Many different songbooks are used in schools. The Come and Praise series (BBC), perhaps getting a bit long in the tooth now, nevertheless remains popular because of the careful balance of material providing songs suitable for those from faith communities and for children and teachers from a secular background. The increasingly popular All About Our School (BBC) provides a selection focused on the school community.
BBC School Radio also provides a large selection of music programmes and resources as well as assembly material:
Also look at Out of the Ark Music for a selection of music resources, many of which can be used effectively in assemblies:
Here, Geoff Marshall-Taylor, Editor of Come and Praise and Come and Praise: Beginning (BBC), gives his personal views on the place of singing and music in assembly:
A well-chosen song enthusiastically sung in assembly can have an important effect on the group and on individuals.
If I'm honest, I can't say that I've always given a lot of thought to the songs I choose for assembly or the role they can play. My view on this changed after a series of visits to primary schools to research practice. Time and again children said that what they remembered most were the singing and the stories. I expected stories to feature, but the number who referred to singing as being important took me by surprise.
Creating an atmosphere
Almost everyone uses instrumental music, and occasionally commercial songs, to create an atmosphere of quiet reflection in assemblies, especially at the beginning and end, but assembly songs are used in this way too. Most Come and Praise songs are available on CD or cassette, so they can be played as listening music. A small group of recorder players or other instrumentalists also provide this sort of experience. And you no longer have to work out the musicians' parts. Each of the Come and Praise books has an instrumental version (different from the piano version), which comprises lines for recorders, guitars, unpitched percussion and other instruments.
After a story you may want to create the space for personal thought – just the place to use music and perhaps make possible one of those pin-dropping moments which are often profound in children’s spiritual development.
Sometimes the very experience of singing a song deepens awareness of an idea. I have found this, for example, with singing ‘Shalom’ as a two-part round. The hope / prayer is about peace and harmony. As it is sung, the harmonizing of the two groups of children in the assembly becomes in itself an expression of unity; as the first part ends, the reduced volume of the second part in the last phrase creates a sense of greater peace. It is moving to follow the song with a few seconds of complete silence before anyone speaks or moves.
A song for all seasons
A song is able to create or reflect the mood of the school community. Celebration may call for exuberant, roof-lifting singing, but at other times a quieter, reflective atmosphere is what is needed. Two schools I have known well have had to face the tragic death of children within their communities. In one, the boy who had died had once played some of his favourite songs on his recorder: in his memory, the whole school sang those songs with as much energy as they could bring. In the other school, a group of about 15 children sang to everyone else and helped to make it a deeply moving but celebratory assembly.
Songs as prayers
Many of the songs in Come and Praise are in the form of prayers; for example, ‘Make Me a Channel of Your Peace’, ‘Make Me Worthy, Lord’, ‘One More Step’, ‘Lead Me From Death to Life’ and ‘The Caribbean Lord’s Prayer’. These are read or sung as the moments of reflection or prayer. Sometimes the mixed faith nature of a school community makes it inappropriate to use specific prayers which assume a faith commitment. It may be, however, entirely appropriate for a song to be sung to the rest of the school or played from a CD with this sort of introduction: ‘Let’s sit quietly and listen to this song – it’s a Christian prayer.’
Songs as the basis for dance
I have seen some highly effective uses of songs with dance. In fact, some of the Come and Praise songs have a dance connection. ‘You Shall Go Out With Joy’ and ‘Let the World Rejoice Together’ can be used with a ‘hora’ (Israeli circle dancing). ‘Flickering Candles’ was superbly performed on Songs of Praise by a group of girls from Derby: they moved around in individual circular patterns, hands above their heads and fingers moving like the flickering of candle flames. A recorder version of ‘Morning Has Broken’ provided the music for a mime / dance of creation: Adam and Eve began in a still position on the rostrum; then they gradually uncurled and began sinuously to rise up into movements reflecting their enjoyment of Paradise.
Songs as the basis for complete assemblies
Generally, we think of an assembly theme and only then think of songs that will fit. It’s possible to do it the other way around: choose the song and make its themes and structure the basis for the whole occasion. There’s an example of this on the site using ‘Think of a World Without Any Flowers’.
It is useful to take stock with regard to the role and quality of the assembly singing. If it’s not very good, why is this?
- Can the words be clearly seen?
- If a CD or MP3 is being used, can it be heard at the back of the room?
- If a song is not well known, can time be found to teach it or could it be sung as follow-my-leader?
- Could music colleagues be involved if they’re not already?
Assembly singing has the power to draw the school community together – staff and children. It’s worth asking from time to time how effective it is and whether it could make an even greater impact.
Good listening and good singing!
Editor Come and Praise and Come and Praise: Beginning (BBC)