Is It Really Necessary To Have A Bachelor’s Degree In Gospel Music?

March 5, 2016  |  

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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?


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  • beevb

    I believe it is a legitimate course of study. There is a unique history of the music and its Founder Mr. Thomas Dorsey. I don’t believe it should be a degree program. Gospel music today does not always honor or reflect the original message. I know that singing Gospel music is a spiritual experience. That does not mean we cannot study the roots and honor the pioneers of this important music

  • Atjs

    While many educational institutes may hire a person caring this degree and would be willing to compensate accordingly, how many other institutions would be equally willing (i.e.churches)? What prospects of growth does this field forsee and how in-demand (currently available opportunities in relation to qualified applicants) are there?

    Here’s the thing. It’s very true gospel sits at the heart of most musical genres, but who’s majoring in specific musical genres anyway? Who’s majoring in rock, alternative, r&b, punk? Or subgenres like afro punk???? Gospel composition should be a required course ofstudy as there is lots to be learned Ave gleaned from it as a base. It can even be a concentration of the more generic classical music studies if properly paired with art appreciation and business administration, maybe even sound engineering can be an optical elective. In this way, the student has broader opportunities besides educational institutions and churches. Museums, various forms of production, business, journalism, etc can all be viable opportunities. The degree may then provide a distinctly unique point of view within the arts.

  • yelpforhelp

    I know a handful of people who actually work in their degree field. It will be interesting to see what careers will evolve from this.

  • Raze

    I don’t think that you need a degree in gospel music. How do you fill 4 years of classes in the field anyway?
    People who are trained to sing operas usually follow a much more broader field like music theory, and they specialize themselves in opera. Aside from studying music on an academic level, they also have to go to training, rehearsals, etc every since they were young.
    It would have been better if there was a minor or regular courses you can take to learn more about gospel through the ages. Heck, maybe music theory could introduce a specialization in gospel music.
    But a whole degree…I don’t how this will turn out well.

  • Are they suggesting that an area of study isn’t legitimate unless there are TWI college credentials are associated with it?

  • Genny

    Just another way to get caught up in some never ending debt. Entrepreneurs are doing something right. . I have friends who have degrees and are broke..

  • Lisa

    Ok, but I don’t want the follow-up to be the story about some young person with a degree in Gospel Music who now can’t find a job in his or her field and is buried under a mountain of student loan debt.

  • Isis

    What a waste of money. I mean absolute waste. I would never advise anyone to get a degree in that. just another way to put someone in debt that they will not be able to pay back.

  • Paula

    No. That’s a gift given by God. All you really need is the annointing of the Holy Spirit and God will open doors for you

  • ATLChick

    No, is makes no sense at all. Just like a lot of pieces of paper people spends thousands of dollars on and call it an “education”.

  • Charla

    I feel like the more narrow your degree, the harder it will be to find a job after graduation. How many choir directors have a degree in gospel music? Is the degree required to enter that field? I would be afraid that these students will spend thousands of dollars and then not have a way to pay it back.