This session will explore the power that music has on our hearts and minds and the messages we receive through music.
For this session you will need the following:
- Audio equipment to play songs for large group
- Journal for each participant
- Bible for each group
- Copy of reflection questions for each camper
- Copy of the lyrics of the Byzantine hymn Behold the Bridegroom Comes
- Audio file of Byzantine hymn to play for large group (Behold the Bridegroom comes)
- Audio files of additional songs: Don't Cha, Pussycat Dolls and Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana
Introduction with the large group (2-3 minutes)
Activity with the large group (15 minutes)
Small Group Reflections (10-15 minutes)
Breaking Down the Music, with small groups (10-15 minutes)
Sum Up and Challenge (5 minutes)
Campers will take home from this session a CD containing songs that they listened to in this activity (optional), along with their journal reflections.
Large Group Introduction
Today we're going to take a closer look at the power and purpose of music. How many of you would say music plays a big role in your life? Let campers raise their hands to answer each question.
How many of you own a radio?
How many of you have an iPod?
Who downloads music online?
Music seems to be a big deal to many of you.
Music is a big deal to our Church also. In fact, the Orthodox Church utilizes music in a very creative and spiritual way. But we'll get to that in a little while.
Have you ever listened to a song once and had it stuck in your head the rest of the day, either the tune or the lyrics? Our brains are programmed to be very impressionable, especially to music. It's amazing how much we absorb without even being aware of it.
Activity: The Impact of Music
State the following in your own words: We will listen to 3 songs, and for each song I want you to answer some questions in your journal during the song and right after it finishes. Please close your eyes while the song plays, and try to simply listen in stillness and let yourself absorb the music.
Hand out the reflection questions to each camper or display them somewhere. After each respective song is over, give the campers some time to finish their journal reflections. They will need these journal entries to discuss the songs later in their small groups. Begin with the first two songs:
Song 1: Don't Cha, Pussycat Dolls
Song 2: Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana
- Emotional impact/stimulated your heart: How did it make you feel? Sad? Angry? Happy? Mystical? Sarcastic? Proud?
- Made you think/stimulated your mind: What did it make you think about? In what direction did it turn your mind?
- Physical impact/stimulated your body: Did this song make you want to dance? Did it make your heart rate go up? Did it make you tense? Did it make you feel sexual?
- What is this song teaching? How does it relate to you?
Now let's listen to a song from Church with the same ears that we were using to listen and reflect on the previous songs.
Song 3: Behold the Bridegroom from the Holy Week Bridegroom Orthros
Use the same reflection questions for this song. Allow 2 minutes for campers to journal.
Small Group Reflections
Break into your small groups. Discuss the first two secular songs:
- What stood out for you most about this song?
- What was this song's message?
- How does music have the potential to impact us? Encourage them to think about the emotions, memories, and sensations that each song brought up.
- If campers are having a hard time sharing, ask them to look back at their journals and share their reactions to the songs.
Read the following story of a high school student who did an experiment about music's impact aloud.
David Merrell, a high school student from Suffolk, Virginia, has won top honors in regional and state science fairs for his experiment involving mice, a maze and hard-rock music.
After establishing a baseline of about 10 minutes for the mice to navigate the maze, David started playing music 10 hours a day, then put the mice through the maze three times a week for three weeks.
His findings: the control-group mice, which did not listen to any music, were able to cut five minutes off their time; the mice that listened to classical music cut 8.5 minutes off their time; and the mice that listened to hard-rock music took 20 minutes longer to navigate the maze.
David said, "I had to cut my project short because all the hard-rock mice killed each other … None of the classical mice did that at all."
Source: Washington Times, 2 July 1997.
What does this news story say about the influence of music on our inner beings?
Breaking Down the Music: Introduction to Byzantine Hymns
Transition the discussion from general music towards Byzantine chant.
What is Byzantine chant? We call it Byzantine because it originated in the era of the Byzantine Empire. Its development has continued to this day. The Church knows about music's power to influence us, and that's why it uses hymns, music with words, to help us lift our hearts and souls to God, while also teaching us about God and God's way.
Let's take hymn, Behold the Bridegroom Comes, we just listened to, and examine it more closely. We can learn a lot from the way it sounds and the words it says. Both the music and the lyrics were designed with very specific purposes.
Byzantine music has a few purposes.
Byzantine music lifts our minds to God, helping us pray. When you wrote in your journal, how did you say this song made you feel? It was probably a very soothing sound compared to some of the other things we listened to. It was designed to be that way. It wasn't meant to have a fast beat or a loud bass line. It was designed to help lift our minds to heavenly things, almost like we're in heaven. Our focus is pulled away from everyday things, such as which boy likes me, what grade I'm going to get in math, or why I'm angry with my parents.
Byzantine music reflects our intrinsic need to worship God. Each and every one of us has a built-in desire to worship, because God created us with the need to be connected to Him. There are certain things about every person that are true. For instance, we all need food and water to stay alive, we all have emotions, thoughts and feelings, and we all are worshipful creatures. That's what worship is: giving God the glory and thanks that is due to Him.
Byzantine music teaches us in scripture, theology, etc. One of the primary purposes of our church's hymns is to teach us. What is this hymn teaching us? There's a lot here! If you can find the answers to my questions in the hymn, just shout it out.
- Who is the Bridegroom? The Bridegroom is Jesus Christ.
- What are we watching and waiting for? According to the hymn, we are servants who are waiting for the groom to come, perhaps for the wedding feast.
- What's the danger? If we the servants get tired of waiting, or become lazy, "heedless", or fall asleep in our spiritual life, we are in danger of being shut out.
- When is this hymn chanted? This hymn is sung during Holy Week on the first three nights, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, and is a part of the Bridegroom Service. This service is focused on the theme of watchfulness and readiness for God.
- Does anyone know what this hymn is based on? This hymn is based on a parable, or story, that Jesus told. It's in the Bible, recorded in the Gospel of Matthew. Most hymns of our church are based on the Bible, either directly quoting it, or referring to themes found in it. Just like icons, music is another way to teach the Bible and the teachings of Jesus to the people in Church.
At this time, invite a camper to read the Gospel passage aloud:
Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight a cry was heard: "Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!" Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out." But the wise answered, saying, "No, lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves." And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, "Lord, Lord, open to us!" But he answered and said, "Assuredly I say to you, I do not know you." Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming. Matthew 25:1-13
- What's the main point of this hymn and this story that Jesus taught? Be watchful, take care of our soul and our relationship with God. In the hymn and the parable, we are the virgins, the servants, waiting for Jesus Christ, the groom, to come to the wedding feast, which is a symbol for the Kingdom of Heaven. We must be watchful and prepared, caring for our souls and spiritual life: the oil lamps, so that when the Bridegroom comes, we will enter with Him into the Kingdom.
To Sum Up and Challenge
We have talked about the power and potential that music has to touch the deepest part of our being. We read the story about the student whose mice killed each other in his experiment after listening to hard rock music. We did our own sort of experiment on ourselves as we listened to different songs to see how they impacted us mentally, physically, and emotionally. We were introduced to how the Church uses specially written and composed hymns to teach us, help us worship, and lift our minds to God.
As we leave the session, I challenge you to be more aware of the impact that music has on you. Ask yourself, what kind of music do I let impact me? What is touching my soul and stimulating my mind? Am I nourishing myself or putting harmful things into my soul? And, what do my musical choices say about my choices/priorities in life?
We will be exploring more hymnography in the next session, but I challenge you to listen more intently to the hymns in church, listen to what they are teaching, and how the music itself is impacting your soul.
Close with a prayer.
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