Oklahoma Baptist University

Camerata Looks Ahead for Church Music Education

A blending of ideas, both traditional and contemporary, is helping OBU create a strategic score for the future of its church music program.

Several OBU graduates and other music ministers from Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, North Carolina and Tennessee assembled in early January to brainstorm improvements for OBU's church music curriculum.

Dr. John Simons, OBU assistant professor of church music, formed the Church Music Camerata last year as an advisory group to the church music program. The group's recent four-day meeting on OBU's campus was the second annual gathering.

Twelve of the 15-member committee, all full-time ministers of music, were in attendance.

The Camerata's focus sessions, born out of discussions from last year's meeting, centered on the development of several new worship courses - a series of two corporate worship courses, a church music technologies course and a course on spiritual foundations for church musicians.

Simons is looking forward to the corporate worship courses being available in the fall of 2004 and the church technology class being available the following spring.

During the meeting, members of the group led a condensed pilot course on church technology for current OBU students. Thirteen majors and non-majors took the J-term practicum course.

The worship class will be especially valuable, Simons said. It is a groundbreaking course that connects history with the study of worship in a modern context. It draws parallels between what has happened historically in church music and what is happening now.

"It's a pretty leading edge way to teach worship," Simons said. "In this course, hymnology and worship would be taught relative to one another. This is something that no one else does.

"It's exciting to be able to connect history to things students are passionate about now."

The council also discussed the development of a national camp for high school students interested in church music, and laid out plans for an OBU student and music minister mentor program.

The group will focus on specific assignments before the next annual meeting. Some members of the Camerata will serve as field supervisors for church music majors' internships. They also are in the process of writing articles to be compiled as a resource for students and local churches, as well as creating a resource catalog for current students.

OBU graduates on the Camerata include Jerry Billingsley, '72; James Bradford, '80; Miller Cunningham, '80; J.C. Farrand, '71; Don Fellers, '73; Gerald Jones '63; Bart Morrison, '88; and Tom Willoughby, '73.

Simons instituted the Camerata program after a realization that curriculum development in church music rarely involves people who have been in the field long-term.

Members of the group serve three-year terms, and can extend membership if desired.

Simons looking for ways to expand the concept to include other schools, and will meet with representatives from four other Baptist colleges this spring.

"Seeing these guys fully engaged and wanting to help train new ministers of music is exciting," he said. "And seeing the students respond to them and watching those relationships develop is exciting, too."

The meeting provides a mouthpiece for one the department's most valuable resources, Simons said.

"It's unusual for a university to say to church musicians, "We not only value who you are in the field but we listen to what you say as well."

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