Shaking Hands with Elvis

Is the Music Program in Danger?

Losing one’s major is quite devastating, as some have witnessed in the collective reaction of former French and theatre arts students. For them, it feels as if years of dedication and hard work have all been squandered. In addition, there is a lack of recognition and sympathy from those who still have their majors. 

During Redeemer’s annual general meeting on October 1, 2021, Interim President David Zietsma and Chair of the Board of Governors Lloyd Rang were both sad to admit that the French and theatre arts programs were dropped because of long-term financial challenges. If low, stagnate attendance and budget deficits are markers for a potential program cancellation, it makes us consider the other programs that wrestle with the same problem. One notable example is the music program. 

Of course, nobody in the Redeemer population wishes to see the music program shut down. But at the current moment, music students are uncertain and therefore anxious about their future academic experience. Is there a possibility of another program cancellation? How will Redeemer avoid this?

After surveying music programs across the country, one may have reason to be fearful about a music program shutdown at Redeemer. Most notably, Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario cut their program in April 2021 after wrestling with financial problems. Many professors and students were upset about this decision, as the program was distinguished and quite large in Ontario. Similarly, five years ago, Capilano University in North Vancouver, British Columbia also made the unfortunate decision to cancel their community school music courses. There are even suspicions that Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, British Columbia will face a potential shutdown. But is this recent trend of program cancellations across Canada relevant in Redeemer’s case?

On the one hand, there are indeed a few indications that suggest the music program has potential to come to an end. 

First, the lack of substantial enrollment makes a good case for uneasiness. At the beginning of the school year, seventeen students were enrolled as music majors, while thirteen students were enrolled as music minors. 

Second, the COVID-19 pandemic did not ameliorate the sustainability of the music program in the least. Dr. John Van Rys, the Associate Dean of Arts, claims that the music program has been “the hardest-hit program at Redeemer, given how lockdowns, masking, and distancing have made practising, rehearsing, and performing music very difficult.” As a result, additional problems include the lack of shared community and name recognition in and out of campus with concerts and touring. 

Third, as second-year music major Leah Beldman confirmed, the cost of all the instruments and the necessary materials to keep the program running are high. 

On the other hand, there are plenty of indicators that suggest a better future for the music program. 

First, music is firmly built into the character of the Redeemer body. Leah Beldman remembers a specific moment during her first month at Redeemer when she came to a student-organized worship night outside one of the campus dorms. This was especially a joyful experience because it made her feel like she was welcomed into the Redeemer family.

Second, after easing COVID-19 regulations, the choir is now up and running. Recently, Redeemer students witnessed a splendid performance of “The Magnificat” by the choir at one of our Wednesday chapel services. This is a great way for all Redeemer students to be exposed to the sheer talent of Redeemer’s musicians. 

Third, over this past summer and during the Fall semester, there has been much behind-the-scenes creative thinking by the music faculty as to what they must refine in order to keep the music department flourishing. We may see more of that later in the Winter semester. 

Additionally, Dr. Van Rys had great things to say about the music faculty since becoming the Associate Dean of Arts: “The faculty, both full-time and adjunct, are world-class musicians who are dedicated professors offering students excellent training in lessons and ensembles, as well as a music education with historical depth and attention to the importance of music for Christians through the centuries and into the present. The program also has a strong track record of alumni working in musical careers, particularly in music ministry.” 

Having a set of instructors who are fit for the job and willing to offer a Christian perspective on musical composition is not only a great marker for sustainability but demonstrates the importance of keeping the music program running. 

Music is such a central aspect of worship towards God, as Scripture is filled with passages that reflect on the joy of music. Ephesians 5:19 says, “[Speak] to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.” Psalm 100:1-2 says, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” Having music as an option in the degree programs bolsters this endeavour in our faith. With Rooted Worship nights and chapel services having high attendance, music is an effective means to come together, build relationships, and worship with one another. 

Another reason to preserve musical studies at Redeemer is that music is a crucial tenet in a liberal arts university. This style of education gives students the freedom to fulfill their passionate desires. And since music is therapeutic for the soul, it feels necessary to maintain and explore in more depth. 

Also, in composing music, we are following God’s cultural mandate in Genesis, in which God orders us to find potential beauty out of his creation. As it applies to music, we find certain sounds, bring them together, and craft a beautiful tune. In the words of Dr. Van Rys, “Whether listening to or creating music, we are participating in this realm of expression that is truly a gift from God.”

Of course, financial barriers do need to be addressed, so if the music program has no way off the chopping block, we must accept this. But, nonetheless, at this stage, we can still promote the music program to keep it sustainable. For the music majors, enthusiasm goes a long way for sustaining the program’s existence. For non-music majors, we can show our support by attending the various musical ensembles, like choir or the upcoming jazz ensemble. 

As Grace Rajballie wrote in the Crown’s front page article in October of this year, many students overlook the fact that dropping the theatre and French programs is damaging towards the student’s academic life. Hopefully, the music remains, but if we ever lose this program, it is important to develop sympathy and awareness for those whose academic endeavors have been negatively impacted. 

The death of the music program would indeed feel tragic. But, given the various reasons laid out above, it seems unlikely that the program will be cut. Here, I am reminded of Friedrich Nietzsche’s quote: “Life without music would be an error.” Likewise, Redeemer’s education and campus life without music would certainly be an error.