University of Mobile Center for Performing Arts
It's the Christian recording artist on the radio that reminds you of God's mercy as you drive to work each morning.
It's the music teacher that cultivates a love of music in the hearts of your children at school every day.
It's a worship leader that draws you to a time of authentic praise as you worship.
These are the leaders that are being developed through the University of Mobile's Center for Performing Arts.
For almost 50 years, musicians from the University of Mobile have been making an impact on the world. Eight years after establishing the Center for Performing Arts (CPA), the opportunities for students to perform and touch the lives of others across the country and around the world are greater than ever.
With approximately 300 students involved in the CPA, students from a variety of backgrounds and majors choose to participate in vocal, instrumental and musical theatre programs. A total of 22 musical ensembles, ranging from classical to contemporary, tour locally, regionally and throughout the United States and abroad. Touring locations for past years have included the White House in Washington, D.C., Carnegie Hall in New York City, Hawaii and Alaska. Groups have also traveled to places such as Germany, Russia, Jordan, Uruguay, Honduras, Europe and Israel. In addition to their regular class work, Center for Performing Arts students learn to juggle a demanding, yet rewarding, performance and travel schedule that, for many, is a dream come true.
“As a vocal performance major and member of the Voices of Mobile, I performed in many different venues, traveled to the Holy Land, sang at Carnegie Hall in New York City, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the White House, and worked with the Alaska and Hawaii Baptist Conventions,” said Jenna Goodwin, a recent graduate of the Center for Performing Arts. “I loved the variety of music styles available to study and the hundreds of performing opportunities. It truly was the college experience I dreamed of.”
Through the vision of University President Dr. Mark Foley, the Center for Performing Arts was established in 2003 under the direct leadership of Dr. Roger Breland, founder and director of the internationally-known contemporary Christian ensemble, TRUTH. Known for his unbridled success in leading leaders for 31 years in TRUTH, Breland continues to do so with the students at
“Leading leaders is one of the most challenging things you can do,” said Breland, UMobile’s executive director of the Center for Performing Arts and vice president for project development. “They need a lot of information and guidance and the opportunity to get involved creatively. They have good ideas and are wonderfully talented. Part of my job is to give them direction and help them develop what they do best.”
During his years with TRUTH, Breland raised up a generation of successful leaders in Christian music including Alicia, Kim Noblitt, Natalie Grant, Russ Lee, 4Him, Steven V. Taylor, Anthony Evans, and members of Avalon. These are just a few examples of his impact on the Christian music industry that earned him an induction into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and recognition as a 2010 Sinfinoa Award recipient.
Though his responsibilities require him to be involved in almost every aspect of the day-to-day operations, teaching, concert preparation, and travel, it is the direct interaction with students that is the favorite part of Breland’s day.
“It is such a joy to see these students succeed musically,” said Breland. “Seeing a freshman work hard, flourish and get a great job upon graduation is so rewarding. It is the students that inspire me come to work every day.”
Another key leader of the CPA faculty, Dr. Al Miller, dean and associate professor of music for the Center for Performing Arts, agrees with Breland.
“The most advantageous aspect of working in the CPA is the opportunity to invest in the lives of students who will ultimately affect those with whom they work,” agreed Miller. “Experiencing the musical and spiritual growth of students is extremely rewarding.”
This personal attention from faculty and staff is appreciated by students as well.
“In the Center for Performing Arts, I was more than just a name on the roll list,” said Goodwin. “The leaders knew me, prayed for me and encouraged me. Dr. Breland and Dr. Miller were more than directors; they were dads far from home.”
Both Breland and Miller believe that part of what makes UMobile’s Center for Performing Arts so successful is the breadth of knowledge and experience that is brought to the classroom by faculty. They have recruited talented instructors from all over the world whom Breland says “believe in the vision” of the university. And what they teach is not just techniques, but something much deeper.
“The CPA exists to ‘Change Lives to Change the World,’” said Miller. “While it is true that the CPA faculty desires to teach music, life lessons are the ultimate goal. Paul said, ‘Press on toward the goal.’ Our students must learn not to concentrate on praise or rejection, but to move toward the single goal of honoring Jesus in all walks of life. In this, they will find peace and joy in the midst of all circumstances.
