Worship Arts showcases talent, togetherness
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Bart Millard and his band, MercyMe, just got two more Grammy nominations, but even he was blown away by what he watched Monday night in Thunderground at Grand Canyon University.
The occasion was the first Worship Arts Showcase, and Millard, director of the University’s new Center for Worship Arts, was as mesmerized as everyone else in the overflow crowd of family, friends and students as the performers showed off songs they wrote this semester and coupled their artistic talent with passion for God.
It was moving. It was energizing. But best of all, in Millard’s eyes, was that the Worship Arts students were just having fun as a community.
“There’s something really special about these guys,” he said. “For me it’s a given that they’re talented and that they can sing. The biggest thing is that they keep cheering each other on. It would be real easy to get competitive, and they’re not like that at all. That’s very rare.”
That was no accident. John Frederick, the Center’s worship coordinator, had encouraged the students to think collaboratively, not competitively, and the result was 20 songs, all performed for the first time in front of a live audience, that often had the students who weren’t on stage dancing, jumping and celebrating.
“It’s just exciting to hear in one place the creative overflow of this semester and worshiping and developing community together,” he said. “This is as much about the formation of a community in Jesus as it is about music.”
The formation came in lively Monday night sessions that often surged beyond their two-hour time slot at First Southern Baptist Church, next to campus. Millard came by a couple of times, and three other prominent songwriters, Ben Glover, David Garcia and Travis Ryan, also visited. And when the students were on their own, Frederick saw that collaboration is contagious.
“Sometimes there would be students strewn outside across the lawn, just playing and writing songs,” he said. “Some of these songs were written on benches over there. People were sitting near the soda machine in the Baptist church just huddled up, writing. It just shows that creativity flows out of whatever the venue is. When people come together and they’re in that mode, it doesn’t matter.”
Many of the songs heard Monday night were written just in the last couple of weeks, including the one that brought the house down, “Relentless,” by Sarynne Earls, Angel Morris and Katie Schmitz. Earls, a freshman who had never heard of GCU before she attended a Kari Jobe concert in her native Tampa, Fla., performed four of the 20 songs she has written or co-written.
“It’s mostly like what I would need to hear or what I feel like other people would need to hear,” she said. “‘Relentless’ is just one of those songs you need to hear. We always talk about how we’re chasing after God. We don’t understand that He’s chasing after us just as much.”
Another star performer at the Showcase was freshman Maddison Harris, who first was introduced to GCU last spring when she performed at the official roll-out for the Center for Worship Arts. She gave three performances Monday, including the final one of the night, which brought the two-plus hours to an appropriate crescendo.
Harris, like Earls, is just amazed she’s here. She was planning to go to community college, and then “the program just fell into my lap, and it just took a lot of prayer and saying yes to something I didn’t want to do.”
Now, she says, “Mondays are my favorite.”
This Monday was Millard’s favorite. He has spent the last year spreading the word about GCU across the country, and watching the first tangible results of his mission was amazing to him.
“We get people left and right who seek us out and want to know more about the program,” he said. “I keep saying that the best way I can explain it is, the stuff that wasn’t available 20 years ago when I started MercyMe, the stuff I learned the hard way, we’re trying to pour that into the students. More than that, there’s something supernatural about this group of students, something really cool taking place, and it’s been awesome to see.”
MercyMe’s Grammy nominations are for Best Contemporary Christian Album and Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song for “Shake.” You can see the video of “Shake” here.
For all anyone knew, the makings of a future Grammy nominee were in full view Monday night in an event Millard called “surreal.”
“Really, really awesome stuff going on,” he said. “Obviously, it’s just going to keep getting better and better.”
And, most important, keep getting more fun.
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.