Taking Bullying By the Horns: Baylor University Lyricist Joins Students and Musicians in a Call for Respect

  • Bullying
    Bullying is the target of musical messages from Baylor lyricist Terry York. (iStockphoto)
  • Bullying 2
    Baylor lyricist-poet Terry W. York, D.M.A. (Baylor Marketing & Communications/ Robert Rogers)
May 23, 2013

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WACO, Texas (May 23, 2013) -- By blending choruses, empathy and common sense, Baylor University lyricist-poet Terry York and more than 200 elementary school students and adults in choirs have begun an unusual anti-bullying effort.

Their musical message -- urging children to be "upstanders, " not bystanders, and posing the question "How would I feel, if I felt like you?" -- is called "Sit in a Circle: A Choral Response to Bullying." Woven into the production is what York calls the "genius" of third- to fifth-graders. They not only sing, but several wrote about being bullied and read their essays between songs.

The children's efforts are part of a growing trend of young people joining in to prevent bullying -- whether that be middle school students producing a video in a little city in the state of Washington or hundreds of students hosting a "No Place for Hate" flash freeze with the Anti-Defamation League in South Florida. The Irving production, which included a professional chamber ensemble, premiered in March and has begun to draw attention elsewhere in the country.

Involvement for Terry York, D.M.A. -- a professor of Christian ministry and church music at Baylor's George W. Truett Theological Seminary -- began with a phone call from the artistic director of Irving Chorale, asking whether York and a composer friend would be interested in co-writing a commissioned piece about bullying.

"We said, 'Yes, indeed,'" York said.

Then came the hard part.

"I was kind of at a loss because I usually write for the church in the language of the church," said York, whose published work includes hymns and anthem texts. "Here I am not in church and not in the language of the church -- and not only that, I knew very little about bullying."

He turned to his wife, Janna York, an elementary school counselor and a former president of the Heart of Texas Counselors Association. She loaded him up with books, journal articles and even a 1956 French film, The Red Balloon.

"Some things just sort of started to lift up from that and became the subject matter of the anthems," York said.

One was the notion of sitting in a circle.

"A lot of the books would say, 'Have the children sit in a circle and begin this discussion," York said.

He wrote, "Let's sit in a circle, together we'll see, I'm not behind you, and you're not behind me. We all will be helped and be helpers in time. Together we'll sing, in life's rhythm and rhyme." ©2013 Terry W. York

That chorus became "the string that the pearls were on," York said -- the reprise for anthems about respect ("Kaleidoscope of Colors"), identity ("I Have a Name"), bravery to speak out rather than being a bystander ("Will Courage Rise?"), empathy ("How Would I Feel?") and pain ("Will It Ever Go Away").

Accompanying melodies, ranging from urgent to poignant, were composed by David Schwoebel, a minister of music and composer at Derbyshire Baptist Church in Richmond, Va.

One child wrote of a pain that "happens every second of my life. Can't walk down the street, people are there telling me bad things like, 'You don't belong here.'"

In York's lyrics to a song about pain, he asks, "Will it ever go away? Or must I?" -- a reference to the "unspeakable reality" that some young people commit suicide to escape bullying, he said.

One boy wrote a matter-of-fact assessment:

"What if we need each other one day and we are not happy with each other? Make it better for you and the world, because bullying can be miserable. Don't bully because you'll have no friends and you'll get in trouble and because you might not get good grades and not pass your schools."

A girl set the record straight on just what bullying is - and is not - and offered "We're not gonna take it" advice.

"What is bullying? It is behavior you want to stop . . . There is shoving, name-calling and cyberbullying. Bullying is not something cool or funny. Put a piece of paper in your pocket to write it down and show it to a grown-up."

She noted that bullying has no age limit: "People have been bullied since they were 1 to 100."

That became very clear -- and emotional -- at rehearsals.

The choirs have been asked to repeat the performance next season, and acquaintances of choir members in Missouri and North Texas have expressed interest in seeing it or beginning similar efforts of their own.

The hope is that the messages will make an impression on children and discourage bullying as they grow older. About 16 percent of U.S. high school students are victims of cyberbullying alone, according to a study presented in early May at a Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Washington, D.C.

"I couldn't say all there was to say about bullying, nor could I find a solution," York said. "All I could do was write about those things. . . But I hope this allowed the children the chance to vent and gave some of them courage."

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY

Baylor University is a private Christian university and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having "high research activity" by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The university provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating university in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.

ABOUT GEORGE W. TRUETT THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

Baylor University's George W. Truett Theological Seminary provides theological education leading to the Master of Divinity, the Master of Arts in Christian Ministry, the Master of Theological Studies, or the Doctor of Ministry degrees that are centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ and consistent with historic Baptist commitments to prepare persons to carry this gospel to the churches and the world. Within the M.Div. degree program, students can choose concentrations in Biblical Studies and Theology, Christian Education, Ministry Leadership, Missions and World Christianity, Worship Leadership, Spiritual Formation, Sports Ministry, and Youth/Family/Student Ministry. Truett Seminary also offers three Dual Degree programs - a M.Div./MSW and MTS/MSW through a partnership with Baylor's School of Social Work, a M.Div./Master of Music through a partnership with the Baylor's School of Music, and a M.Div./MBA through a partnership with Baylor's Hankamer School of Business.

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