“There is now an acceptance that gospel can be used to instruct in education; teach life skills, and aid those with health and special needs. Isn’t this a great example of how the Word of God, through music, can be applied to every area of our lives?”
Juliet Fletcher shares how gospel music is being utilised in the education system to fulfil and teach core learning skills to young people, and inadvertently share a positive message
When I first ‘gave my heart to Jesus’ at 11, I was too embarrassed to tell my friends. Initially, I did my best to keep quiet about it, until the day I took my newly-acquired guitar into the classroom. My classmates were my first public audience. I sang a song with a calypso melody about the coming of the Lord. I had practised hard and, as I struck the first chord, the passion of the words filled my mind, and I closed my eyes because I could feel the Spirit. My skin became hot, and I couldn’t hold back the intensity I felt from my voice.
At the end of the song, there was a huge response. Some were open-mouthed and wide-eyed. Unforgettably, one girl called Pauline, tall with red hair, was in tears. I will never forget her saying, “I don’t know why I’m crying, but I can’t help it. I felt all strange.” It was the first time I had personally witnessed someone, who was not Black, being touched so deeply by a Christian song.
I found myself remembering this experience when I attended iGospel’s ‘Sing Inspiration’ recently. It was held at the Royal Festival Hall, and it featured at least 1,000 school children of every race and culture, singing gospel and inspirational songs. It wasn’t the first time I’d experienced this, but every time I do, it just blows me away that the very young and uninitiated so earnestly and whole-heartedly embrace the gospel art form which, for most, is far removed from their cultural background.
David Lavell, Director of iGospel, and John Fisher, founder of WeSingUSing school and IDMC gospel choir, have each established organisations that work within schools, and have also developed an amazing collaborative spirit which has brought gospel to more than 20,000 school children, and a higher number of parents and family friends over the past five years.
British Gospel Arts, Academy of Gospel, BritGos and Song-In-A-Day (each based in London, Birmingham, Nottingham and Liverpool respectively) add to a growing list of reputable organisations that have sustained a track record of providing Ofsted-recognised standards of working and achievement. An unofficial survey indicates that specialist music provision within the education system is probably the main source of full- or part-time employment for individuals on the gospel scene. Tyndale Thomas MBE received his honour for ‘Services to Gospel Music’, and was commissioned by the government-funded Youth Music to write gospel songs, which were incorporated into a songbook and other resource formats.
Significantly, over the past decade, gospel music continues to prove its value in dynamic ways within our communities. There is now an acceptance that gospel can be used to instruct in education; teach life skills, and aid those with health and special needs. Isn’t this a great example of how the Word of God, through music, can be applied to every area of our lives?
Certainly, our songwriters and composers are challenged to meet the range of consumers – at either end of the spectrum and in between – without feeling they are compromising the God-given gifts of which they themselves are chief stewards.
I asked John Fisher of IDMC three questions about working in education, and was very encouraged by his answers:
Juliet Fletcher (JF): What has been the most important benefit you’ve seen in bringing gospel music within the education system?
John Fisher (JOF): It has helped to bring our music to a much wider audience.
It is also seen as a favoured music within the system, because it ticks so
many boxes: it’s passionate, inspirational, a positive message, skilful and powerful.
JF: Has the faith element hindered the work you do?
JOF: Not at all. If anything, I can be even more inspirational to the children by
using my faith creatively in my songwriting and presentation of songs.
JF: As a Black man, how have you found the response of tough, young Black boys? Do
they shy away from involvement?
JOF: I find that the schools welcome me with open arms. Young Black boys and, to be honest, all boys are so influenced by Black culture, they (schools) feel we can address and communicate with them on a level that they can’t, so we are so happy to be a positive influence. We also find that they do engage, and are not embarrassed. In fact, they step up to the plate, and are very proud of their place in the choir.
Without exaggeration, I found that these kinds of results are typical of all the groups and individuals who operate gospel music or gospel arts in the education system – and I’ve spoken to more than fifty. Therefore, I hope that it won’t be long before there is a national curriculum-compliant music programme, driven entirely by our glorious art form.
Lord, come the day!
Juliet Fletcher runs Greentree, a gospel music development company. Phone 07535 964442 or email firstname.lastname@example.org