Doug Thomson (left) conducts a choir for Heritage's 2013 graduating ceremony. Photo by Reid Lambshead

Music and worship program hits all the right notes

Nearly three decades in, popular course offerings flourish at Heritage College and Seminary

CAMBRIDGE, ON—Music may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering Bible colleges and seminaries. Preaching and theology, yes—but music? Yet music is flourishing at many of these schools, including Heritage College and Seminary.

When Heritage’s music program launched in 1987, Doug Thomson, the college’s director of Music and Worship Studies, had only two students. Now the program is in its 27th year and Thomson oversees 12 other teachers and 52 students. The music program is the largest single program in the school.

“In a theology setting, music is not always going to be considered the number one thing,” Thomson says. “There can be stigma where preaching and theology is number one and anything else is peripheral. But our program has grown from its inception to where it’s quite well funded, today. [The program] is given a lot of recognition and considered quite significant. That was certainly not the case, even 10 years ago.”

Several years ago the program began offering a number of one- and two-year certificates that Thomson says helped it grow substantially. Students can take a one- or two-year certificate in recording arts, worship leadership or a one-year certificate in arranging and composition.

“I think a lot of students are willing to commit to one year to pursue their musical dreams. What happens is they like the program and they like what they are being taught, so they switch from the one-year to the degree program.”

The program is somewhat atypical. Although it’s based on a classical system where students learn Classical theory and music history, it is also applied in the Christian contemporary field.

“We teach them about worship teams and styles, how to lead a band, how to get a band together and students do contemporary as well as traditional. It’s very broad,” says Thomson. “We have a course on contemporary genres like hip-hop and rap and what makes them unique. It’s not just Christian music and it’s not like a classical university where they just teach Classical. It’s kind of a hybrid.”

Thomson says most of the students find jobs as worship pastors, but some go on to teach music or other vocations, including some who are now artists touring with Compassion Canada. Others have won local music awards and recorded albums.

Les Behrens, a current Heritage student, says he isn’t sure what he wants to do when he graduates, but he is growing as a Christian leader and being stretched musically in practising and performing.

“I love theology, the Bible and music, and this program is a great combination of all three,” he says. “As I continue in this program I feel more of a calling into musical ministry. I want to be able to help and teach the people of God about worship so that we can all enjoy God in a new way.”

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About the author


Senior Correspondent

Craig Macartney lives in Ottawa, Ontario, where he follows global politics and dreams of life in the mission field.