An Hour of Monastic Silence in Media Studies Class (plus an awesome drum solo)

I announced that my 300-level Media and Culture class would spend an hour in monastic silence, collaborating on a Google Doc. I expected the students would understand I was helping them get into the mood to appreciate the 14th century setting of The Name of the Rose. What I didn’t expect was an awesome drum solo.

I had already encouraged my students to approach The Name of the Rose the way they would approach a fantasy novel. They’ll have to spend some time understanding the world where the characters live — the geography, economics, politics, beliefs — or else their motives and actions won’t make sense.

Before class, I set the background of a fresh Google Doc to a parchment color and changed the stylesheet to rubricated headlines and a handwriting typeface. I pre-loaded the document with a brief outline (Characters; Setting; Genre; Plot) and a few subheadings, and shared it to my students, with no further instructions.

I had planned this hour of monastic silence before I realized that today is Ash Wednesday. Some students who aren’t familiar with that tradition looked pretty surprised when I walked in with a black smudge on my forehead, but I didn’t say anything.

The students exchanged glances when I started playing a Gregorian chant, but nobody said anything, and our shared Google Doc grew in length and complexity.

About 30 minutes into our experiment, I was working on a section about the actions of the (fictionalized) Spiritualists, whose radical preaching of poverty had led to bloody and savage revolts that had precious little to do with theology, when we all heard an amazing drum solo — bass thumping, cymbals crashing, the works.

One of my students got up and closed the our classroom door, but that didn’t really do much to preserve the contemplative mood in our university-provided MacBook Air scriptorium, so I figured I had better go investigate.

Our classroom opens into the lobby of Cecilian Hall, a grand multipurpose assembly room that has a curtained stage.Somebody had set up a drum kit on the stage (presumably to rehearse for the “Mr. Seton Hill” contest that’s scheduled for tomorrow night) and was happily banging away behind the curtain.

I checked to make sure I was smiling before I peeked through the curtains. I’m sure that my sudden appearance on stage, the ashes on my forehead, and my reference to “trying to observe an hour of monastic silence” combined to create quite an impact here at our 100-year-old Catholic college.

I told the surprised percussionist I thought the timing was pretty funny, but I did ask him to wait until our class was done. He was very apologetic, and stopped right away.

After class, I went back to his now-abandoned kit and put a note on his stool, telling him he sounded great, and also thanking him for his courtesy.


I returned to the classroom without saying anything, and we continued writing for the rest of the hour.

We’re only on the second of the seven days covered by this (long) novel; still, the six of us managed to create an 11-page document in an hour. I’ve asked them to keep contributing to it as we work our way through the book.

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