For those of us that grew up attending Sunday service without fail, we cherish gospel music as the powerful soundtrack of life that pours out raw emotions with ease. However, those emotions aren’t always felt outside of a church setting. Until now, that is. There’s reportedly a groundbreaking opportunity on the horizon for those who want to pursue an gospel music for academia.
According to The Washington Post, Nyack College, affiliated with the Christian and Missionary Alliance and among the most ethnically diverse Christian colleges in the country, will launch a bachelor’s degree program in gospel music this fall. The article goes on to explain the purpose of the Nyack College Chorale and how gospel is lacking in full academic support, even though it “lies at the root of most forms of American popular music.”
Interestingly, “it’s the one genre that lacks an academic journal, and no university has offered it as a stand-alone professional degree.” However, you do have the University of the District of Columbia (UCD), which was actually the first in the United States to offer students a Bachelor’s degree concentration in gospel music studies.
Nevertheless, it is great to see that institutions are recognizing gospel music more and more.
“I think for a long time gospel music has been viewed as a hobby,” Willana Mack, an award-winning singer who is preparing to launch the program explained:
“Gospel music has not really been looked at as something you can study, a skill that you can learn,” Mack says, even though gospel music is pervasive, performed by popular acts such as Kirk Franklin and referenced in song after song from Aretha Franklin to D’Angelo. “But it’s an overall cultural problem that we don’t start requiring that our gospel artists be more versed in music — in the music language, in the music culture, in reading music, in understanding music theory.”
Opposite of Mack, Linda Walker, a professor at Ohio’s Kent State University who has studied curricular treatments of music across genres, shared:
“[Music] students are trained to sing in the European style. Attitudes, beliefs, and institutional histories [in higher education] are bent toward European standards. Gospel singing is reserved for church and not considered proper or sophisticated.”
Personally, I understand Mack’s viewpoint. However, there is a spiritual kind of connection that gospel music has that almost feels unauthentic if academia’s technical’s are bound to it. Then again, their are those like Walker whoreminds us that gospel simply isn’t “sophisticated” enough for some.
It’s almost like the conversation high school students have with their parents when deciding their majors — especially if it’s a major like the arts that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a job upon graduation or a big yearly salary . Sometimes the parents are with it and sometimes they’re simply not. It’s a tough tension to maneuver through, but when you have a true passion and strive for success, there’s nothing that can really stop you.
That same sentiment can be applied to Nyack’s new venture, as they attempt to change biases about technique and authenticity when it comes to gospel. What are your thoughts? Should gospel music be taught? And can it really be taught?