Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Church Music Death

I've been away from the world of blogging for the last week as my work sometimes moves beyond the local church ministry and extends into denominational service. With that larger world of the Church in mind the death of a seminary church music school got my attention. This was my seminary at one time. It was a place of rich tradition, of mainstream classical theological education, which drew a diverse student body of 3500 students in masters and doctoral work engaging students from throughout the national and world. But things changed rather dramatically.

Numbers of us left the Southern Baptist Convention in the early 90's as the "fundamentalist takeover" had run its course and permanent changes were in place in all arenas of religious life. For any moderate types there was little room in the new scheme despite the historic tradition that found strength in the combined thinking and efforts of the revivalists (Sandy Creek tradition) and the more liturgical, high church element (Charleston tradition). So, many of us became independent, or community church, or Methodist, Presbyterian, American Baptist, or other. Having served a UM church in New Albany IN while in seminary I found my home and context for ministry within United Methodism.

Through Facebook many old friends from college and grad school days have reconnected. I didn't realize it until my old college roommate posted a link informing me that part of our past died this week. He too has moved on and has Presbyterian identity while serving as a music professor at a university. He wrote about this as "remembering mourning" and I can't capture the feeling any better.

The extended excerpt below is taken from the link explaining the death of the School of Church Music at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. While music and maybe worship has undergone changes I think the model (though likely not the size of the model) still works even if the SBTS approach is officially dead. I remember SBTS music school for producing incredible musicians with the broader theological education, creating worship experiences and modeling some variety that helped many of us broaden our views, allowing me to live next musicians in Seminary Village (they'd practice music at 11 PM every night!), and allowing me to learn in a worship class with Raymond Bailey and Milburn Price as a teaching team. Perhaps death will lead to a new resurrection?

Southern Seminary Closing School of Church Music
By Bob Allen
Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is closing its 65-year-old School of Church Music and Worship, combining it with the School of Leadership and Church Ministry into a new School of Church Ministries.

Southern Seminary opened the music school at a time when the Southern Baptist Convention's growing seminary system began moving beyond training preachers to additional tasks, like improving the quality of worship and discipleship training in Southern Baptist churches.

While taken for granted for more than a generation, combining classical music training with theology studies in a seminary setting is primarily a Southern Baptist innovation, said Paul Richardson, professor of music at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.

Richardson said Southern Baptists began purposeful training of church musicians in the early part of the 20th century. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary established a School of Gospel Music in 1915.

In the 1940s, the SBC's Sunday School Board established a church-music department led by B.B. McKinney, a famous writer of hymns and gospel songs who taught at Southwestern Seminary from 1919 to 1931. Under his leadership the board released the Broadman Hymnal, creating a common worship tradition in Southern Baptist churches so pervasive it earned comparison to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. The new pavilion will house Southern Seminary's admissions and security offices.

The National Association of Schools of Music began accrediting undergraduate degrees in church music in 1952. Before long many Southern Baptist congregations came to expect that a full-time minister of music would complete seminary training or comparable training at a university.

Influenced by the models of Westminster Choir College and Union Theological Seminary, SBC music schools focused on sophisticated choral music, graded choirs and more formal worship. While not alone in the effort, Southern Baptist seminaries were often considered unparalleled, in the theology-school world, in their commitment to church music. They grew into programs unsurpassed in size and scope.

For instance, only three schools accredited by the Association of Theological Schools offer doctorates in musical arts, and all are SBC seminaries.

By the 1980s and 1990s, enrollments in schools of church music reached record highs.

Seminary Change

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