It was the fourth day of our Europe choir tour, and the Wesley Institute Choir had boarded a plane for Paris, leaving another beautiful Spanish summer's morning behind us. It was a small plane, with about half the choir seated in the back section, and to our sheer delight we were surrounded by a large group of primary school students leaving Barcelona on a rather impressive excursion. Some of the more extroverted personalities of the choir (unsurprisingly including myself) had developed somewhat of a tradition, taking it upon ourselves to bless anyone near us with a short singing performance. When people met us and realised we were part of a choir, they often asked us to sing, at which point we would turn to each other and say "Why not?!"
We were young musicians in Europe, and we were determined to have as much fun as possible. Having lots of the members involved in kids and youth ministries, we found ourselves on a plane surrounded by excited school kids and decided this was going to be a memorable flight. We got the kids cheering during take-off, as if it were a roller-coaster ride, but the moment the seat belt sign turned off we jumped out of our seats and that's when the real fun began.
I started humming and clicking with my right hand, setting the key and beat. Looking around at the young faces, I smilingly began our short repertoire of harmonised a cappella pop songs, namely Bruno Mars. "When I see your face, there's not a thing that I would change, cuz you're amazing just the way you are!" The girls squealed with excitement and the boys clapped their hands, joining in on the familiar song. Soon the back of the plane was transformed into a noisy school bus. Loud sing-alongs, fun games, excited kids running up and down the isle; needless to say it was an OH&S nightmare!
As I talked to the young children around me, discovering this intriguing and beautiful culture that was so different from the one I had grown up in, I noticed the main point of connection between such starkly different age-groups and ethnicities â music. As the excited kids endeavoured to communicate in their broken English, a good part of their limited vocabulary was made up of song lyrics.
They struggled to put together a full sentence, but when we sang a chorus of a popular song, they wouldn't miss a word. At first it impressed me, the aptitude of young minds; then one of the young boys, probably no older than 12, sang out "I just had sex", a popular Lonely Island song. A few of us looked around at each other entirely shocked before we quickly hushed him, shaking our heads and waving our fingers.
Soon the cabin crew came and made sure everyone stayed in their seats, reducing the volume if only slightly. I sat next to a young boy who offered me his left earphone, then proudly showed me through his favourite songs on his ipod. My mouth dropped as this young boy from the other side of the world, barely even able to speak English, went through song after song quoting lyrics of sex, parties and alcohol. Sometimes he would copy a dance move from film clips as he endeavoured to impress this 'grown up' from The West, the land of the great MTV, the place that defined 'cool'.
Here was a young boy who probably still believed in girl-germs, singing about hot chicks in the club. Here was a boy who had probably never had anything more potent than red cordial, singing about poppin' bottles and gettin' slizzard.
I couldn't help but realise the profound effect Western music had on the developing mind and outlook of youth culture globally. I imagined American producers putting together another pointless song that would make them millions of dollars, and having no idea that this song could effect how a small Barcelonan kid half way across the world would treat women.
Music is powerful. A song has the ability to put a thought into the listener's mind without their permission. A melody can carry a lyric, a lyric can carry a concept, and a concept can influence a lifestyle. I wonder how much I am unconsciously influenced by the music that I listen to. As a song-writing musician, I also wonder how much power my songs could have to influence modern youth culture. Upon whose ears will my music fall, and in what situation will they be when my words ride melodies into their mind?
One can look at the world's desolate situation and feel overwhelmed, but I prefer to use that as motivation. If pop celebrities can influence youth culture negatively, how much more, with God's hand, can that same influence be used for good? I think Christians should endeavour to be the best and not shy away from spotlight positions of influence; because if we don't, someone else will. A song, an artwork, a business, whatever your gift, you never know how far it could go â it could reach a young child half way across the world, in Barcelona.
Daniel Mathew is studying music at Sydney's Wesley Institute and serves as the Creative Director for the senior high youth ministry of Hillsong Church, City Campus.