Matthew R. Perry

So Fewer are Enrolling as Music Majors at our Seminaries? I Know Why (Part III: A Resolution)

In Church Life, Worship on May 14, 2007 at 1:52 pm

As promised, this will be the last post of my observations (such as they are) concerning the reason why enrollment is down at our seminaries’ music schools and exactly what type of resolution should be made.

But first, I feel I need to clear up some comments I made. One of my deacons who has been at Boone’s Creek since the late 30s read my blog and took umbrage with one particular paragraph:

I believe that if we are to be a Great Commission Church, we need to not only be trained in our seminaries in the classical genres in order to hone our musical skills to the glory of God (Psalm 33:3 — which I will deal with in the next blog), we need to understand how to minister with this vehicle of music in our particular ministry setting.

At the same time, I believe that we must also help our church members come out of their rut of liking a set of hymns that they could sing backwards, forwards, and sideways and expose them to hymns with great music and great theological meat.   In other words, sing something great that says something great!

The issue he had was that it seemed as if I wanted to do away with hymns and instead replace it with some other type of music. My apologies — that most certainly was not my mindset. My aim was to get out of the rut of liking a set of hymns which we tend to sing over and over out of comfort. Rather, we should be willing to learn new songs (hymns or choruses) that convey great thoughts about God and His Son coupled with great music as well.

What do I mean by “great?” I mean done well, to the best of the abilities God has given to you. In other words, strive for excellence. Strive for what is best in the setting to which God has called you.

Another comment came from Philip who is a graduate of Southern Seminary (we actually attended Southern at the same time, he pursuing his DMA, I pursuing my MCM). 

I think it is incredibly sad that worship leaders don’t have the
ability to read music anymore. The comment from dbrowneph4, that is
worship leader “doesn’t read music” and that they “don’t use hymns”
tells you why the enrollment is down in seminaries–the church has left
traditional music. Now, maybe you applaud that, but I deplore it.
Classically trained musicians don’t have a place in the Southern
Baptist Church anymore.

I grieve that I came across as “applauding” the notion that this worship leader doesn’t use hymns.  I’m not so concerned that the church has “left traditional music,” but that the church is turning it’s back on its heritage.  For many, just because a hymn is deemed ‘old’ means that it should never be used.  Being traditional or being new should never be the standard — being obedient and doctrinally sound should be the standard, be it hymns or choruses.  To simply discard one or the other solely based on style or emotional appeal (or lack thereof) is incredibly short-sighted and deprives your people of the hymns from our past, and from the songs being given now.  We must be careful not to overgeneralize.

Here’s the question:  Should we encourage our young musicians called into the music ministry to pursue a seminary education?  Some took my comments and said, “Thanks for encouraging me not to pursue seminary education.”  That was too strong a conclusion to come to.  Should you, though?

In short, yes.

Yet I suspect you would like for me to elaborate. Why would I encourage them? The same reason why I would tell someone who is called into the preaching ministry to attend seminary.

First, they teach you to do your calling with discipline and excellence. I could play piano pretty well before I went to seminary. Even played in the church. Even led choir and congregational hymns. I thought I had all I needed. Then I went to seminary and was taught

  • how to practice;
  • how to understand the intention of the composer;
  • how to understand the historical background and culture in which the piece was written;
  • the rudiments of music theory so my eyes and ears were on the same page (musicians know what I’m talking about).

Sounds like exegetical work for the preacher, does it not?  Same animal.  And that’s honestly just the beginning. 

Secondly, you find yourselves exposed to God-gifted composers and arrangers to help you climb the lofty heights of musical expression and possibilities.  I could have cared less about J.S. Bach or Mozart before I went to college and seminary to study it therein.  Then I tried to play and compose and found it such a difficult task.  Then I listened to Bach and Mozart and Chopin and began to appreciate their gifts and talents and began to understand why they are still appreciated 200-300 years later.  And by being surrounded by those greats, it inspired you to be better and to advance the gifts that God has given you.

We read and put together sermons and write for our congregations in trying to express some doctrinal or devotional area of the Christian life.  But then we read John Calvin, or Luther, or Edwards — or even today of the John Pipers, John MacArthurs, D.A. Carsons, etc.  We begin to breathe in that great air that God blessed them with and it inspires us to dig deeper into the treasure trove of God’s Word and drives us to a deeper desire to be deep and clear about preaching and teaching His Word. 

Conclusion

What’s the resolution?  First, to the seminaries.

Don’t simply rely on your reputation to draw another generation of music students.  Make your case.  Tell the music student who desires to lead a congregation in worship why a classical education of studying European composers and their history and their music and their culture matters.  It does — more than we ever give it credit for.  Music reflects the culture and culture reflects the music — we have to understand that these piece have endured for a reason.  They have endured because they stand as a tribute to excellence! 

Now, to the prospective students. 

Don’t simply settle in your own musical abilities — always strive to improve and learn from others who have made that journey.  One person made the comment that their particular worship leader did not even read music.  Praise God that God has given him that ear — but he will be limited and hit the proverbial wall in his leadership.  It would be the same as if a preacher stood up, yet noting that the preacher could not read His Bible.  I have known preachers who could preach but could not read, but they would hit the wall in how they could grow. 

Can God use anyone with any particular breed of education?  Yes!  But if God opens up the opportunity to learn from the best His kingdom has to offer, then take advantage of it.  But as music ministers, never separate your gifts or your particular ‘ministry’ from the people to whom you minister. 

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  1. [...] be an extension of my ministry. It’s a tech thing. It may have spiritual benefits. I hear new perspectives. There are a lot of pictures and videos and more videos. Reading this or this should get you [...]

  2. This was one of my favorite articles I have read this month. Seriously, enjoyed it. With you all the way in agreement.

  3. Praise God, Steven. To Him be the glory!

  4. I am a full-time musician (pianist/composer) in Hong Kong and heavily involved in music ministry (as well as industry) there. I am planning on how to advance my study and fulfill God’s calling in my life and am very glad to stumble upon this great article series! Thanks Bro Matt!

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