Wickham’s ‘Ascension’ in Christian music leads to CD release at GCU
By Michael Ferraresi and Rachelle Reeves
GCU News Bureau
Students can expect an intimate glimpse into the heart of Christian praise-and-worship music Thursday night when Grand Canyon University hosts singer-songwriter Phil Wickham’s national CD release party and concert at Thunderground.
Wickham’s album “The Ascension” soared to No. 1 this week in the Christian/Gospel genre in iTunes, immediately upon public release. GCU hosted Wickham on campus in the spring when he first played Thunderground and spent time on campus to record the bulk of his album. The University’s New Life Singers recorded backing vocals on “Ascension” songs.
Thursday’s Thunderground show begins at 7 p.m., although the underground venue at Thunder Alley will open around 6 to students. Ticket information and details on upcoming fall performances are available at www.TheThunderground.com.
In a Tuesday post to his website, philwickham.com, the 29-year-old San Diego worship leader characterized the new album — his seventh — as “a forward movement towards closeness with God.”
“We must keep diving deeper and reaching higher and running faster for Him and His glory,” Wickham wrote. “It’s my hope that these songs create this kind of desire in others.”
Wickham, who is married and father to two daughters, grew up in the church and became a worship leader at a young age. He released his first album, “Give You My World,” in 2003. His earlier albums are in the spirit of a “fireside” worship sound, rich in vocals and acoustic guitar. With the “The Ascension,” Wickham incorporates styles unheard on his previous albums.
Wickham’s fresh sound includes keyboards, upbeat drum patterns and digital inputs. Some songs have the familiarity of a hymn but also possess a catchy, modern feel that young people will connect with. With “The Ascension,” Wickham maintained his recognizable sound without straying from the raw gentleness of his voice.
New Life veteran Jonelle Borowy, a senior business management major, said GCU’s connection to Wickham is unique considering his popularity — and the message of his music.
“Christian music can become repetitious, but Phil Wickham is different, just in his voice — it’s refreshing,” Borowy said. “Having (Wickham) reach out to us says a lot about GCU’s goals and priorities of what type of atmosphere the school wants to have.”
Those priorities include building stronger relationships in the Christian music industry to get more attention to GCU’s unique Thunderground experience. The University’s Faith-based Marketing team has grown the venue into a site where a range of artists, from Andy Mineo to Jason Castro, find the intimate space to connect with fans. For students, the experience is just a quick walk from classrooms and residence halls.
Groups like Thousand Foot Krutch have rocked Thunderground. But the cozy atmosphere of the nightclub-like space is perhaps more conducive to singer-songwriters like Wickham, who continues to move young fans with his honest worship performances.
Ethan Gayongala, a senior psychology major who plays bass guitar for the campus worship team, began listening to Wickham in middle school after a friend introduced him to the music. Gayongala started playing worship music on bass guitar around the same time, inspired to serve God through performance.
Wickham’s work “relates to a lot of people, but I think he’s integrated his style into things like contemporary, indie, folk and acoustic as well,” Gayongala said.
Aaron Walth, a senior communications major in New Life, felt honored to have the opportunity to record with Wickham.
Walth said Wickham’s spirit and love of God shine through his songs.
“His music is unique and not the regular music you hear on a daily basis from Christian music,” Walth said. “It’s edgy and modern.”