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How Can We Keep from Singing?

By Kenta Sachen (ACE 28 - Indianapolis)

Mr. Sachen's Singers

During my first week of teaching religion, I like to go through different types of prayers with my class. I know that they are used to the canonical prayers that get used on a regular basis, so I wanted my students to see that there is more to prayer than the Our Father and the Hail Mary. I go back to my Jesuit education and share the Examen with them and show them the paintings of the Sistine Chapel to expose them to religious artwork. 

But my favorite type of prayer to share with them is music. Singing at ACE Mass is one of my favorite parts of ACE Summer, so I was extremely eager to bring those feelings and energy into my classroom. What better way to glorify God and share His love than to belt out a hymn together? I pull out my guitar, hand out some song sheets, and get the whole class practicing and singing songs like “Amazing Grace,” “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace,” and “How Can I Keep From Singing?” 

Now, when I did this same lesson last year, it was quite awkward since most of my class didn’t want to sing along with me. To be completely honest, I was a little nervous when I started strumming the first chords. But to my surprise, this year I had a class of eager singers! I knew that the guitar and song sheet was something I could bring out every now and then with this class, which has brought me great joy. 

At St. Philip Neri Catholic School, we celebrate Mass as a whole school every Friday, but we don’t always have music accompanying the celebration. Because it is a rarity, I get really excited when I find out that we have a musical Mass coming up. A couple weeks ago, the music teacher handed out song sheets to every homeroom teacher and asked us to practice with our classes if we had the time. Of course, I immediately started preparing my students to be the loudest and proudest singers at the October 7th Mass.

The two songs I focused on were “Immaculate Mary” and “Hail Holy Queen.” I love these songs for three reasons. One, they were both songs that I remember singing at my school Masses in elementary school. They’re no “Canticle of the Turning” in terms of pop and flare, but the refrains are still bangers in my opinion. Secondly, getting my class ready to sing “Hail Holy Queen” gave me an excuse to watch clips from The Sister Act with my class (here’s a clip for the uninitiated). Who doesn’t love Whoopi Goldberg and singing nuns? Third, the tier 2 and 3 vocabulary words in the lyrics like immaculate and cherubim and the Latin refrains provide great religion and language lessons while we are having fun singing. 

Personal connection? Check. Fun video? Check. Academically rigorous vocabulary lesson? Check. These songs gave me the rare win-win-win lesson. 

Our singing was choppy at first, but we’ve practiced a couple times each week for three weeks now, and I think we sound pretty good! The best part is that some of my students beg me to take out the song sheets and practice singing with them. After music last week, they proudly boasted how they impressed the music teacher with their singing of “Immaculate Mary” and how they were “so much better” now at singing the songs. I can’t wait to fill the church with the voices of 27 proud, confident, and joyous fifth graders.