News - Salt, Light, and Making Music

Salt, Light, and Making Music

Salt, Light, and Making Music

Even though Assistant Professor Gary Erickson leads his commercial music and audio engineering students through a high-tech world of cutting edge equipment and software, the charge he gives them resembles the Gospel’s call. “Faith is an essential,” he tells students, “music is an essential, and you have to figure out how to use those to make an impact on culture in a positive way.” A lot of students hear that charge. This fall, more than 100 students will enroll in courses that prepare them to serve as salt and light in commercial music production and performance.

New graduates Clayton Jones, Tyler Ross, and Mitch Schrock, along with Phil Ortiz ’12, have invested hours mulling over the heart of Erickson’s message. They comprise the nationally acclaimed band The Madison Letter, nominated this past February for the 2013 mtvU Woodie Award. Their combined majors in audio engineering, music business, and digital media present a depth of skills that goes far beyond performing music.

Danara Moore, assistant professor of music business, understands the challenges the group and other graduates face as they take their faith into areas of commercial music. “As Christians in the music industry, we have to be that much better,” she explains. “We have to be that much more efficient, more on point, more informed. When you keep up that high pace of performance, you surprise people out of their pre-conceived notions of Christianity.” In other words, success by Christians in the mainstream music industry turns heads and draws attention to matters of faith.

Keeping their faith central to their artistry is important to the members of The Madison Letter. The group’s name refers to a letter written by President James Madison in which he declared that a nation without God at its core could not survive. The band members believe the same is true in their lives, music, and in their success as a band. “Anyone can write a ‘Christian’ song, using the clichés that fit what that market is looking for,” says the band’s spokesman, Jones. “What matters is the heart behind the song.”

At GC, Jones, his fellow band members, and classmates benefited from classroom conversations about music and faith. Music business and audio engineering students take courses that examine the place of the music industry within the larger media and entertainment world, including the role that Christians can play in the business. The commercial music and audio engineering programs incorporate courses on faith, music, and culture that invite students to apply their faith in their work.

Students of the music industry also obtain hands-on experience and develop practical skills. Commercial music majors participate in lab bands that perform throughout the year. Those majoring in music business manage the Blackroom Café, an on-campus venue for music acts. They handle booking, publicity, and artist development for campus bands and solo artists. Audio engineering students frequently access high-quality recording equipment for their projects.

As the music industry changes, the coursework offered at GC has kept pace. In 2012, the Contemporary Christian Music program transitioned into two separate majors, one in commercial music and the other in worship arts. Also, the music business degree is now housed in the management department. The shifts, however, have not altered the fundamental approach of instructors like Erickson and Moore, who equip graduates to infuse their faith into their work. “If all truth is God’s truth,” observes Moore, “then singing about your experience in life as a Christian means you can sing about things other than worshiping God.” Members of The Madison Letter understand their audience is broader than the one they face onstage. “Our approach is to play our music and try to be examples. This can open up a conversation that we’d never have otherwise,” says Jones. Since graduation in May, members of The Madison Letter have moved to Nashville to create their next album, yet another opportunity to demonstrate both their faith and skills in making music.

This story was published on August 15, 2013

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