Songs often vividly reflect the times and places of their origin, and I like to bring them into my high school history classroom. In my church history class a few weeks ago I sang* some Christmas songs that illustrate important trends in Christianity: “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” (Christological controversies in the early church), “Let All Together Praise Our God” (collective, doctrine-focused Christianity of the Reformation), “O How Shall I Receive Thee” (personal, experiential Christianity of 17th century Pietism), and “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” (Enlightenment-influenced liberal Christianity of the 19th century). Tomorrow I’m planning to sing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” as part of a Civil War lesson in my US history class.
*At our school the culture of singing among our students isn’t what it could be (we’re working on it), so performances in my classroom are mostly solos. And even if I sing badly—perhaps especially if I sing badly, provided I do it with conviction—I’ve found that it consistently commands students’ attention.