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Building the Worship Arts Program

Tuesday, March 12

Warsaw, Indiana, known as “The Orthopedic Capital of the World,” may not garner visions of a college on the cutting edge of modern worship. But nestled comfortably along the banks of the town’s beautiful Winona Lake is Grace College, a school that is just that. And though its worship program is still relatively young, it is already making a big impact.
Grace College boasts a long history of educating music pastors, but it had been years since it was a central focus. So a few years back, the school reached out to Minnesota-based worship pastor and educator Wally Brath about building a brand-new Worship Arts program, from the ground up. Brath was to craft a program with the tools and space necessary to prepare students for the rapidly advancing technology and methods of today’s modern worship industry.
With that goal in mind, Brath reached out to Sweetwater to help transform that passion and idea into a cutting-edge recording studio, a fully outfitted performance space, a high-tech MIDI lab and classroom, and more.
Brath was kind enough to invite Sweetwater to Grace College recently to see their success firsthand. While there, we discussed the genesis of the Worship Arts program, how Sweetwater continues to play a pivotal role, and where he sees the program going in the future.

How did the program evolve from a traditional college music program to the high-tech Worship Arts program you now have?

Back in the 1950s, Grace was focused on training pastors and missionaries. And then around three years ago, they started to reimagine what it would look like if they were to have a music program that was focused more on church ministry again and teaching people to serve the local church.
Our first class was in the fall of 2016. We began the first class in the fall of 2016 with 12 students. The following year we had 18 and this year (2019) we are working with 34 students.

What type of courses does the program offer?

The worship arts program is divided into different tracks for worship leaders, music directors, and music technology. We offer practical music courses such as music theory, applied lessons, ensembles, and recording classes. Other courses are focused on the theology of worship with courses like biblical theology of worship and history of Christian worship. Our goal is to train students to think like a theologian, labor like an artist, and shepherd like a pastor.
Sweetwater played a big role in outfitting the program. How did you come to work with us? When I got here, the head of the department had already begun that conversation and had [Sales Engineer] Michael Faz. They had a general plan of things they were going to need. But then we started thinking about a couple of years out. And we started thinking about the recording studio and the control room.

What goals did you have when you started working with Michael?

We wanted our MIDI lab to be a pretty versatile room. If you’re going to do an intro to recording class in there, you’re going to need to have Pro Tools on each machine and Ableton and some software synths. But we also wanted to teach music theory in there, so we got the Roland FP-30 digital pianos and the Roland GLC-1 conferencing system, where the teacher can talk to the students on their headphones. And it allows the teacher to listen to all the students play at once or listen to individual students. Michael was the one who suggested and laid all of that out for us.

What about the tracking/control room?

Before we even get into gear, Michael’s the one who got us in contact with Gavin Haverstick [Haverstick Designs] who designed the space. We knew that initially, we wanted to get a really good-sounding space and good, foundational gear that we can build upon. And I think we’ve got a good thing to build on now.
Then I wanted to give the students as much real-world experience as possible. So originally we were thinking, “What if we did a complete Pro Tools setup?” But Michael said, “Check out the Trident 88 [24 channels] and see what you think. It’s an awesome analog desk that has really beautiful preamps and EQ.” So we invested in that desk and made it our main thing. We have the best of both worlds that way. And he basically set it up so that we can add a lot of outboard gear if we want. The patching is all there and ready to go.
We also started with some great mics. We have two of the AKG C414s, a Royer R-121 ribbon mic, a couple of Shure KSM141 pencil mics, and a fantastic Neumann TLM 103 condenser. And those Focal [SM9] monitors sound great. They’re very accurate. The mixes that we’ve done on them translate everywhere really well. So those were the big things that were important.
Looks like you have some great instruments as well. Sweetwater again? We have four [Cordoba C3M] classical guitars, and I think we have three or four [Yamaha FGX800C] steel-string acoustics and a couple of Fender Precision basses. We also have a Nord [Stage 2 EX HP76] keyboard. And for amps, we have a Vox AC30 in there. We bought all of these instruments at Sweetwater.

What was something Michael was able to bring to your attention that maybe you hadn’t already thought of?

One definitely was going with that Dante network. That was really key. I was thinking, “OK, let’s build a recording studio.” But instead of building one recording studio, he was thinking about building something that can network to everything we do and grow with us.
It allows us to patch in anything that’s on the network to the control room. It’s almost limitless in terms of how you can expand it. And it also links with the live room. And if we get a Dante card over at our chapel services across campus, we can literally bring all of that audio over here and multitrack it.
You also have a sizable performance room. How do you utilize that space? We do a weekly master class. We call it Performance Lab. For instance, a guitar instructor might say, “In two weeks, I want you to perform this piece in Performance Lab.” And each student will perform around a couple of times per month. It gives them a chance to really get used to performing in front of other people. And we do a lot of rehearsals there, too.

What are you using for a PA in the performance room?

It’s the JBL CBT [70J-1] line-array system. We have two subs [EON618S], one for each side of the stage. But what’s interesting is that those line arrays are supposed to be for a permanent install. But we tweaked them and [use them as a portable system for our travel teams]. They’re amazing because they have a very low footprint, but man they crank! And they almost sound like a studio monitor. We also use the [Digital Audio Labs Livemix] in-ear systems and the Allen & Heath GLD-80 board.

What are some of your long-term goals for the Worship Arts program?

I’m always thinking, “How can we leverage the studio and what we have here?” The more things we can do with our space — it helps our students, while it is also a great recruiting tool. And one of our strategies is to do a songwriting competition and a competition on each of the instruments where the winners can come record in our studio. We’re also hoping to be able to give away some scholarships.

The program has been around for a few years now. You have to be close to seeing your first graduating class. What are some ways you’ve watched your students grow?

It’s been awesome. At the end of the second year, we went on tour. We took 38 students with us. We took a choir, a worship team, and a guitar ensemble. The concert was a display of the fruit of what the students have been working on. And it was awesome! We couldn’t have done that when they all started. The students are doing really well.
Grace College — Embracing the Future of Worship Education
By: Paul Kobylensky Photos: Chad Jenkins
This article was first published in Music Educators Technology Resource Directory, published by Sweetwater