Music and Christian Integration

The Role of Music in Christian Integration
Just as with reading, music needs to be a shared activity. Turn off the DVD player, take up a guitar, buy a piano, clear your throat: now, sing. Memorize words so you don't need a songbook to lean on--a memorized song, like a poem, becomes a touchstone in human life. You might well be grateful for it someday!
Christian Integration has three major ends corresponding to Education for Tradition, Education for Wonder, and Education for Joy.
  • Grizzlebeard seeks to know, love, and sing those pieces of music dear to our heritage and part of our identity.
  • The Sailor has three goals: to form external senses through listening; internal senses by reading, playing, and repeating music; emotions by training them to love and hate rightly what is imitated in music.
  • The Poet seeks songs which exemplify and inspire the love of God and hunger for home.

For A School
Education for Tradition

  • Introduce pieces of music in tandem with the history course, either for listening or singing. Students should study chant the year in which they study medieval history, polyphony with the renaissance, reformation, and counter-reformation and so on.
  • Teach the philosophical-historical backgrounds and outlooks of composers. This gives a student a fuller vision of music’s role in history. Music often takes sides and it would be good to know whether some music reflects the Catholic vision or fights it.
  • Singing and memorizing music of Christian cultures also helps the student to establish his identity as a Christian. Christian cultures have produced both sacred and secular music—for this reason, youth should study folk music in addition to the more difficult pieces.

Education for Wonder

  • Education for Wonder demands a full involvement of the senses with music. Students should learn to read music and to play an instrument and sing using sheet music and by ear. Music theory is beyond a program for Christian Integration. In Ancient Greece, students did not even learn to read music, but simply to play by ear.[1] In our case, we will be well served if students learn enough music theory not to compose, but to sight-read.
  • Foster a regard for music as part of real life, not just performance, by including it at feasts, and as an activity of leisure. Hold few concerts; attaching different kinds of songs to regular events, classes or meetings, feast-days, sports events, dorms, etc. Avoid “competitions and stunts,”[2] which tend to turn amateur musicians into mere spectators: “in archaic times, say until the early years of the fifth century, there was a perfect balance between music—which was still technically underdeveloped, and grave, and simple—and culture and education. . . . [U]nder [the] influence [of later great composers] Greek music became so complex, and required such elaborate technique, involving years of constant practice, that the average amateur could not possibly tackle it and had to leave it to a handful of specialists.”[3] Folk-music can involve everyone to some degree. Here music becomes a bond between men, and avoids “the virtuoso mentality, the vanity of technique, which is no longer the servant of the whole but wants to push itself to the fore.”[4]

Education for Joy

  • Education for Joy requires that students sing beautiful hymns and religious music within the context of the liturgy. Here music requires skill and talent, but is offered in praise of God.

This three-fold formation produces a student with strong but ruly emotions well-trained to serve the intellect. Such students make fair judges of music “able to assess three points . . . first, what has been represented; second, how correctly it has been copied; and then, third, the moral value of this or that representation produced by language, tunes, and rhythms.”[5] Such a musical education “draws senses into spirit and so brings man to wholeness. It does not abolish the senses, but inserts them into the unity of this creature that is man. It elevates the senses by uniting them with the spirit.”[6]

Carving out the Opportunity to Build a Culture of Good Music

  • Limit what is heard in common areas and discourage, forbid, or make difficult the use of personal listening devices.
  • Suggest students give up all music as a personal resolution, for example, for Lent. This affords an opportunity to test one’s “addiction” to pop music without losing anything. Silence yields many benefits, besides enabling the student to view his music more objectively.
  • Do not try to argue about music. People take music as an expression of their identity and tend to view all comments as a personal attack. However, mild and good-humored teasing works; if you love your students, and they love you, they will notice your attitude towards music and imitate your example.

For a Religious Education Program:

  • Implement the above suggestions as much as you can.
  • Work with the parish music director and choirs. Or start a choir—but this takes a lot of time and talent.
  • Take up guitar or invite friends who can play. Introduce music into every activity, slowly—song by song, leaving time for people to memorize words and develop favorites. Provide talent shows, coffeehouses, and sing-a-longs as forums for music and encourage people to practice songs and share them with one another. Share music.

Read This:

  • Aristotle. Politics.
  • Plato. The Laws, Republic.
  • Pieper, Josef. Only the Lover Sings.
  • Ratzinger, Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy.
  • Jubilate Deo, official Catholic Church collection of chants for the liturgy.
  • Crocker, Richard L. An Introduction to Gregorian Chant.


  • and for hymnals with excellent general collections of Catholic hymns and chant.
  • Golden Songbook, an excellent collection of SATB folk songs and hymns.
  • New home of the Choral Public Domain Library. For free choral classical music.
  • for a good overview of the history of liturgical music with samples to listen to, recommended CDs, and reviews.
  • For free downloadable chant:
  • Folksong websites: and Both sites have wonderful search engines and archives, and midi files. If you want sheet music, this might help you get started
  • for streaming folk-music online. You can hear pieces and then explore more about them.
  • [1] Marrou, 134-135.
    [2] Aristotle, Politics, Bk VIII, Ch. 6, 1341a10-16.
    [3] Marrou, 139.
    [4] Ratzinger, Liturgy, 146.
    [5] Plato, Laws, Bk 2, 669a7-b3.
    [6] Ratzinger, Liturgy, 150.


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