A new Worship Arts concentration within Catawba College's Music major is proving popular with students since its introduction this academic year. As of spring 2015, 13 Catawba students, some of them well-focused first-year students, have already declared Music as their major, with their sights set on a Worship Arts concentration, while eight additional students are pursuing a minor in Worship Arts.
"Today's worship experience is far different from that of previous generations as it strives to include more current musical styles as well as other creative arts forms including drama, dance, and even technical production," explained Dr. Julie Chamberlain, an associate professor of Music and director of Sacred Music and Worship Arts at Catawba.
"There is such a need for worship leaders and church musicians who are prepared with practical skills and know how in the field of Worship Arts. I believe that we have designed a curriculum that will prepare students to service in the 21st century church and to remain relevant in the field of Worship Arts."
The Worship Arts concentration, although directed by Chamberlain, includes some key faculty support from professionals with real church world experience. They include Dr. Phillip Burgess, the College's Director of Choral Activities who also serves as organist and choirmaster at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Salisbury, and Gordon Snyder, an adjunct faculty member teaching Worship Arts courses who also serves a Director of the Catawba Praise Bands.
"The Worship Arts Concentration is equipping today's worshipers to be tomorrow's worship leaders," Snyder said. "Our approach focuses on developing the student spiritually and musically as well as providing opportunities for leadership in and around the region. Through applying practical and relevant studies, our students will graduate from Catawba bringing new innovations to church ministries."
Enter some eager Catawba students who aspire to have meaningful careers in Worship Arts.
"I want to be a full-time worship leader when I finish school, so this was a no-brainer for me," explained freshman Alex Thornton of Concord. "I had originally planned to study Worship Arts at another school, but after hearing about the success of the program here at Catawba in such little time, I knew that the connections and opportunities here would be a lot more beneficial."
Thornton learned of Catawba after his high school football coach talked to him about it. "I was drawn to the school because of the probability I had of playing football here, as well as the music program." But what he discovered when he arrived on campus affirmed his decision to attend.
"I really enjoy how small the college is and how easy it is to get connected on campus. Being able to have professors who actually know you and want to help you is key. There are so many opportunities on and around campus to grow your faith like CRU (Campus Crusades for Christ), Chapel, and Praise Band."
Thornton said he is already thriving in his academic major. "This is a program where you can easily get involved right away as a freshman and the opportunities and connections I have had so far are endless."
Thornton is also gaining some experience by playing guitar at Venture Church in Harrisburg, at Life Church in Salisbury, and recently, he landed a job playing guitar at Forest Hill Church in the Ballantyne area of Charlotte. Those practical experiences had helped him learn "that churches are always looking for good musicians and for help when it comes to leading worship" and that "it's very easy to get experience and get connected."
Hannah Addair of Cleveland is another recently declared Music major pursuing the Worship Arts concentration. She said she never wanted to go to Catawba until Dr. Burgess came to her high school to direct its choir for a day and shared information about the new Worship Arts program. "I'm pretty sure that it was right then and there that I decided Catawba was the place for me, because I had never even heard of such a major at any other school."
Addair explained her hope in pursuing her academic major "is just having greater knowledge in leading people to praise God. That's really the only thing that matters, and if I can do that then I have done my job, and so has Catawba.
"Already, in the short semester and a half I've been here, I feel so much more confident with leading worship than I ever have before. Catawba makes sure that you are prepared in every aspect, and I am so thankful for that. I have learned that Worship Arts has little to do with how talented you are musically (I mean, yeah, it helps), but what really matters is that you are giving it all to God."
Addair is enrolled in a practicum at St. John's Lutheran Church working with Rob Durocher, Minister of Music there. Her experience is giving her a real taste of her future career. She encourages prospective students to consider pursuing her academic major, but is quick to warn that they should "be prepared to work your tail off!"
"It takes a lot of dedication and time to be in this program, but it is extremely worth it."
Catawba freshman Zachariah Hayes of Rockford, Ill., said he "looked as far as Australia for a quality worship arts program…but none are as in depth or as personal as Catawba's."
Hayes said he "felt God calling me to Catawba" after he visited campus and met with Dr. Chamberlain. He declared his major in Music with a Worship Arts concentration for two reasons: "my love of God and my love of music." He plans to pursue a career as a worship leader at a church and says his academic program "helps me develop my skills so that I may be able to offer even more to the worship service."
Free Two-Day Worship Arts Conference Set for April 24-25
Thornton, Addair and Hayes, and their fellow students and faculty will be demonstrating just how much they have to offer and just what they have learned thus far in the course of their college studies in an upcoming Worship Arts Conference sponsored by Catawba and scheduled April 24th and April 25th at Life Church, 710 Jake Alexander Blvd. W., in Salisbury.
The free, two-day event features sessions, collectively entitled Tips for Tight Teams, about Praise Band Basics, Worship Guitar, Technology in Worship, and Creative Worship Planning. A Night of Worship opens the conference beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 24th and will feature guest artist Sandy Hoffman and the Catawba Praise Bands. The Conference, with its aforementioned sessions, takes place between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., Saturday, April 25th.
"This Conference is an enrichment opportunity for our students and more than that – it is an opportunity to develop their know-how, not their knowledge, but their know-how," Chamberlain said. "Our students will perform in the Worship Service on Friday, and then serve in many capacities for the events on Saturday. They will get hands-on experience planning every aspect of the conference, from marketing to administrative tasks."
Conference leaders, in addition to Catawba faculty and students, include Sandy Hoffman, guest artist (and author of the recent book, "Tips for Tight Teams"), leading Worship Guitar; John Kale of Life Church leading the sessions on Praise Band Basics and Technology in Worship; and Steve Hargett of Concord First Assembly leading Creative Worship Planning. An Open Panel Lunch Session on April 25th entitled Implementing Contemporary Worship: The Dialog Between Pastor and Musician will be moderated by Dr. Phillip Burgess, previously aforementioned, and includes Bill Rollins, the Salisbury Campus Pastor of The Refuge; David Puleo, Worship Pastor of The Refuge; Dr. Jim C. Dunkin, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church; and John Stafford, Director of Music Ministries at First Presbyterian Church.
Registration for the conference is available online through the Catawba College website at www.catawba.edu/worshipcon.