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New specialization in Church Music and Worship

Monday, November 9, 2009

Being a church musician today requires breadth, flexibility, and the ability to participate in discussion – it’s not just about music but also about liturgy and theology,

said Dr. Ken Hull, Associate Professor of Music at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ontario.

A greater wealth of musical options means a greater need to understand how to make choices and to articulate reasons for them in worship.

Dr. Kenneth Hull with a musical instrumentTo meet the changing requirements of being a church musician, Conrad Grebel has added a new specialization for Music students with additional courses in church music, worship, bible and theology.

The Music department at the University of Waterloo, based at Conrad Grebel, has offered an interdisciplinary Minor and Diploma in Church Music and Worship for about ten years. The program has attracted students from all faculties across the university as enrichment to their studies, as well as by Music and Religious Studies students for whom this area is more central to their studies.

Enrolment in Church Music and Worship courses has tripled over the last decade. Many of these students are already active in their denominations’ worship life - as organists, singers, conductors, instrumentalists, worship planners and leaders. Some of these students have gone on to graduate study and careers in the area of Church Music and Worship.

Feeling led and encouraged by her congregation, Julia Olsen began her studies part-time in the Church Music and Worship program at Grebel when her children were young. Employed by her church as Music Director for the last eight years, she was originally looking to expand her understanding of church music beyond the boundaries of her own church. Olsen recently resumed studying in the program again, to

broaden my musical and worship perspective.

She says she is

not taking studies to further my career, but really to become a better musician, more knowledgeable leader, and effective worshipper.

Building on the Music department’s interdisciplinary nature, the Church Music and Worship program has been enhanced with a possibility for specialization. The new specialization has a more professional focus, and is intended for students majoring in Music. In addition to the usual courses in performance, theory and history, Music course components of the degree include choral conducting, liturgy, and hymnology. On the Religious Studies side of the program, students are able to tailor their studies around their particular denominational tradition because of the richness of the University of Waterloo’s offerings.

Olsen believes that the most exciting aspect of this new specialization is the variety of faith backgrounds students are coming from.

I could easily stay limited in my church's musical heritage, but I believe it's good and healthy to know what else is going on in church music.

Coming from a Baptist perspective, Olsen has

greatly appreciated hearing from those involved in worship from other denominations. It's important for us to benefit from the rich traditions of one another. I find that sometimes my perspective can become very narrow as I prepare for worship each week. My studies help me lift my head to see what else is happening in the worshipping community.

Another appealing addition to the new specialization is the inclusion of two practicum components. One involves acquiring skills in choosing music, song-leading, reading scripture, composing prayers and a broad range of worship-planning and leading skills. The other practicum is spent in an internship assisting in a congregation in the student’s own denominational tradition.

Hull explained:

This kind of interdisciplinary program isn’t completely new, but we believe this is the first undergraduate program of its kind at a secular, public university in Canada. Locating it at a public university means it has a strongly ecumenical character. With students involved from across the church, from Reformed Christian to Pentecostal, from Mennonite to Anglican, this environment invites a lot of conversation. Students are coming to understand the worship and music practices of other parts of the church, and understanding better how the student’s tradition is part of the bigger picture.

The Music department hopes the new specialization will attract students who have a practical interest in church music as well as music students who want to enrich their music studies with a focus on how music can serve the worship life of the church. The new Ford Harrison Church Music and Worship scholarship has been established to help support students in this program.  

Find out more from the Church Music & Worship website or contact:

Dr. Kenneth Hull
Department of Music
Conrad Grebel University College
University of Waterloo
140 Westmount Rd. N
Waterloo, ON N2L 3G6

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