YOUTH MUSIC AND ART PROGRAMS ENLIVEN THE SALVATION ARMY
March was a time to celebrate arts education for children, as it was both Youth Art Month and Music in Our Schools Month. The Salvation Army assists with that education, offering children music and arts programs that are either in addition to their school programs or in place of them.
During the month, we talked with several Salvation Army corps in Kentucky and Tennessee about their youth arts programs, whose offerings range from music lessons to chorus to art classes to drama productions. Here are two such programs, with others to be featured in coming months.
The Wilson County, TN Salvation Army, in Lebanon, has had programs for children after school and in the summer for several years, but it wasn’t until a block of buildings was donated in spring 2014 that the Lake Street Learning Center was born.
Classes there started in summer 2014, after having previously met in the community room of the HUD housing units across the street (where all the children live). Following 45 minutes of academics, children have 45-50 minutes for two electives, which, in the arts realm, most recently included brass, guitar, piano, art, choreo drama and sign language.
“We change sessions probably every two months, and the kids pick whatever they want,” said center director Marie Wulfing. “We do a recital at the end of the session, so the parents can see what the kids are learning, which I think that is really valuable because it shows them what quality instruction their kids are getting for free.”
When it comes to music, brass is perhaps the key program. Not only has it grown each year, with some of the students having taken it every year, but it’s also a good catalyst to introduce children to other Salvation Army programs, like the summer music conservatory, where The Salvation Army of Wilson County used 8 of its 10 allotted Camp Paradise Valley slots last summer.
Brass is also very fun for the students, Wulfing said. “The first session they’re usually just learning the basic three or five notes, but they work with [Sgt.] Tom [Freeman], who will do a ‘Star Wars’ song for that. One year, they all came out for the recital dressed in ‘Star Wars’ clothes playing a ‘Star Wars’ song. He tries to pick things kids know and love.”
Wulfing is one of the guitar teachers, along with a teen volunteer, who she taught previously. Watching the progression of the volunteers is the biggest delight of the program, Wulfing said.
“We’re trying to keep our teenagers and not let them drift off, and seeing them as they get older move into volunteer spots and start to use their gifts in teaching is rewarding.”
As for other arts classes, art and choreo drama are both popular. Art, in fact, has been popular since the time classes were across the street. Some of the students have taken and enjoyed it for so long they have said they want to be art teachers in the future.
“Choreo drama is pretty much drama without words,” Wulfing explained. “[The teacher] picks a popular song on regular radio and puts a spiritual message to it that you can watch. One of the children is usually Jesus, and he’s giving some message to the other characters that you can tell through the drama, even though there are no words other than the song in the background.”
Last session’s choreo drama was so powerful, she added, that parents were literally crying.
“[The Lake Street Learning Center] is the highlight of what we do,” she said. “We’re just amazed at what God has given us over here.”
The Frankfort, KY Salvation Army has three arts programs for children: junior band, junior chorus and gospel drama, which includes thematic skits, particularly for Christmas and Easter.
Junior band is especially active, said youth coordinator Cheryl Peabody. Four of the children in it went to Camp Paradise Valley’s week-long junior music conservatory last summer, and that’s what really kickstarted the band. Now, the kids play the doxology almost every week in chapel, and they also played during bell ringing last winter.
“We’re also starting to come up with easier versions of some of the hymns, so they can play with the senior band for the congregational songs.”
The junior chorus is also in the process of learning hymns, though not the same ones. That group does occasionally sing at Sunday services, but the main focus right now is learning old hymns for when the children go to a nursing home once a month.
“They are learning all of the old hymns that the seniors remember, so they can sing those for them,” Peabody said. “We go to a home that’s for Alzheimer’s residents, and some of these folks don’t know their names, but they know every word of these songs the kids are singing, and they’re singing along with them. It makes the kids excited.”
Gospel drama is currently focusing on its Easter drama, “Untangled,” which Peabody calls “a take-off of “Tangled.” In it, Rapunzel, Snow White and Cinderella are talking about how to get untangled from sin.
For Christmas, the kids performed “Not Sold in Stores” about the gifts God has for us that can’t be bought, like peace, joy and love. Last Easter, they did “CSI: Jerusalem,” where the children investigated the death of Christ, telling the crucifixion story in more modern terms.
Currently, these programs meet on Saturday afternoon (the best for retention on Sunday morning), but the goal is to make them part of the Salvation Army’s character-building program and open them up to all community children, according to Peabody.
“We want to do a junior conservatory,” she said. “We have people that can teach brass, guitar and drums, and we’re looking for a couple people from the community to supplement what we already have. We’re just steps away from Kentucky State University, so eventually I really want to include them in some of the stuff we’re doing.”
For Peabody, music and arts programs have always been the foundation of The Salvation Army. “There’s so far that kids can go with music and arts programs. I think it’s really been a show of faith that the kids can worship in their own way, and that their style of worship is just as important and acceptable.
“I just want to watch God work through these programs and these kids.”