I’ll admit it, I’m kind of a sucker for those singing competition shows.
Please understand, I’m not a singer, and I’ve never had any aspirations of singing into a microphone or in front of a crowd. But listening to people who can do it, and do it well, can really make my day. And when it’s a new singer or someone just finding their audience, it can be really, really special.
Watching one of these shows last week, I was struck by how many of the contestants answered the same way when they were asked how it was they started singing: “I learned to sing in church.”
Singer after singer.
Performing brilliantly were choir soloists, youth directors and song leaders of all ages. And while some were fortunate enough to have taken private voice or music lessons, most of the powerful voices, particularly the young ones, came from the “in-church” crowd.
And this started me thinking about the incredibly positive role that religion plays in our diverse society.
Through the ages, religion has traditionally provided much more than simple faith or routine. It brings people together as a community, offers charity and hope to those in need, and provides grounding and answers to some of life’s largest questions.
And today, and every day, churches also provide nurturing, inspiration, and joy to tomorrow’s leaders.
In our current society, this is more important than ever. Public education in many areas has faced crippling budget cuts, and the first programs to be cut are the arts programs. Chorus, band, dance, art, drama—these programs are shrinking or disappearing in America’s public schools.
In my Church, as in every church, we want to help the next generation grow up to be ethical, responsible leaders in their community.
Fortunately, it has long been a tradition in many religious groups to provide musical opportunities and training to young people as part of their upbringing. Children learn songs in religious school classes, sing in choirs and groups, and practice harmonies and solos from a very young age. Churches sponsor classes for their children in Bible studies, but many also offer youth programs in drawing, writing, music or dance.
The wonderful thing about church programs is that they offer young people not just an opportunity to make music, but an opportunity to make music that is uplifting and inspiring. Kids learn to use music to help them find joy and understanding.
There’s a youth group from my church that I worked with for many years called “Kids on Stage for a Better World.” The group was started by a couple of moms who remembered school singing programs they had enjoyed as kids that just weren’t available for their own children in their schools.
Kids on Stage was all about inclusion. Parents organized and ran the group, and the older kids were all encouraged to help too. The kids weren’t required to have any previous experience, and could start or stop at any age.
Scientology is a non-exclusive faith, and our young performers came from all kinds of families and all religions. As the kids grew, they learned how to sing, dance, choreograph and teach others as well. The Church provided us with rehearsal space, technical support and tons of inspiration.
The Kids performed hundreds of shows each year all over Los Angeles: for children’s groups, hospitals, foster family gatherings, schools, festivals and police activity fairs. Their songs were familiar pop and rap songs, but all had a positive message: don’t take harmful drugs. Follow your dreams. Believe in yourself. The Kids set a strong example for others. And as performers, they learned the value of working together toward a common goal.
The Kids on Stage kids—hundreds of them—are all grown up now. A few did become professional singers, dancers, directors or choreographers. More importantly, most of them are now happy, productive people, living lives they themselves have chosen and still working hard to make the world a better place.
Many of them are parents themselves now, and are talking about starting the group again for their own children.
In my church, as in every church, we want to help the next generation grow up to be ethical, responsible leaders in their community. Providing them with a place to learn to sing, dance and use their imaginations is a wonderful way to guarantee that future.
In the words of Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard, “A culture is only as great as its dreams, and its dreams are dreamed by artists.”