Academics

In Tune with the Mission, 50 years of music ministry at Liberty

By Jacob Couch, November 15, 2021

Because of a strong belief in a magnificent vision cast before them in the school’s early years, Liberty University music faculty willingly worked out of small storage closets while their students rehearsed in an old building on a dairy farm where Williams Stadium now stands.

In the 1970s, members of the Lynchburg Baptist College Chorale Road Team took a year off from school to tour for 11 months and help raise money for their young institution, inspired by that same vision.

Liberty founder Jerry Falwell Sr. often declared that music and athletics were two universal languages for young people and therefore a major part of building a world-class educational institution. Now, almost 50 years since its founding, his larger-than-life vision has come to fruition with a state-of-the-art Center for Music and the Worship Arts, thriving traveling ministry teams, and a robust network of industry partnerships that offer students a wide variety of internship and professional opportunities.

Liberty Baptist College Chorale, 1977

Along with a 1,600-seat concert hall, 50 practice rooms, and 43 teaching studios where students can hone their crafts, the students who call the music building their home have also become something that Falwell would be proud of.

“Dr. Falwell would not be surprised by what the realm of music at Liberty has turned into,” Department of Music Theory and History Chair Dr. John Hugo said. “If he was still alive today, he would have said, ‘I told you.’”

“(Falwell) was that bigger-than-life leader that you may experience just once in your lifetime,” added School of Music Director of Ministry Teams Scott Bullman. “He could cast a vision, he could motivate, he could inspire — just in one speech. He really became a champion for the music program. He would do that from the platform, and he would do that one-on-one with professors and leaders.”

Falwell backed up his beliefs by hiring the late David Randlett in 1973 to head up the school’s music education department.

Randlett helped Falwell in launching the LBC Concert Choir and the LBC Chorale, singing groups that performed at Thomas Road Baptist Church (TRBC). The Concert Choir often led worship on Sundays at TRBC and occasionally at events on campus or out in the community during the week.

“One of the points of emphasis for the entire school was to have an action-oriented curriculum,” Randlett’s son and Liberty graduate Paul Randlett (’93, ’09) said. “When students came to Lynchburg Baptist College, TRBC was kind of the incubator or the training ground where students would have opportunities to minister.”

The first traveling music groups were also the first storytellers for the new college, spreading the message of Falwell’s vision for Liberty while ministering through music.

The Chorale predominantly traveled with Falwell to speaking engagements across the country. They helped Falwell lead his “I Love America” rallies at several state capitols throughout the 1970s.

Out of the Concert Choir, Falwell and David Randlett created a traveling group, the Enpsalms, which became the Sounds of Liberty traveling ministry team in 1975. 

In 1978, the late music professor Kim Renas founded the Chamber Choir, a group of 30 members comprised of the school’s finest voices who led the student body during their Wednesday night worship services at TRBC and traveled to sing at various churches along the East Coast during fall and spring breaks.

In the late 1980s, the Sounds of Liberty became the group that traveled with Falwell consistently until he established the LBN Singers (standing for Liberty Broadcast Network) in the 1990s. That group took on more of those touring opportunities, allowing the Sounds of Liberty to become a greater presence on campus while still traveling on weekends.

YouthQuest, 1987

By the mid-1990s, the Sounds of Liberty, YouthQuest, and The Light Singers — directed by then-Dean of Student Affairs Vernon Brewer (Liberty’s first graduate and founder of World Help) — were the three traveling ministry teams that the university commissioned. 

“There always seemed to be a new group popping up,” Hugo said. “Some would come and go, but the Sounds of Liberty and YouthQuest were really the two that seemed to last the longest.”

Through their travel with Falwell, the music teams were blessed beyond measure.

“He was certainly an inspiration to them,” Hugo said. “He was like a father to them, and he loved them like they were his own children.”

Throughout the 2000s, Liberty’s Campus Band became the primary team to lead campus services. In addition to Convocation, the band also led worship for Campus Church services on Sunday mornings in the Vines Center and on Wednesday nights in the TRBC sanctuary. 

Multiple ministry teams traveled across the country during the 2000s and the 2010s. From the all-male group Crimson Flood to the all-female Awaken and modern worship bands Exodus and Seventy-One, students shared different styles of music but the same Gospel message.

LBC Orchestra, 1983

Since Falwell’s passing in 2007, Liberty has continued to prioritize his vision through the Worship Collective, formed in 2014. This large, diverse group of singers, songwriters, and musicians often leads worship at Convocation, and members are dispatched to serve at churches and events across the nation. 

Worship Collective, 2019

The Sounds of Liberty still exists as a branch of the Collective, and under the John W. Rawlings School of Divinity, YouthQuest continues to spread the Gospel by partnering with area churches to put on weekend conferences.

Falwell’s passion for excellence in every area of life is continuing to be honored by Liberty’s Spirit of the Mountain Marching Band.

Professor of Music and Director of Bands Dr. Stephen Kerr (’82), a member of Liberty’s first marching band, which was directed by Raymond Locy in 1977, said it is incredible to look back and realize how far the band has come since its first year.

“The band came along little by little, but that first year we only had 48 students,” he said. “We practiced at Thomas Road Baptist Church in the lower parking lot, and we found a spot that was mostly devoid of other things, except that it had a telephone pole in the middle.”

Crimson Flood, 2008

They didn’t even have uniforms in that first year, but now the band is an exciting company of brass, woodwind, and percussion instrumentalists, accented and accompanied by a full color guard. 

The Spirit of the Mountain has appeared in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, at the New York Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands for 80,000 spectators, and at colleges and universities throughout the eastern United States.

“I love thinking about Dr. Falwell’s vision and the key role both athletics and music would play,” Liberty School of Music Dean Dr. Stephen Müller said. “We are living in the blessing of his vision and faith.”

Through God’s faithfulness and one man’s willingness to pursue a calling the Lord had placed on his heart, Liberty’s music teams are still shining brightly — and melodiously — for Christ..

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