School Program Fills Churches with Music A Gap in Musicians and Fewer Volunteers Empty Organ Benches across the Country

Article excerpt

DOUG O'NEAL approaches the organ bench, pulls off his left shoe. Then with one plum-colored-stocking foot working the wooden pedals, he plays a melodic piece that seems to enthrall his small audience.

"Imagine yourselves singing hymns as he's playing," says Boston University organ instructor Larry Kamp, and several students hum softly to themselves. After Mr. O'Neal steps down and three others have taken turns playing the instrument, Mr. Kamp outlines what he wants to achieve during the semester. "I'd like you all ready to play a hymn each week. I want to make sure you folks are getting plenty of bench time," he says, adding, "We don't have a book list, but bring stuff in and share it with the bunch."

In this cramped room four stories above a steady whir of Boston traffic, these students are refining their organ-playing skills in order to become better church musicians. They are part of Boston University's two-year-old Church Music Training Program, which was established in response to the cathedral-sized need for professional church musicians throughout the country.

"There is a crisis in church music," says Linda Clark, director of the Master of Sacred Music Program at BU's School of Theology. Ms. Clark teaches a seminar in music ministry for the church program. "There are lots of people in churches who have very little training and are being pressed into service because there aren't that many trained church musicians."

A number of people are qualified for the very top musician or choir-directing jobs, often in large, well-known churches, Clark adds. "Then there's this great gap, and people are always calling me up at the School of Theology and saying, `Do you have a student who can come out and play for us?' or, `We just lost our organist, and we can't find anyone to do this,' " she says.

So she, other music professors, and deans here discussed developing a program. Clark headed to the Midwest to talk to people at the University of Iowa and the Methodist School of Theology in Delaware, Ohio, who are also training local church musicians. Though Boston University is one of only a handful of colleges in the United States that offers a program for church musicians, Clark says individual churches also are taking it upon themselves to fill the gap.

"It's a much broader need that's being acknowledged across the country," Clark says. …