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Music that Points to Justice

Music: the 'lingua franca' of youth

MUSIC THE 'LINGUA FRANCA' OF YOUTH   contributed by Patrick Jurd, Ave Maria College Essendon.

This brief outline sets out some of the possible uses of contemporary music and video in religious education – be it in the classroom or during prayer. As educators we know that music and video is ‘where the kids are’. I have given this some thought while I have been completing my Master’s studies in theology and share the following with you as a rationale.
Using the ‘lingua franca’ in the Church
The early Christian writings, both Gospels and letters, were written against the backdrop of the Roman Empire. However, the writings that we now refer to as the New Testament were written not in Latin (the language of the Romans) but in koine Greek, since it was the lingua franca of the time. Lingua franca refers to ‘any language widely used as a medium among speakers of other languages’,[1] so it can be understood by the largest number of people. This principle of trying to ‘reach people’ is seen in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. Gaudium et Spes states that the Church’s ‘purpose has been to adapt the Gospel to the grasp of all as well as to the needs of the learned, insofar as such was appropriate. Indeed this accommodated preaching of the revealed word ought to remain the law of all evangelization’.[2]
Music – the ‘lingua franca’ of youth
Pierre Babin observed that ‘audiovisually oriented people were being born, and we could no longer speak to them as we had spoken in the past. The church’s education and pastoral work had to change’.[3] Music could be said to be the lingua franca of young people.[4] This concept is reinforced by the research of psychologist Daniel Levitin who noted that:

our brains learn a kind of musical grammar that is specific to the music of our culture, just as we learn to speak the language of our culture. This becomes the basis for our understanding of music, and ultimately the basis for what we like in music, what music moves us, and how it moves us.[5]

As educators we may not be 'native speakers' of young people's language, but the contemporary religious educator would be wise to use this musical language in their classroom in order that they might best communicate with and evangelise young people.

Some examples
I have set out some examples I have used, thoughts and ideas, in no particular order. Hopefully they will be of use to you and may spark some creative thoughts of your own! To look at these examples (chiefly song titles) go to the right hand panel at the top of this page.

[1] The Macquarie Dictionary (Second Revision), (Chatswood, The Macquarie Library, 1987), 1008.
[2] Flannery, Vatican II documents, Gaudium et Spes #44, 946.
[3] Pierre Babin, The New Era in Religious Communication, (Minneapolis MN: Fortress Press, 1991), 4. Note this comment came after he viewed the 1967 Expo in Paris. Forty years on, the comment is still valid. If anything, the need is more urgent.
[4] See “A soul kind of feeling” by Chris Middendorp in The Age, Saturday 14th April, 2007 and “Communicating Jesus’ message with iPods and videos” by Patricia Lefevere in National Catholic Reporter, 6th April, 2007.
[5] Daniel Levitin, “It’s just an illusion”, New Scientist, 23 February 2008, 38.