By Kristina Webb
Palm Beach Atlantic University’s School of Music and Fine Arts has given its church music major a fresh make-over to keep up with modern worship.
Unlike church music, the new worship leadership major gives students the opportunity to learn about worship in a contemporary setting.
Roget Pontbriand is the founding director of popular music at PBA, and designer of the new program.
“Education has to change with the times,” Pontbriand said. “You can’t really teach antiquated practices. You can do that in a classical music program, but you can’t do that with worship. It’s a living, breathing situation.”
Dr. Lloyd Mims, dean of the School of Music and Fine Arts, said the worship leadership program was the logical step in keeping pace with an evolving industry.
“It (church music) was a degree that was designed for the more traditional church that was not contemporary in nature,” Mims said. “We had no students in the program for about four years, so we took that as a sign.”
Pontbriand has 26 years of worship ministry experience, including stints at Christ Fellowship, First Presbyterian of North Palm Beach, New Community Church of Wellington and Central Baptist of Jupiter.
He also worked for many years with Trinity Broadcasting Network, and was composer in residence for Robert Van Kampen Ministries.
The worship leadership program is one of two tracks in popular music studies; the other focuses on industry development for singer-songwriters, composers, arrangers and instrumentalists.
In both programs, Pontbriand said an emphasis is made on developing existing talents and expanding experience.
“There’s technology that exists in the church today that didn’t exist 20 years ago,” Pontbriand said, citing the use of Powerpoint slides as an example.
Students who choose the worship leadership track study lighting systems, sound equipment and digital audio recording processes. This, according to Pontbriand, is key for modern worship leaders.
“A good, creative music department can do a lot to increase the visibility of a church nationally and internationally,” Pontbriand said.
During the audition process, Pontbriand looks at students’ musical knowledge and ability to perform, but that’s not the only important factor in his decision.
“What we’re really looking for is people who have a heart for ministry and ministering to other people,” Pontbriand said.
Worship leadership majors take classes such as contemporary worship organization and church music administration.
“We took the ministry courses we offered and repackaged them into how to lead a praise team, how to organize a praise band, how to find contemporary music selections,” Mims said.
About ten students are currently enrolled as worship leadership majors.
“The program needs more people interested in instrumentation,” Pontbriand said. He has built relationships with local high schools and churches, hoping to recruit and “populate the program.”
“It is important to study worship music from a contemporary viewpoint,” said PBA junior Deanne Cartozian. “Worship leaders need to be able to lead worship in a way that is common to the church body.”
Cartozian is one of the first students to sign up for the new major.
“In order to most effectively communicate and minister through music, worship leaders have to speak the language of the people, and that type of language for worship music today is contemporary,” she said.
“There really is a great balance of music classes and ministry classes,” Cartozian said.
In addition to music programs, Mims’ department also includes art. He said other changes have been made to keep up with modern demands in that industry.
“The industry has gone away from film photography into digital photography,” Mims said about the removal of the school’s darkroom.
“We have followed the industry in doing away with any film photography courses we might offer.”
Digital photography is offered through the School of Communication and Media. Courses in digital graphics and Photoshop are substitutes for advanced photography.
However, Mims said, if the demand is there, a class could be developed.
“If students request courses with sufficient reasoning we will offer them,” he said.