Best Practices in Seminary Music Education: Why, What, How?

Article excerpt

A PLENARY ADDRESS GIVEN AT THE SYMPOSIUM FOR SEMINARY MUSICIANS AND ACADEMIC DEANS, DENOMINATIONAL MUSIC LEADERS, CLERGY, AND CHURCH MUSICIANS PERKINS SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY, DALLAS, TEXAS, OCTOBER 9-11, 2005.

SPONSORED BY THE AGO COMMITTEE ON SEMINARY AND DENOMINATIONAL RELATIONS

Lawrence Ferlinghetti's poem, "Risking Absurdity," raises certain questions for those of us who teach in seminaries: Are we artists? Are we theologians? Are we practitioners? Are we performers? Some of the above? All of the above?

Is music in church about art and beauty, or is it about "utility"-the right piece of music moving the congregation from one spiritual "perch" to another? Is music simply a "preparation" for "the word," or is music the word itself?

These are just some of the questions that face church musicians every week, and the same questions face those of us who teach music in seminaries. The questions before us today are several: First, the "WHY." Why teach music in a seminary? My answer is relatively simple.

One of the key roles of the seminary is forming students for the pastoral ministry. The majority of MDiv graduates go into the pastoral ministry-not all, but the majority. One of the principal functions of a pastor is the leading of the community in a worship service. Music makes up approximately 40%-60% of a worship service. A recent study has shown that 70% of people's faith is formed by the songs they sing. Therefore, it would seem to be pretty important that someone pasturing a church and leading worship services know something about music. Let's go on.

For the average churchman the hymn book is more a book of religion than is his Bible. More religious interest is brought him by song than by the scripture. In fact much of scriptural truth is conveyed to him through hymns.

The growth, development, and future of all our religious ideals rest largely with our hymnology. The songs of a nation will in the long run make the nation.

(Spencer, Protest & Praise, p. 91)

Or hear these words of John Witvliet:

Arguably no other religion in recorded history features such a dazzling variety of liturgical music as does Christianity. For 20 centuries, Christians at worship have sung everything from contemplative Byzantine chants to exuberant Methodist frontier songs, from the trancelike music of Taizé refrains to the precise rhetoric of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, from songs with the Dionysian ecstasy of African American gospel anthems to those with the Apollonian reserve of a Presbyterian metrical psalm, from the serene beauty of a Palestrina motet to the rugged earthiness of an Appalachian folk tune, and from the enforced silence of Quaker corporate mysticism to the sustained exuberance of an African American rine shout . . .

These forms of music aren't just adornments to Christian experience. They are the pulse of faith, integral to the different ways in which Christians have experienced worship and God's presence for over 2,000 years.

(Worship at the Next Level, p. 163-64)

Given the role music plays in worship, the need for a pastor to have not only some exposure but also some actual experience with music during the seminary education period would seem to be an obvious one.

But let's explore this a little more. I would like to talk about two related concepts in the power of music and the role of music in seminary education.

The value of music in culture has been testified to for centuries, and from the beginning of time, music has been characterized as central to existence. An article in the July 2005 issue of the American Journal of Public Health begins with this sentence: "Music has a power unlike anything else."

What are some of its powers?

1. Music as transporter of spirit. American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson included this thought in his Journals: "Music is an asylum. It takes us out of the actual and whispers to us dim secrets that startle our wonder as to who we are, and for what, whence, and whereto. …