When Cornerstone Youth Choir Director Erin Ypya received an email on May 5 from church choir director in Chicago named Matt inquiring about our Senior Song, she was puzzled. How did he hear about our Senior Song — all the way in Chicago?
The Senior Song is an original composition written for and dedicated to each year’s graduating youth choir seniors, sung to them by the rest of the choir (and sometimes parent chaperones) following their final performance of the year. The song Matt was referring to was, “May the Lord Bless You and Keep You,” which was actually last year’s Senior Song (this year’s is awaiting the opportunity for in-person delivery later this summer). It was recently sung by composer and director, Erin Ypya and Director of Music and Worship Arts Robert Stovall during our May 10 Senior Recognition Sunday video tribute to our 2020 seniors.
The longstanding youth choir Senior Song tradition started in 1999 by then Youth Choir Director Mark Burrows for the “In My Shoes” youth choir tour. The first Senior Song,”Christ Whose Glory Fills the Skies,” was written for seniors who that year included Bree Cockerell, Allison McCorkle, and Winn LaRue.
The idea for the senior song sprang from Mark’s memories of his own choir tours in college while at Southern Methodist University studying with the great Lloyd Pfautsch.
“He was this grandfatherly figure who had done incredible thing as a composer and musician,” Mark relates. “On these tours he would write a poem for every person on the bus — freshmen to grad student, bus driver, chaperones, everyone. They were filled with cheesy grandpa humor — about things he had observed about each of us on the trip, funny things that happened along the way, stories of living in the tour culture. He always read these poems — every single one of them — on the final night of tour. We were rapt — not just hearing what he wrote about us, but also what he wrote about everyone else and his unique observations of us and the tour.”
What Mark has now come to understand, years later, was that this poetry was Pfautsch’s way of saying to each of them, ‘I see you and appreciate you an individual—you matter to this.’ ”
He says that he also knew, even then, that if he ever had a choir that toured, he was going to follow Pfautsch’s example. “I did it for three years,” he adds. “They loved it! I wrote one for the chaperones, every kid, even the driver.”
Then the youth choir went from 35 kids to 60 kids, 12 chaperones, and two busses. “It didn’t take me long to realize that there was no way to get all those poems written in that time — even attempting that would mean spending the entire trip writing bad poetry.”
So then Mark asked himself, what else can I do that is fun and meaningful to everyone, and especially the seniors? So he did what Mark does exceedingly well: he composed a song — for just the seniors. He also wrote a note to each of them, and unknowingly, launched a tradition.
“I didn’t think it would be a tradition,” he adds, “but the next year the juniors (including Lauren Whitton, Kate Schrum, Katie Kennon, and Darron Cockrell) said, “You’re going to write one for us, too, right?”
So the Senior Song Tradition was on. From then on throughout Mark’s tenure as Youth Choir Director (1995-2013), on the last night of each tour, he sent the seniors to another area of the host church or facility where they would spend their final night before heading back to Fort Worth.
He then gathered the rest of the choir and he, with accompanist Sara Davis, quickly taught the song to the kids — and the chaperones — until he felt like it was ready to sing. Then he arranged a row of chairs in the front of the room, facing the assembled singers, and brought the seniors in, single file, each instructed to take a seat in the row provided. They were handed a folder with a copy of their song in it.
The group sang Mark’s song, he gave each of them a copy, everyone cried — a lot — and a precious youth choir tradition was born. And every year since, (once even when Mark didn’t tour but sent the song, “I See the You in You” for the Seniors of with interim youth choir director Hans Grim) there has been a senior song, most of them written — and many now professionally recorded — by Mark Burrows. (Look for a SoundCloud playlist, coming soon!)
And now, FUMCFW’s Cornerstone Youth Choir Erin Ypya has taken this torch, embraced the tradition, and began composing her own annual Senior Song, which this year was .
Relating this story of the email inquiry she received from Matt — and the unfolding story that followed — Erin now shares with us this story of the power of music and our very own CYC youth choir.
“On May 5th I received an email from a church choir director (Matt) inquiring about our senior song from last year,”
Erin writes. “You see, a member of their church, Alex, had come across our Senior Recognition video, and asked if their choir could sing it. Matt went on to explain that Alex and his twin brother have an amazing love for church music. After he saw our Senior Recognition video, he also saw the service where the youth performed it. Alex had already worked out the details and wanted to perform the song for their own virtual services, but he couldn’t find the music. Matt reached out to me, and I of course was happy to share.
“In addition to sharing the music in my response I shared the history of the senior song,” Erin relates. “I told him how the tradition started and how even though it may look different, the tradition WILL CONTINUE this year. The piece is not perfect, but it is ours,” she adds. “It holds love, memories, and tradition.”
In the follow-up email Erin received this past week from Matt, we get to see the outcome of Erin’s generous sharing of this song and our tender Youth Choir Tradition:
“I cannot thank you enough for sharing your song with us,” Matt writes. “Alex was filled with such joy doing this, as you’ll see in the video. You certainly have blessed us during these days of quarantine.”
“Alex is on the right,” Erin adds. “His joy in singing this song made my whole day. I hope you will enjoy it as well.”
Thank you, Erin, Mark, and the many generations of FUMCFW Youth Choirs who have made this tradition so special to so many — and now reaching beyond our walls to inspire others in yet another new way.