Worship Songwriter Showcase hits a high note
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
Those wise, mature sophomores have been joined by a flock of fabulous freshmen in the second year of Grand Canyon University’s Center for Worship Arts program, and Wednesday night’s performances made it obvious that it’s another class act.
Twelve of the 15 Christian tunes presented in the Worship Songwriter Fall Showcase 2015 were written or co-written by first-year students. But one of the “old-timers,” Maddison Harris, put it in an interesting perspective afterward.
“It was awesome to see what the freshmen can do and how God has worked in their freshman life,” said Harris, one of the brightest stars of the group that populated the program’s initial school year. “I’ve gotten together with a couple of girls and they ask different questions like, ‘How do you find a mentor?’ and have asked different opinions on their songs. It’s been a really cool opportunity to use what I learned my freshman year and pour into their lives, but they also pour into mine at the same time.”
Harris’ “Break Me Down” was one of the songs chosen for Wednesday night’s event, staged before an overflow crowd in Thunderground. She also was picked to sing on the first Canyon Worship EP last spring. Like many of her classmates, she’s someone to emulate — and do they ever.
“I have looked up to them ever since I heard their music come out last year,” said Riley Lium, a freshman from Bothell, Wash. “When I finally got to come here and meet them, I said, ‘I don’t want to sound creepy, but I’ve listened to your songs a million times.’
“They’re the pioneers of our program, and having them be there for us as we’re trying to figure stuff out has been super helpful. They’re very wise, even if they’re only a year older than us — they say, ‘Hey, I’ve been through this struggle. Let me help you.’ They’re my friends, they help me out, I help them out. They have wisdom, and we totally receive that.”
Lium’s path to GCU is an example of how the outreach initiated by Scott Fehrenbacher, senior vice president and executive director of the Center for Worship Arts, has made a difference. Starting in eighth grade, Lium was a volunteer assigned to the GCU booth for five straight years when the road show the University sponsors came to Seattle.
But GCU didn’t have the Worship Arts program yet, so it wasn’t on her radar as a college destination until a couple of years ago. Then, as she arrived at the road show, Fehrenbacher came up to her and started a conversation that went like this:
“Riley, I have really exciting news for you.”
“We’re going to have a Worship Arts program! You can come to GCU!”
With that in mind, Lium has been set on attending GCU since her junior year in high school.
“I visited once and said, ‘Yep, this is the place.’ I visited again and said, ‘Yep, this still is the place for me,’” she said.
Fehrenbacher was in the back of the room Wednesday night proudly watching Lium sing “Who Is Like You.” Another freshman who had to catch anyone’s eye — and ear — was Scot Madison Quiggle, who goes by “A Girl Named Scot” and played the keyboard while belting out her two songs that were selected, “This Is How Love Sounds” and “The Kind for Me.”
“I’m so surprised that people love my voice,” the Greenway High School graduate said humbly, then recounted how that voice came to be:
“I actually wasn’t super great at singing, and my parents were like, ‘Your songs are good, but maybe you’re not going to be a good voice.’ If you hear my young stuff, you can see that I didn’t quite know what I was doing. But I took some vocal lessons in eighth grade for seven weeks and learned how to properly sing. God just kind of took over and used my voice, and I’ve been able to develop it into some kind of style.”
While she admits that she’d love to take “A Girl Named Scot” on the road and “try the touring thing,” she also loves “helping people make their music great. I think that’s why I’d like to be a music producer and help them give their song that edge.”
Another outstanding freshman is Graham Harper, who seemingly was onstage all night and wrote or helped write two songs, “Wholly Loved” and (with sophomore Kylie Foster) “Beloved.”
“Kylie came to me with all her lyrics, and we were really struggling,” he said of the night’s closing number. “And then God just gave us a moment where He wanted to say what He wanted to say. I’m humbled that God wanted to use those songs to speak to people tonight. It’s my favorite thing to do, to worship God.”
As a student in the East Bay near San Francisco, Harper hadn’t heard about GCU until a friend who had a good experience with the University told him about it. Now that he’s here, he’s amazed by how it all came together — and keeps coming together.
“I’m just excited to see a community of worshippers, a family, come together and be knitted together by God,” he said. “That was the sweetest part of all of this — the moment we all stepped onto the campus, we felt a connection, we felt a family. It was a complete and wonderful surprise that everyone is so talented and God-seeking.
“I feel like everyone here is an equal. The spirit of competition is being broken down. There’s so much to learn from the sophomores, but we’re all co-contributors and co-conspirators to writing and producing art and music. It’s really just community at its finest.”
It will be interesting to see how the members of that community keep evolving. They can learn from something Harris said:
“Musically, I’ve changed a lot. I think my voice has gotten a little bit stronger with singing more. Last year on the piano I froze up in the Showcase, so I think I’ve gotten more comfortable with that. But in my walk with Christ, I’ve had testing trials of humility. My song tonight dived into a little bit of that. There’s been a lot of growth.”
John Frederick, the Worship Arts program coordinator, has a little trial of his own this week: His wife, Tara, is overdue to give birth to their second child, joining their 2-year-old son, Liam.
But the newest little Frederick held off long enough for Dad to be the emcee of Wednesday’s event, and he couldn’t have been more pleased with how it went. And he also couldn’t have been more amazed by the collaborative attitude.
“What I see here is students admiring the work of other people,” he said. “The music industry doesn’t have that, by and large. It’s kind of like, ‘I want to be the best. I want to crush whoever’s in front of me.’ But here, if somebody has a victory, there’s a sense — and it’s not perfect — that it’s a victory for us.”
Frederick, Worship Arts Director Bart Millard and the rest of the team that chose the 15 finalists for the Showcase had to sift through 50 entries, but he expects the number to be 150 in a year or two as the program keeps growing.
That means the competition will be even fiercer, but it also means the quality will continue to amaze. That’s a little hard to fathom — because there were 15 victories Wednesday, one outstanding song and performance after another on a night the Class of 2019 came of age.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.