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August 23, 2023

The Importance of Music at NSA

“People come and visit, and they’re just struck by the singing,” Dr. David Erb said about how students sing at New Saint Andrews College. Dr. Erb is a Fellow of Music at NSA and the director of the Conservatory of Music. He explained that the student body regularly sings in four-part harmony with soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. “It’s robust, and it’s beautiful, and that’s just the student body.” Dr. Erb noted that the music program at NSA is one of the features of the college that many people notice immediately. 

“People come and visit, and they’re just struck by the singing”

NSA places a strong emphasis on music and musical literacy. Students are required to take music for four terms in the first year. There are four elements to the music program: Music Theory, Aural Skills, Music History, and Vocal Technique. Music Theory teaches students how to write music out in a composition. Aural Skills class teaches students how to sight-read music without instrumental help. Music History teaches students about the history of music through the centuries. Vocal Technique teaches students how to sing skillfully.

Each of these elements of the program work to train students to be musically literate so they can thoughtfully interact with music. Dr. Erb said, “They can actually pick up a piece of music and sing it or understand to a certain level how it has been constructed and then have an ability to actually engage with it as music.”

Students don't need to have a musical background before joining NSA to succeed in their studies. Some students with little musical background have successfully completed the program. It is achievable, and there are numerous students who have done it. Dr. Erb said, “It’s doable. There are students who come not having known anything, and they’re getting As in music.” He also explained that the college has resources set up to help students who need extra support.

Dr. Erb compared the study of music in the Christian church to the story of Prince Caspian. He talked about when the four children, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, return to Narnia and they are at the castle at Cair Paravel. As the children explore the old ruins, they do not recognize the artifacts they find there. They are in this vast treasure house, and they start to recognize antiques: swords, shields, and other treasures. And they say to each other: Do you remember? At this point in the story, the creatures in Narnia believe that the old stories are just fictional legends and have forgotten their significance.

“In a way that wants to honor God more, wants to serve the community more, wants to help the Body to grow up more and more into the image of Jesus Christ into maturity.”

“I think that is how our church culture is, broadly speaking. We don’t know that the greatest treasures of music in the history of Western civilization, most of those are in the purview of the church,” Dr. Erb said. “We’ve got this huge, wealthy storehouse of great glorious music, but it’s all in a dusty museum.” NSA is working to recover those treasures of the past by shaping students musically. 

Dr. Erb talked about the value he sees in students going through the music program. He mentioned that he has heard from students who have graduated, and they will tell him that they have gone through a hard time or a tragedy and that God’s word in music comes to their minds. “It’s wonderful to hear how God’s word comes to them because it already dwells in them richly.” Dr. Erb said. “We’re supposed to pour God’s word into them so it will come out, and that’s a blessing of the music class at NSA.”

Dr. Erb also said the value of the music program is that it makes students sensitive to the power and impact of music on the culture. He spoke about music in our culture and how it is employed everywhere: in stores, in movies, and all over. 

“The Greeks thought strongly about music in the formation of the character of an individual and then, by extension, a society,” Dr. Erb said. “Plato says, to paraphrase, if the music of a culture is bad, goes to seed, the political foundations of that society will crumble.”

Dr. Erb then pointed to the music of our culture and talked about how the styles and melodies of popular music are weak, effeminate, and angry. He said our society is embodying that kind of music. “Anything goes. You can choose this, you can choose that. You can choose your identity, you can choose your gender. There’s no truth, there’s no goodness, there’s no beauty. Whatever you like, choose it.”

Dr. Erb summarized NSA’s music program by saying, “We are trying to equip students in whatever station of life they find themselves to be better equipped to interact with music and to be able to weigh in on it, in a more knowledgeable way.”

He said the goal is that a graduate will take his knowledge and skill and bless others: “In a way that wants to honor God more, wants to serve the community more, wants to help the Body to grow up more and more into the image of Jesus Christ into maturity.”