Perkins’ Master Of Sacred Music Program

In spring 2011, Greenland Hills United Methodist Church in Dallas celebrated the opening and consecration of a new fellowship hall. Under the guidance of Greenland Hills’ minister of music Chelsea Stern ’10, children proceeded into the sanctuary singing a Rwandan song of praise: Munezero! Munezero kwa Jesu. Munezero Hallelujah! (“Sing out gladly! Sing out gladly to Jesus. Sing out gladly Hallelujah!”). Though Stern had planned to ask the congregation to stand after the children finished singing, the people spontaneously leapt to their feet, clapping and singing along.

Minister of Music Chelsea Stern ’10 (left) and the Rev. Marti Soper ’98, pastor, have created a harmonious partnership at Greenland Hills United Methodist Church.

Stern recalls that the experience exceeded her expectations. “I’m always hopeful that a song will take on meaning beyond my vision. We went immediately into ‘O For A Thousand Tongues to Sing’ – a great Wesley hymn. In those ‘holy’ moments, I am reminded that God is at work beyond our understanding or imagination.”

Stern’s ‘holy moment’ experience with her church community is what she trained for in SMU’s Master of Sacred Music program. The M.S.M., which recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the entering class of sacred music students in 1960, is one of SMU’s longest-running joint programs – between Perkins School of Theology and the Division of Music in Meadows School of the Arts. To honor its 50th anniversary in 2010, the M.S.M. program set a goal to raise $1 million by 2015 for an M.S.M. Alumni Scholarship Endowment.

The M.S.M. is one of the few graduate sacred music programs jointly accredited by The Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada and the National Association of Schools of Music. Students specialize in either choral conducting or organ performance and also take theology courses. The program has produced more than 350 alumni, among them church musicians in most major Christian denominations, university professors, composers, performers, hymnal editors and authors.

M.S.M. Alumni Scholarship Endowment

To honor its 50th anniversary in 2010, the Master of Sacred Music program set a goal to raise $1 million by 2015 for an M.S.M. Alumni Scholarship Endowment.

The program has produced more than 350 alumni, among them church musicians in most major Christian denominations, university professors, composers, performers, hymnal editors and authors.

To make a contribution or for more information about the M.S.M. Alumni Scholarship Endowment, contact Todd Rasberry, 214-768-2026.

Michael Hawn, University Distinguished Professor of Church Music and director of the M.S.M. program, attributes part of the program’s success to location. “The influence of church music in the United States has shifted from the Northeast to the South, and the two largest buckles on that Bible Belt are Atlanta and Dallas, where vital, diverse church communities exist,” Hawn says. “Innovation in church music is happening in Dallas – there is a lot of productivity and composition of sacred music works. We give equal attention in our teaching to the congregational song as well as choir song; it’s part of the heritage of Perkins School and The United Methodist Church.”

The Dallas area also provides numerous internship opportunities for sacred music students at churches and other agencies, where students hone their ministering skills as well as learn how to lead a congregation or choir. The Rev. Ashley Hood ’99, minister of spiritual life at Presbyterian Village North in Dallas, sings the praises of the first sacred music student who interned at the retirement community last year. Jordan Stewart directed the residents’ choir and oversaw other sacred music activities. She also helped organize Camp PVN, which brought together older adults with older elementary youth for fellowship and service during a week of day camp at the retirement community.

“This program has far exceeded our dreams, mainly because of Jordan’s experiences in music, theology and ministry and her love for being with the people in this community. They loved her because she was genuine and gifted, faithful, theological and playful,” Hood recalls.

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