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'God is interested in excellence'

Music | With the church having largely forgotten the biblical doctrine of vocation, talented Christian musicians are finding support and fellowship elsewhere

Issue: "Berger can't keep a secret," July 31, 2004

WINONA LAKE, Ind. -- When American Christians try to engage the culture, they tend to embrace the pop culture: bringing rock 'n' roll music into the church; starting TV ministries; launching "entertainment evangelism." While quite at home in this shallow, content-indifferent, commercialized approach to culture, American Christians tend to be oblivious to - or even hostile toward - engagement with the "high culture."

But though some speak of "the art world," "the literary world," and "the academic world" as separate worlds, these networks of highly talented and accomplished people, for better or worse, influence and shape the entire culture through their intellectual and artistic creations.

Some devout Christians carry out their callings in these circles, witnessing to their colleagues, winning converts, exerting a positive influence through their talents and exercising their gifts for the glory of God and service to their neighbors.

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They are often beleaguered, though, from two different sides. Despite how Christianity has shaped Western civilization, the realm of the arts and sciences today tends to be indifferent to or hostile toward the Christian faith. Christians in these fields feel isolated. And yet, despite the importance of their calling, they also tend to feel isolated in their churches, which often devalue their gifts and do not know how to give them the spiritual support they desperately need.

The Christian Performing Arts Fellowship (CPAF), a group of professional musicians scattered throughout the world's orchestras and ensembles, is among the ministries that work to overcome both kinds of isolation. The group has started MasterWorks, a program designed to help young musicians grow in their art and in their faith and to help them realize that the two can go together, hand in hand.

Patrick Kavanaugh - composer, conductor, and author of The Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers - founded CPAF in 1984, along with his wife, Barbara, and some fellow musicians.

Local CPAF chapters hold Bible studies for orchestra members, drawing in non-Christian colleagues with bulletin board invitations to studies of issues artists struggle with (e.g., "What does the Bible say about stage fright?"). CPAF members have put together "evangelistic concerts" for the public, performing in Washington, D.C., Russia, and the Middle East for both Jewish and Muslim audiences.

These Christian musicians began to see the importance of building up the next generation of Christian artists. So in 1997, CPAF started MasterWorks, a four-week music festival designed to give young musicians intensive, high-level training in their craft and in their Christian callings.

Students from high schools, colleges, and conservatories must pass rigorous auditions. Those selected study with CPAF faculty and guest instructors, all of whom are committed Christians who have found success in their fields. These include some big names: Stephen Clapp, the dean of Juilliard; Midori, the virtuoso violinist; Jahja Ling, the international conductor; Christopher Parkening, the classical guitarist; and other performers from America's greatest orchestras and artistic companies.

MasterWorks students take lessons on their instruments from these masters; they play in orchestras and chamber ensembles; they put on operas; and they study the Bible.

During its first years, MasterWorks was held at Houghton College in upstate New York, but for the last three years, it has found a home at Winona Lake, Ind., site of the old Billy Sunday "Christian Chautauqua" cultural programs. Local businessmen working to revive the community's cultural heritage invited CPAF and the festival to come to Winona Lake, where Grace College contributes the facilities and members of the local community crowd into the concerts.

This year, 185 students studied at MasterWorks, taught by 70 faculty. Another MasterWorks Festival, which has been attracting more and more international students, will be held later this summer in London.

According to Mr. Kavanaugh, the head of CPAF who is also executive director of MasterWorks, the high-powered faculty love to come to MasterWorks, even though they do not earn even a fraction of what they normally receive, for the same reason students keep coming (and returning) year after year. They both crave the opportunity to relate their music and their faith. In their musical lives, they are with people who love music but do not love the Lord. In their churches, they are with people who love the Lord but do not love music. Here, both faculty and students find kindred spirits who love both music and the Lord.

While CPAF is careful not to become a substitute for the local church, it does offer the fellowship and mutual consolation that many local churches, having forgotten the doctrine of vocation, do not. "Over and over again," Mr. Kavanaugh said, when a musician comes to Christ through the efforts of CPAF, "within months, her pastor will take her aside and tell her that now that she has become a Christian, she needs to leave the opera and go into Christian music."

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