This past Monday I had the opportunity to work with two classes of third-year students at Kennedy Park primary school, leading two sessions focusing on music and singing as part of Arts Week. We as a community have been fortunate enough to work with two of Kennedy Park’s fifth classes, teaching them new music for their Opening Mass for the school year, and working with one fifth class in planning a special, individual class liturgy, so I was excited to have the chance to work with some of the younger students. The fifth class teacher approached me about the Arts Week sessions last week, saying that her previous presenter had canceled, and is there any way I would be willing to spend two blocks of 45 minutes perhaps teaching a song or two to third-year students? I had to give it about 2 seconds of thought before I was willing to commit.
Since the intent of Arts Week was not to prepare any liturgical music but just to have fun and get young children interested in and excited about music, I wasn’t quite sure what to teach them. However, the approach of Halloween provided a great answer. I decided to teach a ridiculous, fun Halloween song (complete with motions), and then, in order to provide the sessions with a little substance and spiritual depth, I would explain the liturgical roots of Halloween, and teach them a song appropriate for the feast of All Saints Day.
We began with warm-ups, as all good singers should, practicing our vocal scoops and sighs, lip buzzes, stretches, and other amusing forms of vocalizing. After that, I began teaching the classic Halloween ditty “Five Little Pumpkins.” It was massively entertaining to teach the students words and motions to phrases like “There are witches in the air.” (The motion for this is to look up at the sky, point, and move your finger across the air as though you’re following a witch on a broomstick.)
Naturally, the kids had a blast learning this classic in the repertoire of Halloween songs, and they picked it up very quickly. After promising them that we would sing it again at the end of our time together, I began a new series of questions with: Does anyone know what we’re really celebrating on Halloween? (Answer: “Devils and witches!” Not quite.) I explained the concept of celebrating important feasts with vigils, like Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve, and that Halloween is really the “Eve” of All Saints Day, when the Church remembers all the men, women, and even children who lived holy lives. I then asked: Can you name any saints? Hands shot up as children called out their favorites: Patrick, Brigid, Columba, Aidan, Santa Claus (the student forgot his real name), on and on. I introduced the next song, “Sing with All the Saints in Glory,” and explained the meaning of the text phrase by phrase, clearing up slightly confused answers like: “The Resurrection is when Jesus rose from the dead on Christmas.” So close… so endearing!
The students learned the familiar Ode to Joy tune almost instantly, and were even able to grasp the more formal text. Of course, by the end of each session, both classes were ready to sing “Five Little Pumpkins” again, but it was great to see their enthusiasm for the All Saints Day hymn as well, and was happy that I was able to combine the fun and silliness of Halloween with the beauty and joy of All Saints Day. Once again I found myself grateful for the opportunity to work with children. It has proven to be one of the most rewarding facets of our ministry here, and I pray that it may not only continue, but also grow in scope and depth as this year passes.