Europe's first Christian Pop Academy will launch its program in September 2016. Whether rock, gospel, pop or jazz, the Evangelical Church of Westphalia wants to train church musicians to make great music.
It's not as if Bach and Pachelbel or choral works by Rilling were about to be disappear from church services in Germany. But over the past few decades, contemporary worship songs have increasingly given them a run for their money. By establishing its own Pop Academy, the Evangelical Church in Westphalia wants to go one step further in strengthening this trend.
Since the 1960s, a number of Protestant musicians have been writing and recording songs about their faith inspired by current musical styles - and many of these Christian bands, choirs and soloists are on par with any other secular popstar.
"The Evangelical Church speaks many musical languages," Vicco von Bülow told DW. The regional church counselor is responsible for the Westphalian churches' music department.
He explains that churches are increasingly in need of better promotion for new music. This is reflected for instance in the qualifications listed in job advertisements for church musicians. The church has not been offering any proper training for popular music, but this is about to change as of September 2016, said von Bülow.
Quality improvement strategy
About 10 students per semester will be admitted to the program. After eight semesters, they can obtain a bachelor's degree and become professional Christian pop musicians. A master's program is also being planned, which could be set in Bochum or Dortmund.
The initiators refer to the project as a "quality offensive," with the contributors specially chosen to this effect. The prorector of the academy is Hartmut Neumann, who was previously the director of the department of popular music of the North Church in Hamburg.
Another major asset of the pop academy is Dieter Falk. He is one of the most successful musicians and producers in Germany's secular and Christian music scenes. He is responsible for over 50 platinum and gold records, totaling over 20 million albums sold. The future professor of the Pop Academy is among the committed initiators of the project.
A full program awaits the future students: "There will be a broad range of pop music classes with majors in piano and guitar. Then there's also choral conducting, musical arrangement, theory on the theological and liturgical progression of a church service, songwriting, sound, and concert management," Dieter Falk told DW.
The musicians will also need to know how to lead a band of young musicians. "For instance, for a confirmation, some might want to learn a Rihanna song for their school's religious service," explains Falk.
Classical choirs are still predominant in most congregations, so the music students will learn to accompany them in a fresh way - "to make them groovy," adds Falk.
Not just for aspiring professionals
The Pop Academy will not only offer a program for bachelor students. The plan is also to integrate all those who want to use music in their church and volunteer work as well. "We want to give the opportunity to teachers in Evangelical kindergartens or community educators to grab a guitar and sing with the children. We will offer training that will be open to anyone who is interested," says Vicco von Bülow. Existing music classes will be integrated in the new academy.
Exceptional songwriters wanted
If everything goes according to the plans of the Westphalian Church, there will be more high-quality contemporary music in Christian communities. But that's only one aspect. What about good, comprehensible spiritual lyrics?
"We hope to attract people who have the skills to write Christian songs to gospel, rock, pop and jazz music," says Vicco von Bülow. The Pop Academy will not offer a specific study program for songwriting - cooperation partners still need to be found for that. Yet von Bülow knows that "good church musicians always find good songwriters."
Dieter Falk is also confident that they will find exceptional songwriters for their educational program in the near future. After all, he says, Germany currently has an amazing pool of talent.