March 1, 2011 Volume 24, Number 19
Christian colleges and universities tune in to musical education
By Emily Wierenga | Special to ChristianWeek
Popular band downhere got its start at Briercrest College and Seminary.
Canadian Christian institutions are making an effort to expand their musical repertoire. As a result, alumni are making a mark on the music industry.
Briercrest College and Seminary is one of the country's foremost faith-based institutions when it comes to training undergraduate students in music. With programs like an Associate of Arts in Music, a Bachelor of Arts in Music and a Bachelor of Worship Arts, "the tradition of music at Briercrest practically goes back to the beginnings of this institution," says Worship Arts professor Merle Matejka.
This February, the school announced a new joint music education program with Minot State University. It hopes, in the near future, to also offer programs in musical theatre, drama, technology and a Bachelor of Music.
Meanwhile, a Bachelor of Music program recently created by Ambrose University College has increased the enrolment of the 650-student institution by 25 per cent. "We have a fundamental core which involves classical theory, history, music training and oral skills, but students can also practice an eclectic style," says department head Don Quantz of the four-year program.
This, in addition to a BA Music degree program, an arts degree with the option of a three-year concentration or a four-year major in music, as well as an annual choral tour has turned the Calgary campus into a major drawing card for music undergrads.
Ancaster, Ontario offers another drawing card through Redeemer University College. Over the past five years, the Christian liberal arts and science university has expanded its music program from 10 majors to 30. "Music has become an important academic area for students who seek to develop their artistic and vocational calling in this area," says Paul Thorlakson, associate professor of music.
The core of the curriculum combines musicianship with upper division emphases on performance, church music and music education. Ensembles include two choirs, vocal jazz, instrumental jazz, a chamber orchestra and guitar. Private lessons and a music survey course are also available for credit.
Heritage College and Seminary is one of Canada's only Christian institutions to offer accreditation in sound technology. In addition to its Bachelor of Church Music degree, focusing either on sound technology and recording arts or worship leadership, it also offers a Bachelor of Theology-Music double major, as well as one to two year certificates in Sound Technology, Worship Leadership and Performance and Composition.
Community defines Ambrose University, says Quantz. The Calgary school's community choir is proof, with 65 members drawn from students and a range of local individuals. The school also offers a student choir of 40-45, and an intimate chamber choir of 18, which travels to small congregations. This May, the chamber choir will travel to Italy to extend the gift of community to local churches.
In addition to vocals, Ambrose features a chamber orchestra of 25, serving as another "town and gown" effort, and each year at the end of February, Quantz invites 200 students from local high schools to join the university on stage in a performance for local parents. "When you make music together, you become a community, transcending age," he explains.
Redeemer's program is set apart by its emphasis on production, in addition to individual performance. "We believe our curriculum allows the music student to adapt to the constantly shifting musical taste of popular and church culture," says Thorlakson. "We don't just study about music; we engage in the making of music with excellence."
Heritage discovered its niche in 2002 when it built a recording studio. "We saw a hole in the Christian music world that needed to be filled," explains Daniel Ramlogan, administrator and marketing and enrolment manager at the Cambridge, Ontario school. "While music can be found at a number of Christian institutions, you will be hard-pressed to find one that allows students to major in sound and recording arts."
Briercrest may not offer a degree in sound, but it still teaches students how to manage a soundboard through its on-campus recording studio. "I think that music technology has always been a big playing card for Briercrest," says Matejka. "Learning to record for different situations is imperative when many large churches are going to live broadcast and posted podcasts of sermons and services."
Music is a gift from God, a gift that connects all people, says Quantz, who's overseen a university-level music department for the past 18 years, most recently at Ambrose. And part of honouring that gift, he adds, is by connecting with students on a daily basis.
Recent music graduate Justin believes this is what sets the school apart from the others. "The outstanding aspect of the Ambrose music department is the professor availability, diversity and ongoing involvement in their students," he says. "They make time for the important student-professor dialogues, dealing with anything from musical interpretation, conducting tips or future pursuits after graduation."
This same kind of community is reflected at Redeemer. "I believe that a passion for music is instilled through modeling and mentorship," says Thorlakson. "It is important that students spend quality time with their professors so that this passion is 'caught' rather than 'taught.'"
Heritage professors seek to provide a holistic education for their students. "I enjoy working [at Heritage] because I think this institution has the perfect balance between ministry and spiritual fervour and academic and musical excellence," says Doug Thomson, director of music and worship studies.
This philosophy of teaching was recently honoured when Andrew Horrocks, an adjunct faculty who's taught Heritage's Recording Arts program since its inception, received Canadian "Producer of the Year" from The Gospel Music Association in November.
Two professors at Briercrest have left significant impressions on their students: Ron de Jager, "the man who makes the performance program come alive," as described by fourth-year music student Abigail Jaillet, and Scott Finch, whose "zeal for excellence in every aspect of his life has challenged others to raise the bar in terms of their musical endeavours as well as their personal walk with Christ."
While Heritage students comprise the bands Echelon and the Levi Daybook Band, whose songs are featured on Christian radio, the majority of the school's graduates go on to pursue some form of music ministry. "I like to encourage the students that their musical journey is a lifelong one," says adjunct faculty member Dave Thompson.
Redeemer graduates have both established community schools of music and served on the faculty of other institutions. Others have succeeded in the music industry, including Article One drummer Dave de Smit and Josh Vanderlaan, drummer for The City Harmonic.
One of Ambrose's most distinguished alumni is the renowned operatic tenor Ben Heppner. Most of the school's graduates, however, have gone on to pursue music education, doctoral studies or to serve in a ministerial setting.
Briercrest graduates frequently leave their mark on the music industry, as evidenced through the band downhere, Benjamin Reynolds, who serves as songwriter and musician in Nashville, the band Tripmeter and former Starfield drummer Gordie Cochran.
No matter their ultimate career choice, however, "It is so rewarding to see people experience the joys of understanding music, and be part of creating it with excellence for the glory of God," says Worship Arts professor Keith Molberg.