Music Matters - The Truths of Heaven

Written by Stephen Kirk       Saturday, 09 July 2011 13:49

This blog originally appeared on www.beingcatholic.com.au.

Why music matters

In any school there are many reasons why music matters.  Numerous studies over the years have demonstrated that engagement with music can have such various and diverse positive effects as building a sense of community, improving memory, enhancing performance on cognitive tasks, allowing for improved mental health, and even strengthening the immune system!

So for any school, music is important and can be a very effective tool in the education of students.  However for a Catholic School there are other, deeper reasons why music matters.  These reasons are based in the mission we have in Catholic schools to not only educate our students, but also to draw them into an awareness of the reality beyond our physical world; a “knowledge and, as far as possible, love of the person, life and teachings of Christ and of the Trinitarian God of Love” (NSW and ACT Bishops, Catholic Schools at a Crossroads).

Words can only go so far in giving them this awareness.   Pope John Paul II in his 1999 letter to artists and musicians said: “In order to communicate the message entrusted to her by Christ, the Church needs art.  Art must make perceptible, and as far as possible attractive, the world of the spirit, of the invisible, of God.” (John Paul II Letter to Artists, 1999, 12)  Music is an indispensable tool in the communication of the Gospel, both because of its ability to present teaching on particular aspects of the faith in a way that is attractive, accessible, and memorable, and because of the powerful way in which simply drawing people into an experience of beauty draws them also into an awareness of and encounter with God.

The truths of Heaven in the language of Earth

Music has always played a strong role in the teaching of the faith.  From the Psalms of the Israelites to the Canticles of the early Christians, from the plainchants of the middle ages to the contemporary hymns of today, throughout history the Church has relied heavily upon music to take the truths of Heaven and convey them in the language of Earth.  This is because “Art has a unique capacity to take one or other facet of the message and translate it into colours, shapes and sounds which nourish the intuition of those who look or listen.” (Ibid., 12).

Sticky music

One of the key benefits of using music to teach the truths of the faith is the ability of good music to stick in people’s heads.  A truth spoken, no matter how profound, can often go in one ear and out another without much of a stay in between.  A truth sung to a melody that gets stuck in peoples heads remains in their mind long after the initial hearing, allowing the impact of the truth to deepen with time.

Message without barriers

Another reason music matters in teaching the faith is that it allows you to teach through a medium that is readily embraced by students, minimising the barriers the message has to get through in order to engage the hearer.  Good Catholic music can engage the students in their own language and culture.  Using well produced, quality contemporary Catholic music (one teacher described it to me as ‘iPod music’) provides the dual benefits of allowing the message to be more effective on initial hearing, but also making it possible for students to literally ‘take home’ the message.  My own experience is that students will readily listen to Catholic music in their own time if it is engaging and produced to the level of quality that they expect from contemporary music.

Bringing it home

So if music is such a wonderful tool for teaching the faith, with its unique capacity to translate the truths of heaven into the language of earth, engage the students, stick in their heads, and end up on their ipod, how can we use this tool more effectively?

The first step is just to be aware of what is out there.  Particularly over the last decade there has been a growing number of Catholic artists creating and producing high quality music that is accessible and engaging for the youth, but also deeply founded in our Catholic faith.  We will have a wider look at what’s out there in an upcoming article.
The second step is to look for opportunities to incorporate music into your work with students.  Using a reflection song to further illustrate a point being taught, introducing new songs as prayers, or even just playing music in the background as students come in are just some of the ways in which we can use the music in our teaching.  Giving students exposure to quality Catholic music and information about where to get it themselves also allows the teaching contained in the music to be effective long after your class has finished.

Music has always been a powerful and effective aid in teaching the faith.  In upcoming articles we’ll look at how music doesn’t just teach truths but also draws students into an awareness of and encounter with God, and start to look at some of the Catholic music out there that is proving very effective in engaging the youth.  But those are stories for another day...

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