The School of Church Music and Worship (SCMW) at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary debuted three new worship ensembles in the Fall 2021 semester, expanding its offerings for students to lead the seminary community in chapel worship.
“We want our students to not only have the theological foundations and the philosophical foundations about worship leadership, but also the methods and to do it in real-time and in real life,” said Joseph R. Crider, dean of the SCMW.
Under Crider’s leadership, the SCMW previously formed the Cowden Hall Band (for graduate-level students), and the Texas Baptist College Band. This semester’s additions included the 1908 Worship Collective for graduate students, Cantico Nuevo for Hispanic students, and 12:1 Worship for undergraduate students. All students are selected through auditions held each semester.
The SCMW also offers other performance opportunities for students including the chapel orchestra, Southwestern A Capella, and the historical Southwestern Singers.
Each ensemble leads chapel worship throughout the semester, with services taking place every Tuesday and Thursday. Ensembles also lead worship at other campus events and for local churches.
“These bands not only serve our community, but they’re also wonderfully ambassadorial for not just the School of Church Music and Worship, but for the entire institution,” said Crider.
Chuck T. Lewis, associate dean and professor of church music and worship, oversees the undergraduate bands and the Southwestern A Capella and explained the bands are designed to “give students a hands-on practical experience in a worship band that is high quality, Christ-honoring, and Gospel-centered.”
Lewis further explained that the classroom is an essential place for students to learn about worship, but said there is also a need for a “laboratory experience.”
“I’m so thankful that our students get to participate in the spiritual life of our campus,” Lewis said. “So there definitely is a campus opportunity for students to be leading and putting their knowledge that they’re gaining in the classrooms to practical experience in leading.”
With the addition of new ensembles, Crider said, there is more opportunity for a diversity of culture and musical styles to be represented in each ensemble.
“We really do want to explore as big a musical language and vocabulary as we possibly can,” Crider said. “We really want each band to have their own distinct sound and musical flavor because we’re not trying to create a cookie-cutter sound, primarily from the standpoint that we don’t gather around the music. We gather around Christ who never changes, and His Word that doesn’t ever return void.”
McKenzie Dahl, a first-semester Bachelor of Arts in Music student from Justin, Texas, said her experience in the SCMW and with the 12:1 Worship ensemble has helped shape her view of worship, “specifically seeing worship as sacrifice, especially leading worship and through the week in your preparation, thinking about what this is costing me. If it doesn’t cost anything to you, it doesn’t have much meaning or weight.”
“Viewing leading worship through that lens has completely changed the way that I go about leading worship and even my practice,” Dahl said. “I’ve learned to not just practice daily until I get it, but once I get it, practicing so that I can do my absolute best and lead people well in worship that is pleasing to God.”
Nelly Juarez, a Master of Music student from Costa Rica, plays the French horn in the chapel orchestra and sings with both the Cantico Nuevo band and Southwestern A Capella.
After joining the worship ensemble, Juarez said she has enjoyed the opportunity to worship and perform with other Hispanic students and for the future opportunities to lead worship at Spanish-speaking churches in the area.
Although Juarez had previously earned another master’s degree in music from another institution, she said she was drawn to the combination of musical instruction and theological education offered at the SCMW.
“I love everything about it from the Scripture-based worship leadership that they teach us here,” Juarez said. “I also love to sing a lot. For me, it is musically enriching, and that’s important for me personally. But then to be able to express it to a congregation so that they can sing together is even better.”
The next round of auditions will take place on February 18, 2022, for both Southwestern Seminary and Texas Baptist College. Learn more about performance and audition opportunities at the SCMW here.