In 1982, Dr. David Clayton, Emeritus Professor of Music at VWU, discerned a need for a program of instruction for those who lacked formal training in the music of the church, yet found themselves called upon to serve their congregation. With the assistance of Deborah Carr and Kathleen Griffin, he developed a Church Music Certificate program with both theoretical and applied instruction. It immediately gained popularity in the community.
Dr. Dudley Oakes served as Center director from 1990-1994 and further developed the Certificate program and sight-singing schools, and enhanced the Center’s Sacred Music Summer Conference, a week-long set of workshops in conducting, organ, and children’s choirs, which had grown out of the Certificate program.
In 1995, Dr. Sandra Billy was named Center director and tripled the number of workshop sessions offered during the summer conference; attendance increased dramatically. Each summer, musicians, pastors, and VWU students and alumni from across the nation and Canada converge on campus for a powerful week of instruction and inspiration through campus workshops in all areas of worship and the arts, plus evening worship, hymn festivals, and organ concerts at churches throughout the area, and a closing choral concert featuring the Wesleyan Festival Chorus led by the nation’s finest conductors. Several hundred persons attend the workshop sessions annually and well over a thousand attend evenings events featuring the 125-voice Wesleyan Worship Choir and the 95-member Wesleyan Festival Chorus.
With the wonders of 21st century technology, the Church Music Certificate program has gained nationwide enrollment via online instruction with summer residencies on campus. Now, it’s just as likely that participants already hold bachelor and master’s degrees in music, yet still seek specific instruction in the music of the Christian church. An on-campus lecture series, “Sound and Symbol,” engages students and faculty from various disciplines in the development of deeper understandings of the cultural connections found in the great diversity of the world’s religions.
The Center continuously stretches its boundaries in exciting ways. In recent years it has hosted “Unbound,” an ‘un-conference’ which begins with no agenda, no workshop sessions, no design. Participants develop topics for discussion and create their own conference on site. And on several occasions during the academic year, the Center contributes to campus worship through the planning and preparation of student-led ‘worship as art.’