The next Jars of Clay may be in class right now, taking notes on the art of Amy Grant or doing lab work on the science of dc Talk. Since 1987, starry-eyed students hoping to parlay their bachelor's degrees into recording contracts have signed up for a trailblazing program in Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) at Greenville College, a Christian liberal-arts school in south-central Illinois.
Paved with Mayberryesque streets and surrounded by enough corn fields to host a Hee Haw convention, Greenville is not the first place you'd think of going to find Contemporary Christian Music. But with the explosive growth of CCM (the genre posted $863 million in 1998, according to CCM Update), and with secular music companies gobbling up independent Christian labels, Greenville College's CCM major seems ahead of its time.
The program was the brainchild of Greenville music department head Ralph Montgomery, who wanted to equip students for working in the music industry. "We met a lot of Christian musicians who didn't know what they were doing," says Montgomery. A major in CCM could train students both musically and spiritually, he reasoned.
But how do you teach a genre of music that many people perceive as being more flash than art, more commercialism than ministry? "We do not graduate students to necessarily work in the Contemporary Christian Music industry," says Warren Pettit, who now leads the CCM program. "We are just as interested in students graduating to work in the general marketplace and bringing their Christian world-view to it."
The course load for CCM majors looks a lot like the curriculum for traditional music majors, but with ample class time on studio technology, live performance, and business. In a class called "The Philosophy and Ethics of CCM," for instance, students wrestle with the challenges of maintaining one's integrity in a cutthroat business environment.
Each year, 70 to 80 freshmen enter as CCM majors, but only about 15 will graduate with a CCM degree. According to sophomore Kenny Carlson, the program is no cakewalk. "It's not for everybody who has stars in their eyes and wants to be a rock 'n' roll star," he says, "but it has taught me that anybody can have the potential if they're willing to concentrate on the work that's involved."
So far, the members of Jars of Clay are the most recognizable names on the CCM program's roll of alumni, but nationally known artists like Sarah Jahn, Amy Susan Foster, and Stereo Deluxx are also alums.
According to Pettit, it's often difficult for Christian schools to embrace the rock, alternative, and atypical styles that characterize music today: "It's a shame that we're one of few schools that have fully embraced a contemporary music curriculum.
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