MOBILE, Ala. (BP)–The University of Mobile has launched a campus-based center that its president hopes will become the preferred provider of Christian musicians for evangelical churches.
Dubbed the “UM Center for Performing Arts,” it will be directed by Roger Breland, a member of the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and internationally known founder of the contemporary Christian group TRUTH. Breland’s experience in the contemporary Christian music field and his contacts within the music industry and in evangelical churches throughout the world will be key in expanding the focus of the university’s music program, UM president Mark Foley said.
The broader focus means that while the university will continue to provide the foundations in music education ranging from classical to jazz to opera, there will be a new emphasis on contemporary Christian options.
“It’s a reflection of the strength of our current program that many of our students and graduates have found success in the contemporary Christian music industry,” Foley said.
Contemporary Christian group Big Daddy Weave began its act on the campus; Dove Award-winner choral composer Steven V. Taylor is a university graduate, as is Jamie Harvill, who composed the popular anthems “Ancient of Days” and “Firm Foundation.” Beverly Williamson Darnall, who produced Amy Grant’s concert tours, attended the university.
“We have graduates leading music programs in churches, teaching music in both secular and sacred venues, and performing and writing Christian music,” Foley said. “With Roger Breland’s leadership, we will see more high-profile contemporary Christian groups like Big Daddy Weave, more composers, more worship leaders, more music teachers — all with the solid musical training to enable them to be successful in whatever venue they choose to share their talents,” Foley said.
Breland pointed to the school’s recent “StarLight” outdoor music festival as an example of the types of changes in store through the Center for Performing Arts. The event brought an audience of over 3,300 to campus and featured UM student music groups with headliners Ricky Skaggs, Christian recording artist Alicia and former university student Jason Guy of CBS’ Big Brother 3 reality television show.
“We’re emphasizing performance, and we’re giving our students a platform to perform,” Breland said. “For students, that means they are putting their classroom lessons to practice. The more opportunities they have to sing, to play and to perform, the more confident and prepared they will be.”
Foley said the university currently is searching for a senior academic fellow who will assist Breland and provide academic leadership in the program. Current faculty members will broaden their teaching focus to include contemporary Christian music. Faculty will be added as the program grows.
The Center for Performing Arts includes the areas of instrument and vocal performance, theatre, music theatre, music education and church music. It will coordinate with UM’s one-year-old bachelor’s degree in worship leadership, offered in conjunction with Integrity Worship Institute.
Breland said new courses will be developed, including a music business course that will be offered through the School of Business for the first time during the spring semester of 2004. In addition, he will bring in guest lecturers with expertise in all areas of music.
“We’ll expose students to professionals in both the sacred and secular music industry in the areas of performance, business, production and other roles,” Breland said.
Students interested in enrolling this fall in UM’s Center for Performing Arts should contact the Office of Admissions at (251) 442-2273 or 800-946-7267 or visit the website at www.umobile.edu.
Breland joined the University of Mobile in November 2002 as special assistant to the president and artist in residence and was charged with helping UM create a broader exposure for its music program. His first project was “StarLight at the University of Mobile.”
Breland was founder and director of TRUTH until he retired and the group disbanded in June 2002. For 31 years, TRUTH traveled 3 million miles, performed 10,000 concerts in 26 countries, made 60 albums, and involved 400 musical artists, many of whom are now popular Christian recording artists. Some former TRUTH singers are 4Him, Natalie Grant, Alicia, Avalon, Russ Lee, Kim Noblitt and Chuck Newman. Two university employees also sang in TRUTH: Mike Thomas, current director of UM’s VISION touring group; and Shane Philen, UM’s current jazz band director.
In October 2000, the Gospel Music Association inducted Breland into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. In 1997, he received the MUSICalifornia Ray DeVries Church Music Ministry Award.
Breland is an Alabama Baptist and a native of Mobile. Prior to starting TRUTH with his wife Linda in 1971, Breland served in Alabama Baptist churches in Elba, Union Springs, Opp and at Spring Hill Baptist Church in Mobile.
With reporting by Kathy Dean. (BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: ROGER BRELAND.