And away from these distractions, the Grove City College Wolverine Marching Band kneels together for prayer before taking to the field.
Being a part of a music program at a Christian college is not only composed of sitting in class and learning Antonio Vivaldi’s contributions to classical music. It is also feeling your knee touch the track on a sunny October afternoon.
“Before going out onto the field, you’ll see us off in a corner, bowing our heads, thanking the Lord for a good day and for the opportunity to perform,” says Dr. Edwin Arnold, who has led the Grove City College music department for the past 30 years.
It is this commitment to Christian values coupled with a love of music that adds up to a harmonious combination.
What sets a Christian college apart from a secular school in the study of music is the realization that music and celebration through sound is grounded in the Bible. Christian music students know that their subjects and their talents come from the Creator, and they do not take that for granted.
Arnold points to the choice of music played at a college football game or in a parade as an example. While marching band is all about fun and color and booming sound, there can be a message and a lesson too. For instance, the Grove City marching band entertained football and music fans alike by playing Christian artist Sandi Patti’s version of “Shine Down” this fall.
Arnold also acknowledges that the college search process can be a complicated one for high school students interested in building upon their musical interests, but he offers up a few hints to prospective students.
First, during the college search, find out if the school has small ensembles that will meet individual needs. For example, while Grove City College offers musical opportunities in larger capacities—such as the marching band, symphony orchestra and concert band—there are many smaller groups to join as well.
Second, look for studies in different genres of music. Grove City College gives students exposure to opera through workshops, to jazz through small combos, and even to African dance, a Ukrainian symphony, or a Czech Republic youth choir through Guest Artist Series performances.
Perhaps most importantly, music majors hoping to study at a Christian college should make sure the curriculum is grounded in faith. According to Arnold, Grove City courses are supported by Judeo-Christian beliefs, and the integration of faith and learning is vital to music faculty.
One of those faculty members is Dr. Paul Munson.
“Teachers and students at a Christian college should share a vision for teaching and studying faithfully,” he says, “a vision which is increasingly difficult to find in American upper education.”
“Christian music teachers,” he continues, “challenge their students to cultivate patterns of thought shaped by the Bible, not the world, because we believe the church seasons and shapes culture.”
Furthermore, Munson sees studying music in a faith-based environment as a greater calling, especially as he realizes the importance of helping students find their place vocationally, musically, and spiritually.
“A Christian music faculty can help students to see music-making and music-teaching as Godly callings,” he says. “Instead of pursuing careers in music merely because we like music, we learn to see the making and teaching of music as forms of service to God and to our fellow human beings.”
Andrea Ferguson, a senior music education major from Hamburg, New York, sees an additional benefit of a Christian learning environment for her music studies.
“Here, it’s more friendly,” she says. “People are always helping each other rather than thinking, ‘I need to beat her.’” This lack of cutthroat competition was one of the reasons Ferguson chose Grove City over a music school.
While music majors are on campus mainly to formulate a career, both Arnold and Munson encourage non-music majors to be involved in musical organizations and activities during their college careers.
One way to do that, Arnold says, is to take advantage of special music programs, such as guest artists, and to attend concerts by fellow students. And several organizations outside the music department, such as music ministry groups, may also be a good fit for students in any major who would like to incorporate music into a well-rounded education.
Even further outside the music curriculum box are opportunities such as entertainment groups who work to bring concerts to campus, performance or back-stage experience in children’s or musical theater, and the chance to form campus bands in a variety of musical genres.
In fact, Grove City College draws a large percentage of students who are musically involved in some aspect of their high school career. And while they are on campus, more than one quarter of Grove City’s 2,300 students are involved in a group through the music department. From the 164-member marching band to the two-player harp ensemble, 27 percent of the student body is involved in a band, ensemble, chamber group, or choir. And this percentage does not take into account musical theater, musical ministry groups, or independent campus bands.
Furthermore, group practices and classes are not the only means of working through music curriculum with supportive students and faithful faculty. On the Grove City College campus in the fall of 2003, 7,104 private lessons were given to students on piano, organ, cello, violin, French horn, trombone, trumpet, tuba, bassoon, clarinet, saxophone, oboe, flute, guitar, harp, percussion, and in voice.
“In Scripture,” says Munson, “God repeatedly commands his people to sing, so, at the very least, every Christian should desire to feel comfortable with his singing voice.”