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The 2005 Festival of Faith & Music
March 10, 2005

Every other year the Festival of Faith & Writing brings a couple of thousand people from around the world to the Calvin College campus for three days of lectures, workshops, seminars and more on the topics of faith and literature. Since its inception in 1990 (when there were 11 speakers and 120 registrants) the Festival has become a center for conversations on the intersections of writing and faith.

Now the college's Festival of Faith & Music hopes to do the same thing for anyone interested in exploring the role of Christianity in popular music, and vice versa. The first such Festival was held in 2003. The second is slated to take place on Calvin's campus in three weeks - on April 1 and 2.

Like the inaugural conference, FFM 2005 will offer a unique fusion of artists, audiences and academics, all of whom, says Dr. Chris Smit, Calvin communications professor and festival participant, "find promise and light in popular music."

He adds: "The festival aims to get like-minded artists talking to one another, and their audiences, by providing a forum for dialogue, collaboration and empathy among Christians working in the mainstream music world."

This year's events include live performances by some of the leading names in folk, rock and independent music, such as Sufjan Stevens and Bill Mallonee; workshops led by musicians, critics, scholars, and producers from across the country, including Pedro the Lion's David Bazan and the founders of Paste magazine; and keynote lectures by David Dark, author of Everyday Apocalypse: The Sacred Revealed in Radiohead, The Simpsons, and Other Pop Culture Icons.

The Festival of Faith & Music builds from the work of the Student Activities office at Calvin which, for a decade now, has tried to bring thoughtful musicians to the Calvin campus for the benefit of not just students, faculty and staff, but also people in West Michigan and beyond.

Startling to some is that musicians need not be Christian to play at the Christian college.

"We want Calvin students to interact with the best and the brightest artists of a wide array of genres," says Ken Heffner, the director of the Student Activities office at Calvin. "Those artists include contemporary Christian musicians such as Caedmon's Call, Jars of Clay and Shaun Groves. Also, Christians who are not a part of the CCM movement, such as Bruce Cockburn, T-Bone Burnett, Over the Rhine, and Rosie Thomas, play here. Finally, the SAO series includes artists who would not call themselves Christians, such as Dave Matthews, Jimmy Eat World, Death Cab for Cutie, and Blackalicious's Gift of Gab.

"Often, the choices presented to college students in North America are to either reject culture at large (and popular culture specifically) or to embrace culture unquestioningly. As a college within the Reformed tradition of historic Christianity, Calvin's approach to popular culture parallels the college's vision in all areas of creation: to be in the world, but not of the world."

In light of these efforts at Calvin, and similar efforts at a variety of other Christian colleges around the country, Calvin has added a student activities track to FFM 2005, a track, says Heffner, "for Christian student activities professionals who are moving away from the pop culture rejection model and towards a model of cultural engagement and critique."

Workshop leaders for this track will include Tom Willett (the Creative Director of the Contemporary Music Center at Martha's Vineyard); Steve Austin (director of Student Programs at Taylor University), Jeff Rioux (director of Campus Activities at Messiah College, which recently hosted Bob Dylan) and Heffner.

See the new Student Activities blog.