Stephen Johnson and Emir Caner, deans respectively of the School of Church Music and The College at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, got a great start to the new year in a letter last month from the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM). The accrediting agency granted “plan approval” for the music school to offer a Bachelor of Arts in Music degree through the college. Classes will begin in the fall 2007.

“The beauty of this bachelor’s degree is that an undergraduate student can come to The College at Southwestern and study music in the seminary’s School of Church Music,” Johnson said. “This partnership between the two schools gives music students the best of both worlds. It is an opportunity for musicians on the BA level that is unique in Christian higher education”

The newly-accredited music degree expands the undergraduate offerings through  The College at Southwestern. Since opening its doors on the campus of Southwestern Seminary in the fall of 2005, the college has offered Bachelor of Arts in Humanities degree, a program focused on the History of Ideas, using the small-group seminar format. Dean Caner expressed joy and excitement about this new plan’s accreditation.

“It is our prayer that this Bachelor of Arts in Music degree will honor the Lord and serve the local churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and beyond,” Caner said.

Through the accredited Bachelor of Arts degree, all musicians can study composition, performance or worship under widely-respected performers and composers such as Don Wyrtzen, Jerry Aultman, G. Joe Hardin, Michael Cox, Mac Davis, and Robert Smith.

“I am particularly happy about the concentration offerings in the BA degree,” Johnson said. “We have six composers on the faculty who will teach the composition courses. The worship concentration is unique because it will focus primarily on leading churches in a variety of approaches to quality worship. Our internship program will be a key part of the students demonstrating their understanding of worship. These programs put our students in a scope of healthy churches that reflect a variety of music styles.”

Finally, Johnson said that like every college student at Southwestern, musicians will go on an international mission trip before graduating. “What a wonderful opportunity for students to apply the principles of worship through music in an international context,” he said.

“In addition, each music major will be required to take the same amount of hours in the college’s core curriculum of ‘Life and Thought’ as well as ‘Biblical and Theological Studies,’ thus enabling them to think critically and biblically,” Caner said.

But the plan approval for the BA degree wasn’t the only good news from the NASM: The agency also officially notified Johnson that the School of Church Music was reaccredited for another ten years.

“We are so grateful that the NASM has once again recognized that our music school maintains the highest levels of professionalism and training possible,” Johnson said. “Reaccreditation sends a positive message to our students and prospective students, and affirms the hard work and dedication of our professors, staff, administration and trustees.”

The NASM first accredited Southwestern Seminary’s School of Church Music in 1966, making it the first and only seminary of any denomination at that time with an accredited music school. The NASM has renewed the music school’s accreditation every 10 years since then.

The reaccreditation of the School of Church Music and addition of an undergraduate degree continues a legacy of training church music leaders at Southwestern Seminary. Church music classes have been taught at Southwestern Seminary since 1915 when I.E. Reynolds was hired to head up the newly-created Department of Gospel Music. In 1921, the School of Gospel Music was opened with departments in voice, piano, orchestra and band, and practical work.

In 1925, Mrs. George E. Cowden gave a lead gift in memory of her husband to build a home for the School of Gospel Music. Under the leadership of L.R. Scarborough, Southwestern Seminary’s second president, Cowden Hall was opened in 1926, and the School of Gospel Music changed its name to the School of Sacred Music. It has been called the School of Church Music since 1957.

The facilities contained in Cowden Hall included offices, private studios, classrooms, rehearsal rooms, practice rooms, and the Reynolds Auditorium. The 30,000-foot Kathryn Sullivan Bowld Music Library was added to Cowden Hall in 1993. It houses one of the nation’s premier music libraries of sacred music, with extensive holdings, a computer lab, state-of-the-art listening stations, and many Wenger sound-proof practice rooms that accommodate academic pursuits up to the doctoral level.

In addition to training thousands of church musicians over the years, the School of Church Music reaches out to the Fort Worth-Dallas community with world-class performances throughout the year. In March, Southwestern musicians will perform the fourth annual Gala of Sacred Music at the Bass Performance Hall. In addition, each Christmas the school presents Handel’s “Messiah.” The first performance was 85 years ago, and the musicians of Southwestern have put on a free performance of the “Messiah” each year ever since.

Johnson, 31, is the youngest dean of the School of Church Music, and its sixth leader since 1915. He follows in the steps of I.E. Reynolds (1915–45), E.L. Carnett (1945–47), J. Campbell Wray (1947–56), James C. McKinney (1957–94), and Benjamin Harlan (1995–2003).

Those who are interested in the new Bachelor of Arts in Church Music, master’s or doctoral degrees in music from Southwestern Seminary may reach the seminary’s Office of Admissions by calling 1.800.SWBTS.01 (1.800.792.8701), or by emailing For answers to detailed questions about the content of the programs, email Dean Johnson at