December 23, 2011

SMU’s sacred music program emphasizes musical training as much as theological education – potential students must audition to be accepted into the Meadows School, in addition to being admitted into the Perkins School. Meadows provides a major portion of the music education aspect of the Perkins degree, including applied instruction in organ and voice, as well as conducting, techniques courses, music history, and performance opportunities, says Pamela Elrod, associate professor of music and director of choral activities in Meadows.

“The partnership is a natural one to begin with, since music is so integral to the worship process. The church was, for centuries, the most important arts patron in the world. So a huge portion of the greatest choral music ever composed is essentially church music – and thankfully, that legacy is still present in many churches today,” Elrod adds.

Several M.S.M. alumni were recognized recently for their artistic success in the secular realm of music performance. Keith Weber ’88 and Matthew Dirst ’85 received a 2011 Grammy nomination for Best Opera Recording for Johann Adolf Hasse’s Marco Antonio e Cleopatra,produced by Weber with Dirst conducting the Ars Lyrica Houston, a group of musicians who perform Baroque music using period instruments.

Perkins Associate Professor of Sacred Music Christopher Anderson ’91 earned both the M.S.M. and Master of music degrees from SMU. He recognizes that many of his students are attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of the M.S.M. program, interested in developing their musical artistry as much as their theological skills.

“The challenge is finding the right balance between the theological and musical sides of the curriculum, and defining exactly how these relate to each other,” he says. “Church musicians have to be artists, but they also must be able to perceive and manipulate the theological potential of their material, the music-historical context in which it sits, its place in effective worship. The challenge lies in the synthesis of these varied disciplines, which always ends up being a very personal solution for the student.”

The Rev. Marti Soper ’98, pastor at Greenland Hills UMC, says that she and her minister of music Stern have developed a collaborative relationship, sharing a common vision for their “eclectic congregation, so our music has to honor that. Our people are concerned about transforming the world, so our music has to inspire them to embrace their role in that transformation by singing global faith music. Additionally, our people do not respond well to hierarchical authority, so a strong congregational song component undergirds their sense of being drawn into using their own gifts to promote the reign of God.

“Chelsea is always taking into account the whole picture, as well as the particular needs of musicians and choir,” Soper adds. “When Chelsea began to really understand the context, it was easy to give her the freedom to use musical resources that are not in the hymnal or supplement, but draw from a variety of sources. In the end, we try to let every piece of music further the message or vision.”