Trumpeting Liberty’s new School of Music

By Drew Menard, January 11, 2013

There is a sweet, sweet sound ringing from Liberty Mountain, reverberating through the campus of Liberty University, and echoing across Central Virginia to the world. The source is the new Liberty University School of Music, which officially launched on Sept. 1, 2012.

Already more than 1,000 students strong, it is the nation’s seventh largest school of music.

“This new School of Music is a demonstration of Liberty’s commitment to Training Champions for Christ in all professional endeavors – business, law, communication, and the arts,” said Dr. Ron Godwin, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “Liberty is dedicated to being a teaching university, and the faculty and staff within the School of Music are committed to providing an exceptional educational experience to every student and equipping them for their career, whether in ministry or the secular work-force.”

Before the school was announced, Godwin cast his own vision to see it rise to become the largest and most respected music school in the world.

As Liberty’s campus undergoes a major transformation — including the state-of-the-art Jerry Falwell Library, a high-rise residence hall, and a new baseball stadium — plans to construct a new academic building for the School of Music are now under way. The building will be located directly across the courtyard from the Arthur S. DeMoss Learning Center. Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr., the Provost’s Office, and faculty from the School of Music are collaborating on this project, which will include a spectacular fine arts auditorium to serve both university and community needs.

The auditorium will have seating for up to 1,200 with the ability to reconfigure the layout to accommodate smaller audiences in a more intimate setting.

School of Music Associate Dean Dr. Lavon Gray, Dean Dr. Vernon Whaley, and Associate Dean Dr. John Kinchen III

School of Music Associate Dean Dr. Lavon Gray (left), Dean Dr. Vernon Whaley, and Associate Dean Dr. John Kinchen III

The School of Music has two distinct centers. The Center for Music and the Performing Arts (formerly Music and Humanities) focuses on training highly skilled musicians to serve as performers and educators in a variety of commercial and academic markets, both secular and ministerial. The Center for Music and Worship equips highly skilled musicians to serve as worship practitioners and Christian music industry specialists within the evangelical community.

“We are excited about what is happening here. The doors of opportunity are huge, and we are going to try to walk through every one,” said Dr. Vernon Whaley, dean of the School of Music. “I hope to lead this stunning team of faculty and student musicians to exciting levels of achievement and influence.”

Whaley joined Liberty in 2005 as director of the Center for Worship and chair of the Department of Worship Studies, which grew under his leadership from 89 students to more than 550 undergraduate students and almost 400 graduate students.

He holds a Master of Church Music and Doctor of Ministry from Luther Rice Seminary, an M.A. in Music Education from Middle Tennessee State University, and Doctor of Philosophy from Oklahoma University. Whaley has more than 40 years of experience as a music educator, worship leader in large churches, and as a professional orchestrator, arranger, and Christian music publisher.

Joining Whaley is a team of 32 full-time and 24 adjunct faculty members who represent a solid foundation of educational experience, including doctoral and post-graduate degrees from some of the world’s most prestigious university music programs. Dr. John Kinchen III serves as associate dean of the Center for Music and the Performing Arts, and Dr. Lavon Gray is the associate dean of the Center for Music and Worship.

Under Whaley’s direction, the School of Music will adopt a three-step plan for success and growth.

“First, we are committed to equipping students for ‘real-world’ jobs,” Whaley said. “All courses of study will be based on market need.”

The School of Music continues to expand its already robust degree program offerings to meet the demand, he said. Recently, a Master of Arts in Music and Worship was launched, and a new worship concentration in cinematic arts is planned.

The second step is to continue to bring in professional practitioners as guest lecturers. These include full-time pop and Christian artists; opera, jazz, country, and bluegrass professionals; producers of film and audio recordings; and songwriters, arrangers, worship pastors, orchestrators, music educators, and composers.

“This helps keep the educational experience fresh for the student and forces accountability on the School of Music,” Whaley said.

Finally, the new school will expand its vision to go global. Music teams, concert and gospel choirs, guitar and wind ensembles, artists, jazz groups, and praise bands from the School of Music will continue to travel all around the world to minister and perform.

In the past, Liberty has sent teams to Kazakhstan, Germany, France, Trinidad and Tobago, and India as skilled musicians and ambassadors of Jesus Christ.

“God has given us an opportunity to take the arts to the nations and use music as a means of proclaiming the Gospel,” Whaley said. “I want to see students from Liberty saturate the greater music community as skilled, professional, Holy Spirit-filled musicians. I want to see our musicians reclaim the arts for the kingdom of God.”

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