Faculty Spotlight: Jen Edwards

Faculty Spotlight: Jen Edwards

By Jay Nickel
11/15/2021 6:00:00 PM

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WHAT DO YOU FIND MOST REWARDING ABOUT TEACHING WORSHIP ARTS?

I find it rewarding to teach in an academic discipline that allows me to create alongside students. In every class and every rehearsal, we are making beautiful things — discussions, prayers, songs, questions — and something new always transpires because of the unique people in the room. Creativity and curiosity make for such holy spaces. It’s rewarding to share those spaces with students.

 

HOW DO YOU CONTINUE TO EFFECTIVELY TEACH AN ART THAT RELIES ON VOCIAL PARTICIPATION WITH BARRIERS SUCH AS FACE MASKS AND SOCIAL DISTANCING?

It was actually pretty amazing to watch students and faculty adapt. It’s amazing what you’ll do when you love something. We all learned to sing with masks on, and we did a lot of singing outside. We also leaned into technology and chose to learn more about aspects of worship that don’t involve singing – recording, songwriting, arranging, multi-tracks. We never stopped learning; it just changed shapes.

 

AS DEPARTMENT CHAIR FOR MUSIC AND THEATRE, WHAT EXCITING NEW PLANS ARE THERE FOR THE DEPARTMENT’S FUTURE?

As a department, we embrace the unique opportunities that come with being a part of a small, Christian, liberal arts university. In our setting, our majors can explore several aspects of music and theatre instead of choosing just one. So, we are excited about opportunities to combine composition with theatre and jazz band with commercial voice. We are also excited about our integrated music studies major that is designed to combine music with any other academic discipline. Also, our recently expanded theatre and music theatre courses allow students to experience all of the facets of theatre. It’s exciting that all of these opportunities and experiences are open to non-majors as well, creating a very eclectic and unique community of artists.

 

WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO PURSUE A CAREER IN EDUCATING STUDENTS IN MUSIC?

I’m not sure I remember ever deciding this. ;). But I care a lot about excellent music in the church and about the intersections of art and people and theology. I also enjoy communicating to groups of people, and, in many ways, teaching has become my “performance art.”

 

DO YOU SEE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WORSHIPPING WITH LIVE MUSIC AS A COMMUNITY COMPARED TO THE PREVIOUS YEAR’S SMALLER CHAPEL GROUPS?

Definitely — both can be valuable, and both are certainly worship. However, there is something almost creedal about corporate worship. It’s this beautiful moment where a bunch of people decide to show up to the same place and practice the rhythms of faith together. Corporate singing has this mysterious ability to remind individuals that they aren’t alone in the journey. If one person is tired and doesn’t feel like singing, in a way, their neighbor sings for them in corporate worship. Having to social distance and not hear our neighbors singing — reminding us of what and why we believe — was hard on a community that is used to having those reminders and encouragements regularly.

 

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO SEE STUDENTS IN YOUR DEPARTMENT BECOME SUCCESSFUL IN THEIR RESPECTIVE FIELDS?

It’s always incredible to see others recognize the greatness you see in your students. It evokes a sense of pride in me and serves as a big source of encouragement to continue the work.

 

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE EVENT IN THE MUSIC AND THEATRE DEPARTMENT THAT JBU HAS PRESENTED AND WHY?

I am far too much of a diplomat to answer this question. ;). Having said that, the annual Candlelight services will always have a special place in my heart because I love the Advent season and have such great memories of participating in that service as a student.

 

YOU RECEIVED YOUR MASTER OF ARTS FROM DENVER SEMINARY (AND JUST RECENTLY COMPLETED HER DOCTORATE IN HIGHER EDUCATION). WHAT PATHWAYS HAS THE MASTER OF ARTS OPENED FOR YOU?

I think this degree developed competencies in me concerning church history, theological frameworks and leadership skills. Combining these competencies with my undergrad in music uniquely equips me to teach in Worship arts. In a lot of ways, it’s the best of both worlds – sometimes I lean into my pastoral/theological training and sometimes I lean into my musical training.

 

WHAT WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT INFLUENCES BEHIND BRINGING YOU BACK TO JBU AS A FACULTY MEMBER?

In a lot of ways, research supports the notion that the undergraduate years are where you really grow up or are formed. This was certainly true for me. Because of this, returning to the place that poured into me, in a role where I could then pour into others, seemed like an incredible opportunity. I was young and inexperienced, but in a lot of ways I knew I could “grow up” even more here if I returned. As a faculty member, I still trust JBU to continue to form me.

 

DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR STUDENTS WANTING TO PURSUE A CAREER IN MUSIC OR THEATRE?

If you love it, you should do it. There are so many discussions right now about returns on investment and being practical. But I really can’t think of anything more impractical that getting a degree in something you don’t love and believe in. If you can’t wait to get to the choir, if the stage is where you feel at home, if your most true self is most present when you’re performing or writing, just say yes. You’ll be glad you did.

 

HOW HAS THE MUSIC AND THEATRE DEPARTMENT CHANGED SINCE YOUR TIME AS A STUDENT AT JBU?

Technology is an easy answer: new software, more efficient tools, new facilities. But I would also say the department has grown significantly in the variety of experiences offered to students and in our collaboration with other departments on campus. Putting students in every part of the stage production process, encouraging students to explore various commercial voice genres or new concerts that feature student compositions are examples of expanded opportunities. Offering work-study positions in graphic design, construction, audio and visual technology, textiles and management allows us to connect with several other departments on campus and offers unique application environments to reinforce their major program.

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