Matthew R. Perry

So Fewer are Enrolling as Music Majors at our Seminaries? I Know Why (Part II)

In Church Life, Worship on May 12, 2007 at 8:46 pm

Yesterday, I left off with this paragraph:

Tomorrow I will blog on what the average church member may think of classically-trained music ministers. Do they encourage further training to help them keep their skills up, or do many passively discourage them in order to play music “of the people”? I believe this is where the bridge must be crossed and a dialogue must occur in order to have greater understanding of why music schools in our seminaries are suffering.

To gain an understanding of the falling enrollment figures, one needs to start looking at the people sitting in the pews of the local church. When I was in seminary getting my church music degree, I also was Minister of Music in a rural church in Kentucky. Whereas I was trained in classical literature and, as I said previously, would spend hours working through Bach, Chopin, Debussy, and all the other classic composers of days gone by, my people were listening to Southern Gospel music. What’s the point?

For one, Southern Gospel music (as well as all other popular forms) has a beat. You can tap your foot to them. And even if you cannot tap your foot to them (since some songs are slow), you can connect with them on a heartbeat level because this music is speaking the language of the people.

Secondly, the melodies are quite repetitious. Most of the songs on the radio and even in the choruses we sing are repetitious. Take for instance a classic chorus, “As the Deer.” The first, second, and fourth lines of the song are all the same melody. There’s a variation in line three. Most of our hymns are that way.When you get into classical music, you get very few toe-tappers.

Thirdly, there is a cultural aspect as well.   Southern Gospel music speaks the ‘language’ of that culture where they are.  In other areas of the country, there is a certain style that speaks to the language and cultural setting of that area.  Yet in seminary, I was learning 17th, 18th, and 19th century European Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionistic, and early American music (an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world — more on that in my next blog entry).  Immediately, there is a cultural divide.  Whereas many of these composers were in fact exploring the cultural languages in which they lived, they were also exploring all of the musical possibilities as well.  As a result, they are exceedingly difficult even to the trained mind — but are unattainable to the average member in the church.

So there is a cultural divide.   Most of those who enjoy classical music (or jazz, for that matter) have a basic knowledge of music theory and a genuine appreciation for the composer’s genius and the composition process. It would be like me looking at a building and saying, “Mmm… that’s a nice building.” Then an architect coming along and saying, “Wow, did you notice how this and this and this and this was put together? What a genius this guy was!” You have to have an eye or an ear for it.  It comes with training and experience.

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!

What’s the point?  This applies to preachers as well:  know where your people are and gently take them where they need to be.  Love them, appreciate them, gain their trust, then guide them like the shepherd God has you to be.

So what good are seminaries for concerning worship leaders?  Much.  Check back tomorrow.

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  1. While I was studying music at Oklahoma Baptist University the question often arose as to why we were studying the masters, form and analysis, music history and all those other subjects and then go out to our churches that might want “Stamps-Baxter” music when we got there.

    The present day question would be the same but Stamps music might be replaced with praise & worship.

    They used to tell us it was so we would be well rounded musicians….and they were right. I can not tell you how to this day I value my classical music eduction.

    But, we do have a responsibility to meet the people where they are. I never felt it was my duty to “raise” the musical appreciation of my congregation but rather to “expand” their knowledge and appreciation. There is a big difference! One rips the listener from his/her comfort zone of many years while the other simply opens a new window into the room of their appreciation.

    I feel sorry for (as one of my friends calls them) the flat-bellied guitar pickers who know only that. Someday, if the clock ticks back they could find life pretty (and perhaps their pocket books) fairly empty.

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