Polly Powers Stramm, Savannah Morning News & Kelly Roberson, Director of Conference Ministries/Communications
With ballet, soccer, basketball and baseball practices in full swing, it’s difficult to imagine that a church would have more than 100 singers in its young people’s choir. But 133 is the number of people – ages three to 18 – who performed a special presentation Sunday, February 26 at historic Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church
in downtown Savannah, Ga.
The young people make it a point to squeeze in choir practice because they love it, says Monica Dekle, director of music and organist at Wesley Monumental UMC. She recalls hearing from one mother, who was sick, telling her child that they weren’t going to church. The distraught child asked his mother to call a ride share service so he wouldn’t miss, Dekle said.
The concert, called "Children of the Light," was a concert of heritage and hymns, including two written by church member Judy Bradley.
Proceeds from this event were used to fund the renovation/reconstruction of the children’s educational space in the Wesley Education Building.
“It’s truly the kids contributing to their own future building project,” said Dekle.
The young people were accompanied by a 33-piece orchestra that included musicians from the Savannah Philharmonic
, a local high school and church members. Members of the church choir also volunteered to help with the monumental undertaking. Weekly practices began in September.
“The families at Wesley want their kids raised singing the great hymns of faith, in the United Methodist tradition,” said Scott Cleaveland, member of Wesley Monumental UMC. “Monica makes it a priority to raise kids up, not only singing, but understanding and internalizing the Christian faith found in those songs.”
In addition to learning songs in choir practice, the children are discovering tidbits about musical instruments and composers like John and Charles Wesley.
“We’re fortunate in Savannah to have two great public arts schools (Savannah Arts Academy and also Garrison), but in many schools, music is not a requirement and churches can fill the gap of providing that intensive music education that children need throughout their entire education,” she said.
In a sports driven society, it’s a constant effort for music educators across the globe to prove to administrators and parents the value of music.
“When someone engages with music, there is activity in all parts of the brain — something unique happens in that neurons are activated that stimulate both the left and right hemispheres of the brain at once,” said Dekle. “That results in positive effects on learning, memory, fine motor skills, verbal and non-verbal reasoning. The brain is more capable of applying concepts in a variety of settings. In addition to choral music, children learn discipline, responsibility, hard work and teamwork that carries over to the broader curriculum.
“We are so proud of these kids,” she said. “They are amazing. This is something they will remember for the rest of their lives.”
First grader Heather Haubein is one of the children who sang in the presentation. When asked to explain what goes on during rehearsal, Heather said, “You basically get to eat first. After we eat, we get in line and go upstairs to Miss Monica’s room and sing songs.”
Dekle said the energy of the children combined with the richness of the 33-piece orchestra made for an inspiring evening through such classic pieces as “Little David Play on Your Harp,” “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” and “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho.”
Counting the choir and orchestra there were over 750 people in attendance at the special performance.
“It was a remarkable evening that was a testimony to the vitality of Wesley Monumental,” said Dr. Ben Martin, senior pastor at Wesley Monumental UMC. “It was a great reminder that a downtown, historic, traditional United Methodist congregation can still reach young families who find excellent sacred music and relevant preaching in an historic and traditional setting a meaningful worship experience and a loving church home.”
Polly Powers Stramm is a writer for the Savannah Morning News. This article originally appeared on Feb. 18, 2023. Kelly Roberson contributed to the story.