He was one of Grace Lutheran’s meekest students—far too reserved to have his name mentioned in print. Two years ago, when Levana James asked him to audition for the school’s Christmas service, he gave her a bashful shake of the head and declined. It was Levana’s first year at Grace Lutheran, so she didn’t push it. The next year, the same thing happened. When the time rolled around for the now third-grader to audition for this year’s Christmas program, something changed. He was still the mild-mannered child Levana knew from class, but this time he stepped up to audition for a solo. Not only did he audition, he was one of the first to volunteer to sing in front of his class.
Then, in a beautiful voice that Levana hadn’t heard before, the boy sang, “Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon the throne.”
It took three years to build up his confidence to stand in front of his class, but it’s one of those life lessons that will carry him through high school and college and into the boardrooms for business presentations.
That’s the goal at Grace Lutheran. Although Levana hopes to spark a love of music in all her students, it’s the life lessons on character, confidence and faith she really wants them take when they leave her classroom.
Grace Lutheran principal Josh Swartz recognizes her talent for both music and teaching.
“She empowers and encourages the students to own it,” Josh said. “Basically, getting at the heart of ‘How do you see us sharing the Gospel with others through your music?’ ”
Levana was recruited to Grace Lutheran from Florida three years ago after the school called her to come lead their music classes. Her background is impressive—Levana plays so many instruments she can’t even remember them all. At one point in her curriculumn, she takes students through the symbolism in a piece of music from a contemporary composer. She knows what the musician was thinking because she worked with him while he was creating it.
She’s spent her time in Huntsville building her budding program with citywide success. The school was named Best of Huntsville’s 2016 winner for places of worship—a total surprise for Levana.
“We’ve started incorporating different things with the worship here,” Levana said. “We have a variety of styles with contemporary and traditional worship. We have been able to implement technology in our worship services, so we use video and screens.”
Getting Everyone Involved
It’s Grace Lutheran’s student-led worship service that is getting recognition. Levana teaches everyone from Pre-K through high school at Grace Lutheran. That means she’s responsible for everything from “Jesus Loves Me” to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” The middle and high school praise team leads Wednesday morning worship services for the school, and Levana has found a way to get everyone involved by letting the praise team choose the music they play for the service.
“When it’s meaningful to them, it makes it more meaningful to the people they are leading,” Levana said.
Training teenagers to be leaders isn’t an easy task, but Levana knows they set a strong example for the little ones.
She teaches them music history as well as technique, describing how composers in the Dark Ages used music to express their faith since they weren’t allowed to speak freely on certain topics.
“Music history has also affected our chord progressions today,” Levana said. “So, how you bring that in is by using that and how people are affected by their faith and how they share their faith from their music…It helps us to look into why a piece was written.”
The Ultimate Gift
Josh Swartz references an impassioned speech that Levana gave at a recent faculty meeting but says you almost have to hear it in person to hear just how much Levana cares about this part of music education.
Every year, the school puts on an Advent program to mark the beginning of the Christmas season. However, instead of focusing exclusively on the birth of Jesus, the Advent service at Grace Lutheran takes it one step further.
“The ultimate gift wasn’t just His birth,” Levana said. “The ultimate gift was also His death and resurrection and the taking of our sins on His shoulders.”
Levana compares this year’s Advent service to Handel’s “Messiah” because it is a body of work that moves listeners, from the birth of Jesus to His death and resurrection.
The Advent service, titled “The Ultimate Gift,” is open to the community and will include liturgical dancing, a nativity reenactment and music from the Grace Lutheran students. It will be at the church on December 7, at 6:30 p.m. with a pre-show at 6:20 p.m.