Louisville seminary merges music school

LOUISVILLE — The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary is folding its decades-old music school into another school because of the sluggish economy and waning popularity with students.

The seminary's School of Church Music and Worship has trained thousands of choir directors, organists and other church worship leaders for 65 years. But it will no longer be a free-standing school.

Seminary president Albert Mohler said the recession forced a sooner merger of the school after the seminary laid off 35 non-faculty workers earlier this year.

But Mohler said the trend of churches moving to guitars and praise choruses has eroded the school's entrants over several years.

The music school's enrollment of 167 students is down from a peak 20 years ago of 539.

"What we've been looking at is a major sea change in music in the larger culture, music in our churches and the role of our seminary in meeting those needs," Mohler told The Courier-Journal.

The school is moving into the new School of Church Ministries, so it can be combined with the School of Leadership and Church Ministry, which has taught future education ministers, youth leaders and other specialized ministries.

The seminary will continue to offer some music degrees, but it plans to cut music faculty from eight to four through attrition.

Former music school dean Lloyd Mims, who led Southern's music school from 1993 to 2000, lamented the end of the school's free-standing status.

"It provided top-flight preparation for church music leaders all across the Southern Baptist Convention, and that was its mission, and it fulfilled its mission almost perfectly," said Mims, now dean of the School of Music and Fine Arts at Palm Beach University in Florida.

The National Congregations Study, conducted by a consortium of universities and research organizations, found fewer churches using choirs or written orders of worship between 1998 and 2006, and higher percentages using drums, shouting, dancing, raising hands and saying "Amen."

The music school offers two doctorates and five master's degrees with various emphases in music and worship.