested in your findings as well. polly
Never underestimate the ability of children. They can surprise you when
presented with a challenge!)

Polly Murray


Mr. McCoy:

Let me briefly establish my background before commenting on your message.

I am a B.M. graduate in Music Education of Chapman University, Orange; M.M.
graduate in Choral Conducting from CSU Fullerton; and D.M.A. graduate in
Choral Music from USC. I have been involved in community chorus leadership
postions for around 25 years; a church musician for 30 years; a college
choral music instructor for 10 years. I live in Michigan, where I conduct a
community chorus which performs regularly and has recorded for Chandos,
Ltd., with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, as well as under my direction on
the campus of the University of Michigan.

The Jewish families are entirely correct in bringing their concerns to you.
In this world of multiculturalism, your music director is showing
questionable judgment in programming such a narrow band of sacred music.
The issue is not whether Jesus was divine--undoubtedly he was--rather, your
organization's willingness to acknowledge the diverse backgrounds and
beliefs of its core membership.

There are myriad solutions, including a discussion with the music director
by a member of the board about the need for personal and musical sensitivity
on this issue; the commissioning a new musical work which perhaps would
celebrate the diverse nature of the chorus and Santa Barbara itself (I used
to live on Los Positas Road); or having the board contact major children's
choruses in the US and Canada to review their programming and see how they
deal with this issue.

I strongly urge you to consider the last idea listed above. The Toronto
Children's Chorus, the Glen Ellyn Children's Chorus and others in North
America have the very highest artistic and programming standards; closer to
home I suggest that you contact Anne Tomlinson with the Los Angeles
Children's Chorus, which performs regularly with the LA Philharmonic and
other major orchestras, as well as on its own series, and speak to her
directly regarding this issue.

You were right in suggesting that artistic presentation should transcend
dogma. But it does not forgive limitations of intellectual (read: musical)


Thomas Sheets
UMS Choral Union


I will pray for you from both the bible and the torah. You are in an
impossible to please everyone situation. The question is simple. Is this
community chorus supported by funds from the community or do you operate
under your own power? It would seem to me that you have less of a problem
if you operate without public monies

Some famous person once wrote that it as a fool who thinks that all people
can be pleased. If they don't like the music you do, have them find a group
that performs music that suits their cultural and religious beliefs.

My best wishes to you. I know this is difficult for you. You try to do
something good and others find fault with your work. You have support from
many of us who have had the same problems. Hang in there.

Mike Seredick,


Willy-nilly, I found this in some saved email; I think
it was from Choralist a while ago.
Although it doesn't directly apply to your question,
you might find nuggests of help in some of this.

Here are some helpful links with useful information on these issues,
are all listed at
with others that may be helpful.

What you have to remember is that local schools and school districts have
the right to make their own rules and regulations regarding sacred/secular
issues as long as they do not discriminate for or against religion. I hope
this information is helpful. It's that time of year again, isn't it?

Nick Boltz
Director of Music
Hope Presbyterian Church


How about Carl Vine's Choral Symphony which uses an ancient Babylonian
text that praises Gaia.


>Nan Beth Walton
>Faith Lutheran Church
>Seattle, WA


Would Lou Harrison's "La Coro Sutro" count here?? It's a fun piece...

Paul Sinasohn


I have not been able to read posts for a while, and when I searched my mail I
couldn't find the original post here, but I would love to get some assistance
in this area. For the past twenty or so years that I have had a school music
position (although several have been in Catholic schools, even though I am
not Catholic), I have scoured music sources for music that is from faith
traditions other than Christian to use as a part of the curriculum. I have
many books which have the same about one dozen Herew/Jewish sbongs, some
which are not to the standard of music intricacy that I generally like to
share with my students, others which provide no translation so that I do not
know the meaning of the words. And then there are those "newly composed"
pieces which are designed for a narrow application and are not substantial in
my opinion (I absolutely do not teach Christian music which falls into this
same category, either). I have many foreign language dictionaries that I can
use to translate songs in other languages, but when it comes to Hebrew or
African languages, or any langugage where we are reading a phonetic
representation of a language, I am stumped.

I think it is wonderful to share about the various faith traditions and
disciplines that make up our world, but they don't all have parallel music,
in terms of how music is used in worship or ritual. I would think it far
more valuable to teach through some other experiences that help us get closer
to the meaning of the rituals and worship in traditions and that are more
authentic, rather than just "how can we make Christmas equal for everyone"
efforts. I found a wonderful book of old testament traditions that teach
about Yom Kippur, Rosh Hasshanah, Passover and Shabbat traditions for family
celebrations to be used by families that are not Jewish, that could be a
wonderful classroom experience. Authentic dances are a bit easier for me to
find than authentic songs, and that might be another wonderful way to share
the traditions of our culture with one another. I haven't found a lot of
Kwanza songs, either, but there are wonderful ways to learn about the rituals
of that celebratory time. I think we should definitely give our students
balanced opportunities to learn about other fraditions, and some schools are
doing a very effective job of that. But trying to achieve that balance
through music alone has been nigh to impossible for me. I would very much
welcome any sources you have to share. Though I am not currently in a
school, I love to collect such things so that I have them for future use. I
am only relatively recently an internet competent researcher and there are
probably resources available to me that way that were previously unknown to


Nan Beth Walton
Faith Lutheran Church
Seattle, WA

on September 12, 2002 10:00pm
As a Jewish instructor teaching at a Catholic school, I am unlikely to experience this situation in my school. However, I concur with several of the above comments regarding Jewish music.
There is a Jewish choral tradition that has been waiting in the wings--Lewandowski, Schlesinger, Michael Isaacson, and some of the newer composers/performers (Debbie Friedman, Rick Recht, Danny Maseng and many, many more). All of the "good choral music" ISN'T Christian--people just haven't been exposed to the outstanding repertoire of Jewish choral pieces. Also, most are transliterated Hebrew, but fairly easy to pronounce.
Do yourself, your group and the Jewish population a big favor by NOT "putting in a Hanukah song" to "even things out". Hanukah is a minor Jewish holiday; Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the major holidays.
There is a good deal of Jewish music that is secular--to be Jewish means to be part of a culture as well as a theology. Many of these songs are about animals, seasons, food (of course...)and folk tales.
Please keep Vivaldi, Handel, Palestrina et. al in your repertoire; but take a good look at the Bloch Sacred Service, anything by Louis Lewandowski, and check out the major publisher of Jewish choral music, TransContinental.
on March 14, 2005 10:00pm
As an accompianist and Jewish who went to public school thru university, I often sang Christmas music including things such as the Messiah in school. However, I drew the line about performing during a Christian service or mass. I also usually refrained from saying certain words like "Christ our Savior". However, having said that. . . . I wouldn't trade any of this experience for anything.
on January 4, 2006 10:00pm
I am one of only four or five Jewish people in our community chorus. We sing the standard choral repertoire. We lost one of our basses over this issue, so I decided to ask the rabbi of the synagogue I attend (albeit sporadically). His reply was that it's only music, you don't have to believe in the words to to sing it, and that lifting your voice in song is a wonderful and positive thing. So that's a rabbinical opinion for you!!!
on February 10, 2008 10:00pm
I appreciate everyone's comments....but here's the bottom line...whether or not people believe in Jesus as the Messiah, HE WAS JEWISH, TOO! Being half jewish, I feel I can say that without offending anyone, as it's true.....another thought, if you wipe out Christianity from the curriculum, you pretty much irradicate most of history....just my thought. I think we ALL need to be more tolerant and just get over it!