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The Youth Music Ministry Program

In the summer of 2012, the Department of Sacred Music implemented a new program that generated great excitement and success: the Youth Music Ministry (YMM). For four years now, this program has run parallel to and in conjunction with the adult track of the Sacred Music Institute. YMM gives its participants, ranging in age from 14 to 18, the opportunity to study Choral Music, Byzantine Chant, Proper Vocal Production and Technique. They learn challenging new music, perform with their peers and participate in every Divine Service. They chant and sing, listen attentively to the Keynote Speakers and classroom teachers, asking pertinent and poignant questions. They come to understand their role in Sacred Music and their contribution to the music of the Church, a ministry that will be with them throughout their lives. This program brings together youth of like mind and spirit with a love for music and a desire to serve their Church, allowing them to work together for a common goal – to love God and serve with understanding. We have witnessed them making connections and lasting friendships that keep them grounded and linked to the Church during the most challenging years of their young lives. Truly, this is a program with a proven track record of success. For example:

  • Total YMM attendance in four years is 91 Teens, with 32 attending two or more years.
  • Five of the teens attending the first YMM have been back each year since, either as a YMM participant or an adult attendee.
  • Four of the YMM participants have directed their church choirs at a Sunday Liturgy.
  • One has been hired as a part-time director in her church.
  • Several chant Vespers every Saturday night and several have become the lead chanter at their churches.

Before attending a Sacred Music Institute, many lacked the confidence to chant in their home parish. Chanting at camp was comfortable for them, among their peers, but chanting in their home parishes was intimidating. Through participation in YMM, they began to understand more clearly the roles of singers, chanters and directors as ministries and gifts from God.

In order to be accepted into the YMM Program, each teen must complete an application, write an essay and request a letter of recommendation from their priest. The most powerful recommendation this year came from a priest who said that after having attended for two years, a teen from his parish had "improved tremendously, acquiring the knowledge he needed to help in the services and he has applied it. He is motivated to search, learn and find the resources to improve and prepare each week."

There is nothing more beautiful than to get a glimpse into the intellect, the pure heart and the unclouded mind of solid Orthodox Christian teenagers. Reading quotes from the YMM applications will, undoubtedly, fill you with hope and inspiration.

"Widely considered a universal language, music can be traced back to the foundations of civilization. Today it continues as a powerful force and exists at the heart of the Orthodox tradition. I have been blessed with the opportunity to attend the Sacred Music Institute for the past four years, and because of the youth program I have become more involved the music in the church – chanting, singing and learning to direct the choir. Furthermore, I have made some of the best friends and memories of my lifetime."

"Music is the harmony of radiant voices which mix to make one beautiful sound. Church music emphasizes music through prayer, and the words we sing express our desire to live in accordance with God. Music is my one true passion in life, and there is no better way to combine passion in life with my goal in life: to be united to Christ. The Sacred Music Institute will give me the opportunity to learn the true meaning of the hymns we sing and share a common aspiration with complete strangers."

"The beauty and purity of Orthodox music surpasses anything I have ever experienced. I want to grow and develop my limited skill so that I may be able to better serve God and my parish to the best of my ability. I will do everything within my power to become a better singer and chanter and the SMI program will offer me a great opportunity to grow in my ability as a chanter."

"Perhaps the first sounds I ever heard were the sounds of music in the church. My mother went to every church service when she was pregnant with me. I have always had the church in my life. As I have grown older, I have realized the range and depth of music in the annual cycle of the Church. I attended a West Coast Sacred Music Institute, where someone broke the words down and explained the meaning of the prayers. It was like falling in love all over again. Everything was made new and exciting and I couldn't wait for Holy Week to come again so that I could experience it with new meaning."

"Last year, I found that the YMM empowered me to participate in my faith more than I normally did before. It was a powerful learning experience for me, both in singing and in spirituality, and helped to set me on the road to better serving our Holy Father. I know that this year will be no different, and it will greatly aid me on my spiritual journey to find peace in God's grace."

"Like most teenagers, I usually like to put on music in the car while driving and 'jam out.' However, unlike most teenagers, the music I put on often isn't the typical pop and rap music that is so popular today. Rather, I frequently find myself singing along to 5th century Byzantine hymns sung by the Mount Lebanon Choir or Boston Byzantine Choir. Furthermore, I sometimes find myself putting off doing homework so I can look over new music for that night's service. I guess you could say that church music plays a large part in my life."

"Not only has SMI helped me improve my chanting, but it has also given me unforgettable memories and introduced me to amazing new friends and people who share a love for our Church's music. Last year, we requested a priest to come and serve Compline. After the service, we would all stay up until the moment curfew hit to sing our favorite hymns. I had never felt so at peace and in such a prayerful mood."

"I LOVE the music of the Orthodox church. Some of my earliest memories in church were listening to the choir and chanters and getting to stand and sing with my dad in the choir. As a 16-year old, I always go to sleep listening to Orthodox music."

It was only with the support of Hierarchs and the Order of St. Ignatius that the vision of dedicated Archdiocesan musicians could take shape and become a reality. We thank God for everyone who had the foresight to break untrodden ground and invest in our young musicians, to plant seeds that will bear a lifetime of fruit. We thank each Diocese for seeking out and funding travel expenses, some with line-item budgeting, others with successful fundraising. As you read this and wonder what you might do to help, consider the following: Please take note of the youth of your parish; encourage those who have a gift for music to apply to attend Youth Music Ministry; nurture them, love them, help them stay rooted; pray with them and pray for them, that the hymns of the Church live and flourish in their hearts; help guide them on the same path that we all began at our baptism with the first prayer, "...Make him to rejoice in the works of his hands, and in all his generation; that he may render praise unto Thee, may sing, worship and glorify Thy Great and exalted name always, all the days of his life..."

Chris Farha, Youth Music Ministry Administrator
chrisfarha@cox.net