GCU’s definition of perfect harmony: Critical Mass
Story by Karen Fernau
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Critical Mass, a 14-member a cappella ensemble, has become as much a part of Grand Canyon University’s commencement ceremonies as pomp and circumstance.
GCU’s 2016 winter commencement will be no exception.
Critical Mass, with songbird voices and pitch-perfect harmony, will perform a 30-minute concert before the 2 p.m. ceremony in GCU Arena.
Although a high-profile concert, graduation is a small piece of a larger role. The three-year-old ensemble performs nearly 50 times a year in front of about 50,000, from children to governors. Critical Mass performs concerts at schools, churches and civic functions. They sing the national anthem at basketball games, contemporary Christian music at Chapel.
“We sing a lot and at many places, and along with entertaining audiences, we showcase GCU,” said Dr. Juan Hernandez, assistant dean of the College of Fine Arts and Production and director of Critical Mass.
Along with its baton-wielding director and associate director, Mark Fearey, the ensemble includes an equal number of male and female vocalists who audition their way into the group.
The performers, who must try out every year, typically beat out about 50 other talented voices for their coveted slot.
According to Hernandez, members are selected for their voice, character and academics.
“We see them as student leaders, ambassadors for GCU,” Hernandez said. “They must be good musicians, students and people.”
In return, Critical Mass singers are granted scholarships.
For freshman Kaleb Burris, Critical Mass allows him the opportunity to do what he has loved since he was 3 years old — singing.
“I feel my best when I sing,” he said.
The group also allows him to lead others in worship.
“I love sharing God’s amazing work through music,” said the music education major from Washington.
Critical Mass was formed three years ago to replace its predecessor, a group called New Life Singers.
The difference between the two is Critical Mass’ expanded repertoire. The ensemble performs a wide range of music, from pop, classical, jazz, gospel, contemporary hymns to classics.
Their music has the power to soothe nerves and elevate spirits.
On Friday, Critical Mass will accomplish both by performing a mix of contemporary Christian, Christmas and African American gospel.
“We want music that fits the occasion, and we want our performance to be so much better than if the graduates and audience listened to canned music,” Hernandez said.
Critical Mass senior Alea Gough enjoys singing at graduation more than any other performance.
The vocal performance major from Georgia said the enthusiastic commencement crowds “brings out our sparkle. There’s no better way to greet people than with music. It makes a wonderful hello to graduation.”
Like others in the group, senior Omar Williams sings as a way to stay in touch with his faith and connect with the community.
The piano performance major from Dallas also sings for pleasure.
“It’s such a surreal experience to sing with others,” he said. “When we click, it’s amazing.”
Other members of the group include Alexander Dubois, Andrew Dell, Melissa Landes, Carah Robenalt, Carlos Arellano, James Duchene, Luis Fernando Ruiz, Taijah Lee, Tamika Skaggs, Tricia Ramsey and Brenna Keck.
Contact Karen Fernau at (602) 639-8344 or firstname.lastname@example.org.