Parents sing praises of Canyon Worship Showcase
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Emily Saunders
GCU News Bureau
Jodi Petkovich had never been to a Canyon Worship Songwriters Showcase before, and she was blown away.
“It was nothing like I expected,” said Petkovich, whose son Ronnie was one of the many talented students who displayed the best work of this semester by Grand Canyon University’s Center for Worship Arts on Monday night in Thunderground. “I felt like I was in an incubator for the new sounds that are going to be coming out. I thought they really chose well, giving a variety of styles. There was such a neat depth to all the songs.”
Tim and Gina Morris had been to the Showcase last fall, and they still were blown away — and not just because their daughter Angel was there to sing “Prodigal.”
Tim: “I was moved the whole night. It was going through me, around me, coming out of me. I just think God was flowing through every one of them tonight.”
Gina: “The last Showcase was great, but this one really was phenomenal. It was another level.”
Mark Huggins, an adjunct professor who teaches songwriting and arranging at GCU and watched the students form the ideas for their songs in his classroom, said he felt like a “proud dad” — and was blown away.
“It starts with something as simple as an idea — you know, what’s on your heart — and then it just grows from there,” he said. “You can see the growth. They not only have learned a lot about songwriting, but more important, they’ve learned about who they are and how to express themselves through music and that it’s OK to be who they are.”
Finally, there’s the Center for Worship Arts manager, Dr. John Frederick, who in just two years has built a foundation that somehow keeps getting stronger. He’s been there every step of the way, and yet what was his reaction Monday night? Yup, blown away.
“It feels like it grows up every year — every semester, even,” he said. “The best thing about this was that I delegated all the behind-the-scenes stuff to the production students, and they basically delivered on everything. It was the smoothest one. There was just a really good vibe to the whole thing.”
More to come in fall
That good vibe resonates with Frederick for another reason: The Showcase is the runners-in-the-starting-blocks moment for the 2017 Canyon Worship album, but there will be 15 more candidates when the fall semester Showcase convenes in December.
There will be more songs in next year’s album, but there also figure to be many more solid candidates.
“It’s going to be really hard to do a 12-song LP when we have another 15 songs coming in the fall. Maybe we’ll have to do a double album,” Frederick told the crowd after the last song Monday.
He later added, “I really was thinking, ‘I like this song. I’m sure this one will be on there.’ Then I’d hear the next one and go, ‘Wow. How are we going to choose?’”
Deans and top University executives, including President Brian Mueller, were part of a packed-in crowd that heard two students sing two songs apiece: John Rowe did “Crown of Thorns” and “Come and Worship,” and Katie Brown closed the evening with “The King of Always” and “Everyday Miracles.”
Desiree Aguilar, whose “Follow You” was the highlight of the 2015 Canyon Worship EP, was back with “It Is You” on Monday night, and another outstanding singer from the EP, Maddison Harris, did “The New Unknown” this time. Graham Harper, who has two songs on the current album release, did “Keep Prayin’.”
Ronnie Petkovich’s group, The Common Thread, sang “Nothing More than You,” and The Dukes Affair, another band that formed through the CWA program, performed “Long Lost Feet.”
Other singers Monday night included:
Toni Crippen, “Dear Broken”
Taylor Ocano, “Brighter”
Kristyn Roberts, “Anchor Us”
Kaitlyn Price, “Dear Jesus”
Jessica Sams, “Through It All”
‘Be who you are’
What was most striking about the evening was the variety of sounds. That’s no accident.
“I’ve really been encouraging them to try to branch out to different styles — blues form, jazz, anything,” Huggins said. “I just tell them, ‘Be who you are. Let the love of God come through you and express it in the way you would express it.’ I try not to put them in a bottle as far as they have to do a particular style.”
Frederick said he told Rowe that he’d love to play one of his songs in a church, and the student reacted as if Frederick was kidding.
“But I’m not kidding,” Frederick said. “They’re good songs. They’re lyrically deep and musically beautiful, and they’re complex. They’re not trying to fit a mold. They’re taking risks, and they’re realizing that contemporary Christian music is not what it is now, it is whatever they want to play. That’s what makes it contemporary.
“As soon as you start saying, ‘It’s got to sound like this,’ or ‘It’s got to sound like that,’ then you’re just replicating what someone else has done. They’re taking risks. They’re trying new things.”
The parents noticed the risks, too.
“I feel the Worship Arts program — I don’t know if it’s the professors or just the community itself — has really made everybody feel safe to present their art in a really open way. That’s super important,” Jodi Petkovich said. “I was very impressed with the quality that they’re putting out and yet the rawness of it. These kids are doing a good job, and I think it reflects on the staff and the faculty — they’re being mentored by them and they’re being encouraged by them and they’re being protected by them.”
And improved by them. Gina Morris said of her daughter, “She loves GCU. I’ve never seen her happier. She has gone to another level since she’s been working with this program. It’s been unbelievable for her.”
Petkovich also noticed the way the students stayed and supported each other through the entire performance. It was a big crowd at the start and just as big a crowd at the finish.
“Everybody really protected it,” she said. “For this long of a show, you didn’t have people getting up and being rude. People were really honoring to that.”
That’s all part of the Worship Arts vibe. Frederick feels privileged just to be part of it — and he’s the guy running the show. He has a group of students he treasures.
“They’re fun people to hang around with. They’re fun people to be in class with,” he said. “They’re really thoughtful theologically. I think what’s going to happen is when you take that out into the world, people will stop staying, ‘I like Jesus but I hate the church.’ They’ll start seeing a church that looks more like Jesus, and they’ll start hearing songs that emanate Jesus.”
Maybe then, people in churches will be blown away, too. The drumbeat of change in Christian music is sounding, and it was loud and clear Monday night in Thunderground.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.