A sea of children stand in their uniforms, boys in pressed shorts and girls in smocks with Peter-Pan collars, hands folded, eyes gazed with intensity.
They’re singing their hearts out with purpose — to record a CD of hymn medleys to be sold by their school, Providence Christian.
“It’s a rare feat, to have that many children sing by memory and learn all those words — words some of them don’t even understand yet,” pianist David Leeman said.
Each school year, students from classes one through five at Providence learn a hymn a month. Then, at the end of the year, Leeman crafts the hymns into an arrangement. This year’s medley contains nine traditional hymns.
“It’s such a wonderful thing that we do,” class three teacher Allison Ellis said. “The kids work hard on these hymns for a whole month — they sing them every day, and they love it. The families have really grown to love these hymns.”
Even with each year’s medley performance, the school hasn’t recorded a CD since 2009.
“It’s a good way to review, and the parents love it — they always cry,” music director Barbara Leeman said.
She’s been at Providence for 18 years, with her husband assisting through arrangements and piano accompaniment.
“Because we’re a classical school, we believe in traditional hymns,” she said. ‘They’re at the risk of being lost [in popular culture].”
With five classes of children participating, the total number of singers rounds out at about 200.
“The hymn medley was special because we got to sing before the Lord and sing with our friends,” class four student Hannah Ball said.
For Leeman, that’s an important experience for children to have.
“We need to sing our theology and teach it to children,” she said. “We don’t teach ‘kiddie’ songs. These hymns are time-tested. Just like what we read in literature, we only sing great music.”
The children participate in roughly five performances each year: Grandparents’ Day, Christmas Chapel, Fine Arts Day, the school musical, and, of course, the hymn medley. And the school of thought is the same for each performance.
“Culture is screaming something else in their ears,” Leeman said. “But we are giving children something they’ll have their whole lives: familiar words from reading the hymnal. We have college-age kids and older coming back and thanking us. Every child can sing, and sing high.”
The CD will be released in late October or early November, to be available for purchase before the holiday season.