The Grace College campus is annual host to the MasterWorks Festival, a month-long intensive summer training program that focuses on instruction in the performing arts from a Christian worldview. It was co-founded in 1997 by Artistic Director of the Christian Performing Artists’ Fellowship Dr. Patrick and Barbara Kavanaugh and Dr. James and Mary Jeane Kraft.
Originally the festival took place at Houghton College in New York. After five successful years there, it moved to Winona Lake, Ind. where several businessmen were working together to restore the town’s economic vitality. The event, together with the new Village at Winona, became the perfect catalyst to revive a small town that had once been the home of evangelist Billy Sunday and various other ministries. In 2004, the town became the official headquarters of the festival and the Grace campus eventually came to serve as the offices and classrooms that participants needed for the event.
As the festival continues to celebrate a string of successful years training up-and-coming performance artist, it also continues to grow. As where only 55 students attended for the first year in 1997, both students and faculty in attendance each year are now in the hundreds. Moreover, the event has gone international as it has now been offered in London, England and Zhengzhou, China. Furthermore, CPAF is hoping that finances and faculty will allow them to bring festivals to Australia, Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America, as well as to the Western and Southern United States.
This year the festival was in session from mid-June to mid-July and, as usual, the turnout was phenomenal and the performances stunning. After several weeks of intense classes and guidance offered by some of the best performing instructors and artists from across the country, students and teachers alike gave two weeks of thrilling performances. These ranged from a full-length theater production and a full-length ballet to live orchestra performances to solo concerts to monologues to student and faculty recitals.
“Some things I enjoyed about the festival were the renewing of friendships, the repertoire and the interaction with Christian musicians and artists,” says Jeremy Smith, a 2010 Grace graduate. Smith has been a student in the orchestra program at MasterWorks in 2008, 2009 and this year. “After being away from the festival… it was refreshing, spiritually and musically, to be with like-minded musicians” he says.
Smith first heard about MasterWorks in high school and became involved through Jim Kraft, former second trombone of the National Symphony Orchestra, cofounder of CPAF and a professor in Grace’s late music department. “I was heavily involved with the music program here at Grace, playing with Grace Brass, Symphony of the Lakes, Wind Ensemble and leading the Lancer Pep Band,” says Smith of his years at Grace. “The pep band is special to me because a friend and myself started the pep band our freshman year at Grace (fall 2006).”
Aside from his continued involvement with MasterWorks after his Grace education, Smith completed a Master’s degree in trombone performance at Carnegie Mellon University this May. “My ultimate goal is to join a professional symphony or military band. Right now, I am preparing for auditions and will be freelancing in Ohio. Preparing for music auditions is a long and hard road that requires lots of patience, persistence and perseverance. I am thankful for my times at Grace College, Carnegie Mellon and MasterWorks because they have prepared me for what lies ahead,” he says.
The MasterWorks Festival and Grace College have seen immensely successful outcomes in students like Smith who continues to stay connected to both. A foundational principle that defines MasterWork’s mission—as well as Grace’s—has been realized in Smith’s life: “All of these chapters are little stops along the journey of life that, in the end, will bring me closer to my Lord and Savior,” he says. “Knowing how He has guided me in the past propels me to draw closer to Him.” Smith’s sentiments are the ideal and even the typical result of MasterWorks’ prioritization of excellence in the performing arts and solidarity in personal faith.