MALA aims to develop Salvation Army music and arts leaders through digital learning
By: Brad Rowland
In a partnership that is the first of its kind, The Salvation Army’s four American territories, along with the Canada and Bermuda Territory, are coming together to launch the Music and Arts Leadership Academy (MALA) in 2022. This project is digitally based, coming alongside the efforts already kickstarted in each territory and providing a standardized, rewarding and uplifting experience that aims to invest in the lives of both present-day and future-facing music and arts leaders.
MALA is free to the user and will launch with comprehensive courses. Current offerings include brass band leadership, beginner band leadership, theater leadership, dance technique, and sound engineering, with courses on choral leadership, singing company leadership, worship planning, worship team leadership, and others in development.
Courses are easily navigated with checkpoints and the ability to track progress through a course in step-by-step fashion. This is fully automated, with the user needing only to sign up for free and equipped with email reminders and notifications.
“MALA is designed to be flexible and meet you right where you are today,” said Nick Simmons-Smith, territorial music and arts secretary. “You can choose to take a full course exactly how it is laid out and work at your own pace. Simply follow along with each lesson, in turn, from beginning to end, and then start again if you so choose. Or, for a different approach, you can choose to search for topics and only watch videos or lessons that are related to your current needs. There are so many takeaways that you will never be empty-handed.”
Each territory was engaged in similar discussions as the digital emphasis of the world increased, and the cross-territory partnership began before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the pandemic and its challenges further revealed the need for digital learning capabilities, and there was an effort to avoid the duplication of efforts, combining forces for the best possible product.
“Since this is a national project, every person who logs in to MALA will have the opportunity to learn under someone new,” said Bethany Farrell, territorial creative arts director. “Whether we are brand new beginners or experienced leaders, we always have something new to learn – even if it’s a different approach to doing something we’ve been doing one way for decades. The scope of this project allows all of us to expand our tool belt of skills.”
“It was the first time that I think we really collaborated at the highest levels with the five North American territories on a project like this,” said Simmons-Smith. “It’s a rewarding experience, and it is very nice to work together. I believe that helps to make it the best product and ministry possible.”
For the USA Southern Territory, this launch also arrives as a support to established work at the local levels and through the Territorial Music Institute (TMI). Each summer, TMI offers a slate of leadership classes, investing in the development of those who will be on the ground in the corps, and MALA courses are designed to be scalable to small or large corps environments.
“Part of what started all of this was an impetus to find what would help The Salvation Army the most at the corps level,” said Robert Snelson, territorial music education director. “We believe that an investment in leadership can and will help corps music and arts development to happen. We have offered leadership tracks at TMI for years, but not everyone can come for that 10-day period. In conjunction with that, we think this is something that can be done year-round and on a convenient schedule. We train kids with music or dance or vocal skills at conservatory programs or TMI, but teaching is different than knowing how to play and perform, and this really invests in the corps level.”
One example of the program’s versatility and scalability comes with the development of worship team materials. Recent TMI gatherings have shown an explosion in worship arts interest across the Southeast, and it is important to MALA’s development to ensure that the instruction and knowledge can be instituted at any corps, no matter the size.
“A big emphasis of the worship team courses is that everything should be scalable,” said Joshua Powell, territorial contemporary music specialist. “You can work on your own. You can work with a band of 10 people. But the idea is that you take what you have available to you and attempt to squeeze excellence out of it and lead to the best of our abilities.”
“We want these courses to help people use what they have available to them. It’s easy to look at megachurches with seemingly endless resources, but not everyone has that. That doesn’t mean you can’t deploy quality work to enhance worship and get everything possible out of the experience while removing any distractions from worship.”
Each course is also designed to bring more than simply a nuts-and-bolts approach to the material. On the brass band side, that includes the full picture, from the fundamentals of conducting to rehearsal management and the spiritual aspect of The Salvation Army’s music ministry.
“The brass band leadership module, as an example, is a great mix of technical and music elements, the spiritual elements, leadership intangibles, communication, and the entire package of what we want in developing leaders,” Simmons-Smith said. “It even dives into pastoral care for group leaders, and it is an emphasis to focus on every facet of the leadership process.”
While The Salvation Army is traditionally known for its brass band excellence, MALA is also equipping current and future leaders in the arts, including the implementation of Spanish-speaking courses and the combination of leadership and technical instruction.
“All of the modules are excellent. I also think the dance classes are a fantastic example of what this program can do,” Farrell said. “We have classes available in Spanish to make the material more accessible, and even if you are a beginner dancer that isn’t leading yet, the class teaches the techniques and how to better understand the movements. At the end of each section, there is a technique discussion and tips on what leaders should be looking for to help dancers to take the next step.”
Divisional and territorial music and arts groups provide fellowship and the chance for soldiers to gather on a monthly or quarterly basis to praise the Lord through this ministry. Still, the daily and weekly ministry at the corps level requires strong leaders, both to guide current participants and develop The Salvation Army’s arts ministries for the future.
“What we’ve realized in recent years is that corps with strong, embedded leaders will produce more leaders in the future, but not every corps is in that situation,” said Simmons-Smith. Utilizing the online elements that people can follow at their own pace allows those potential leaders to develop. We still want local leaders pouring into potential leaders, but this gives us another avenue to invest in the present generation and the next generation of leaders.”
“There is a dual focus of both helping and improving leaders, but also to encourage leaders to find others to pour into as well,” Powell said. “We must always think about building up the next generation and train up those leaders. Even at the corps level, it can be easy to get into a lane and stick to it, but no man is an island. We need to train others to come alongside us in this ministry.”
For use at the corps level, courses will be streamable and downloadable via Ministry Toolkit, with MALA’s future website designed for clean implementation and a searchable platform easily accessible for even beginner users. No matter the use of the materials, music and arts leaders from across The Salvation Army and in the USA Southern Territory make it clear that the most important goal is to strengthen worship and pour into ministry to spread the message of Jesus Christ.
“MALA provides a wealth of information on how to be a well-equipped leader with a Kingdom-building mentality,” said Farrell. “You can find information about teaching and leading all over the internet, but MALA is focused on the mission behind what we do: inviting others into relationship with Jesus Christ. It just happens to be through the arts.”