If the members of the children's choir hold their sheet music at their sides, it means they don't understand the words.
That's one signal Megan Serian, 14, has learned to spot as she co-leads the choir of small singers at St. Michael the Archangel parish in Troy.
"If they don't understand a song, a lot of the time they'll just not sing," she discovered.
The singers are more vocal when they're bored, Megan said: for example, one boy made up a silly song about his fondness for sitting.
Megan and her friend Olivia Koonz, a fellow singer, actor and freshman at Columbia High School, started the group for children in kindergarten through eighth grade last year.
The two perform Broadway tunes at area nursing homes in a parish song and dance group. "They're excellent," said Barbara Berger, faith formation leader, who encouraged the girls to lead the choir. "They're both very patient, very animated, very focused."
The choir of about 23 children has practiced every other Sunday since last month. With help from the parish organist and music minister, Megan and Olivia have taught songs they chose from the hymnal and songs the children know from Vacation Bible School or the parish's summer sports camp.
A performance at the parish Christmas pageant is planned, and the children's choir will eventually sing at monthly liturgies.
"We don't just choose songs that sound great; rather, there's a meaning to it," said Ms. Berger, who's taught the teens about the parts of the Mass.
More and more parish youth have been asking about joining. Ms. Berger might break the choir into different age groups.
"They are doing really well," Megan said of the singers.
Olivia and Megan have observed that all children learn differently and need to be accommodated. Some are new readers, so the girls made oversized poster boards to help teach them the lyrics. Others have special needs and can't sit still for long.
"It's taught me a lot about patience," Megan said, "because sometimes we're so busy rushing through life that we don't realize that they don't understand what comes so easy to us. It's also taught me about having fun."
Olivia has taken a lot of cues from Megan.
"It really helped me with my leading skills," Olivia said. "My goal is to see how far the kids will go. I get enthusiastic, too. It gets everyone going and I'm happy and they're happy."
Megan said her faith has been enriched by a new understanding of songs she's known since she was young: "We sing a lot of songs about how good God is. The songs we sing teach them that God is a very forgiving person."