“The CPA faculty and staff go far beyond teaching notes on a page.” he continued. “We are dedicated to teaching excellence in the area of presentation. CPA musicians must bridge the gap to the audience. The days of standing and singing or playing with lack of emotion are over. Singers and players must evoke the musical and emotional intent of the song.” Breland added, “I want our students to be believable as leaders. It is not just music for music’s sake. I want the people they lead to look at them confidently and believe what they say and what they sing. They need to be communicators, using music as a tool to communicate the greatest message of all -- the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Faculty members stay abreast of trends in the industry. They instruct their students not only in how to be relevant in changing times, but also in the fundamentals that have held true throughout history. One such area would be their appearance.
“I believe most people listen with their eyes,” Breland said. “If you are well groomed, the audience will be open to what you have to share. Not only do you want people to enjoy what you sing – but to believe what you sing. Then you become a communicator. I learned in my years on the road with TRUTH that I was not in the music business, but in the communication business.”
Breland is convinced that in most churches today, the congregation is representative of every aspect of society. He teaches students to take full advantage of the “one opportunity” they have to communicate with all those attending.
“The guy on the third row is such a person,” Breland states. “On the road we always talked about the guy on the third row that didn’t want to come to church that Sunday. Maybe his family brought him. What are we going to do to reach that guy on the third row?”
One of the fastest growing programs in the CPA is Worship Leadership, led by Dr. Pete Sanchez, author of the internationally recognized praise and worship song ”I Exalt Thee” and worship leader for Integrity Music’s Hosanna! music project. Students benefit from a solid classical foundation while learning each facet of leading worship from experts in the field. Through this program, students have the opportunity to study under worship leaders such as Paul Baloche, Marty Nystrom, Don Moen, and many others. Sanchez’s background as a youth minister, music director, worship leader, associate and senior pastor, and years with recording industry giant, Integrity Music, give him the real-world experience to bridge traditional and contemporary music and prepare students for tomorrow’s emerging forms of worship. His personal mission statement, “to influence the few who influence the many,” refers to how his students can carry what they have learned into the nation’s churches so that a new generation can learn the true meaning of worship.
“Biblical worship is more than a particular style of music,” explained Sanchez. “At its heart, worship is love expressed – a response to God’s grace that renews or brings people to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.” Sanchez wants his students to understand the difference between music and worship.
“Music is that wonderful tool that gives voice to the worship of the church,” he said. “But true worship has only one object throughout Scripture – the triune God – a revelation that results in a transformed life.”
As part of the Worship Leadership program, Sanchez directs Impact, a mixed vocal ensemble and band that performs contemporary praise and worship music on church stages across America.
One of the benefits of UMobile that students like most is the many opportunities they have to perform on stage. CPA faculty make sure students gain ample platform experience before they graduate in order to “become more valuable” following graduation. This experience and the established reputation of UMobile’s CPA in the music industry and in churches throughout the country give graduates a notable advantage.
“Sometimes it feels like I am running a placement office,” joked Breland. “Every week there are countless new opportunities for
CPA graduates become musical entrepreneurs or go on to work in a variety of areas such as music business, education, performance, acting, ministry, media and worship leadership. Graduates such as Erin Bethea, lead actress from the movie
“Fireproof,” and Chris Lockwood from the Dove award-winning group 33 Miles are just a few examples of the success of CPA students.
A major opportunity for platform experience is the annual Christmas Spectacular. This musical extravaganza kicks off the Christmas season with more than 250 University of Mobile musicians and soloists performing seasonal music to standing-room-only crowds. Looking back, Breland’s favorite memory of the CPA is the very first Christmas Spectacular event.
“Not knowing what to expect, I remember roping off sections of seating because we thought we may have 500 to 700 people attend,” Breland reminisced. “What a wonderful surprise when we had over 2,000 people there. That was a great moment.”
The 2010 Christmas Spectacular marked the 8th year for the popular event and the first year that performances were expanded to a third night. Approximately 7,000 people attended the 2010 event. Performances for the Spring 2011 semester include concerts from the Symphonic Winds Ensemble, Jazz Band, Honor Band, Symphony Orchestra, Piano Ensemble, Opera, musical theatre productions, the annual Saviour presentation (a modern oratorio), and the CPA Spring Finale Concert.
At the end of this semester, UMobile’s Center for Performing Arts will have performed approximately 250 concerts this year. While the center continues to mentor highly skilled young men and women to become worship leaders, ministers of music, teachers, performers, media professionals, and more, the main focus remains constant – to train the next generation of students to be leaders who will make an impact on the world.
“We want these students to be more than just musicians,” said Breland. “We want them to be Godly people with a heart for others. The difference between good and great is usually not talent – but hard work. No one works any harder than we do in the University of Mobile Center for Performing Arts.”