A Means to Connect — Worship Arts Degree Takes a Whole New Meaning
Sarah Clemans has been singing ever since she can remember.
From a young age, her parents instilled in her a love for music. She looks back fondly at memories of her mom singing her “The Old Rugged Cross” as she fell asleep each night. And her father was always encouraging her to chase after her passions, telling her that she could be the best. “I remember watching American Idol with my dad, and he would always say, ‘You’re better than them. You could go on that show and win,’” Clemans laughed.
Throughout her schooling, Clemans was repeatedly told she had an amazing voice and was given many opportunities to compete and perform. One of her favorite opportunities was singing with four other strong female vocalists in her class in a women’s barbershop group which competed at the ISSMA (Indiana State School Music Association). “Singing has always been such a social thing for me,” said Clemans. “I love getting close with the people that I’m creating with,” she said.
One of the most pivotal points in her voice journey was when she started taking voice lessons. Clemans says the lessons took her vocals to the next level. “My voice lessons helped me grow and pointed out areas that I needed to explore. If you’re above average at anything, it’s hard to find people who will be honest with you and show you where you need to improve,” said Clemans.
Finding a Place at Grace
As college approached, it became clear that Clemans wanted to continue to grow in her musical abilities through a worship arts degree. In her junior year, Clemans and her high school boyfriend at the time, (now her husband), Oby Clemans, heard about Grace College from their Spanish teacher at Northwood High School in Wakarusa, Indiana.
At the time, the Worship Arts Program at Grace was brand-spanking-new. They were taking open auditions, so Clemans signed up. Little did she know, she was the very first student to try out for the worship arts degree. “I remember being so nervous and I was trying to be so professional,” she said.
After the audition, Clemans got to speak with Dr. Wally Brath, director of the Worship Arts Program. She was drawn to his clear objectives for the program and his dedication to teaching students so much more than simply how to sing or how to play an instrument. “Our goal in the worship arts program is to equip you to think like a theologian, labor like an artist, and shepherd like a pastor,” said Brath.
“That conversation is what drew me here,” Clemans explained. “The people involved are what make this program unique. And as I’ve continued on, the people in the program have definitely kept me here and stretched me,” she said.
Not long after she was offered a spot in the worship arts program, Clemans was invited to the Presidential Scholarship Competition where she landed a prominent scholarship award. Clemans knew God was directing her to Grace.
Laboring Like an Artist
Over her four years at Grace in the worship arts degree, Clemans has been pushed in new ways. She found out all too soon why Brath used the word “labor.”
The first year of the program focuses on music theory.
“It will test you,” said Clemens. “The impurities will come to the surface. This major is not just fun and games. It’s not just about standing in front of people for them to applaud you. You will have to put work into this.”
Now that she’s done with the program, she’s able to look back on her first year and say, “It was really stressful, but it was good.”
Clemans would be the first to say that the worship arts program is no walk in the park, but one thing is for certain: she graduated knowing what it means to labor like an artist.
Shepherding like a Pastor
The worship arts degree also taught Clemans how to shepherd like a pastor. Before returning to campus for her sophomore year, Clemans got a last-minute call from the chapel director at Grace, Brent Mencarelli. He went on to tell her that the chapel band leader had backed out of the position only two weeks before school started. He said that Brath recommended her to fill the role. It was just temporary until he could find someone to take it over.
Clemans took the position — and to her surprise — she served in this capacity for two years.
As the chapel band leader, Clemans learned the administrative side of music. Three days a week she led the entire campus in worship. On top of that, she organized practices for the chapel team members and served as the point person for facilitating the services.
All of these tasks and responsibilities taught her what it means to shepherd like a pastor.
Thinking Like a Theologian
Probably most importantly, the plan that Brath laid out endeavors to teach students in the worship arts degree is to think like theologians. It teaches them to integrate their faith with the craft of making music. It teaches them that worship is more than a song.
“For me, that has gone hand in hand with learning about church history, what the early church did, and what worship meant to them,” said Clemans.
“Over the past several years, singing has become something that is both sacred and secular. There is no longer a line. I thought the only way to bring God glory with my voice was directly singing about Him. But I’ve learned that the fact that we can sing, the fact that we have a voice, and the fact that we can use it to connect with other people means God is present in that process — whether spoken or not.”
Paving A Path Forward
Clemans’ senior year at Grace brought about a unique and unforeseen opportunity — singing and acting at the Amish Acres Round Barn Theatre in Nappanee, Indiana.
Her mom found out about the opportunity to perform at Amish Acres, but Clemans credits Professor Mike Yocum for connecting her with a master’s class that prepared her for her audition.
Clemans started performing last August and has been compensated for her appearances in “Into the Woods” as an evil stepsister and “Hunchback of Notre Dame” as a congregation member and narrator. When the shows are airing, Clemans performs in five shows every week, Thursday through Sunday.
Now that Clemans has graduated, she will continue to perform at the Round Barn while giving voice lessons full time through Music Encounters here in Warsaw.
Clemans looks back at the value of voice lessons in her own journey and cannot wait to provide the same structure and support as a music teacher to other developing vocalists.
“Voice is such a unique instrument. It’s part of your body. It’s part of who you are. So if you’re going to train yourself in voice, you have to learn yourself. There are a lot of psychological processes that have to take place in order for you to overcome the barriers in your mind. I love helping people do that,” she said.
From the very beginning, Clemans’ voice has been a means to connect — with her parents, her classmates, her professors, and with hundreds of strangers who fill the Round Barn Theatre on any given weekend. It is that connection with others that keeps her singing.
“The human voice is so important, and God intended it to be a means to bring us together,” said Clemans. “The way that voice evokes emotion and communicates story is such an important thing — such a human thing. I love connecting with people through that.”
Do you want a worship arts degree that trains you to think like a theologian, labor like an artist, and shepherd like a pastor?