Last of a series previewing Canyon Worship 2018, which will be available for $9.99 on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Shazam and in the Lope Shop on campus beginning Monday, Sept. 10.
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
You would think it’s intensely competitive.
You would think the students in the Center for Worship Arts at Grand Canyon University constantly are trying to one-up each other when it’s time to decide whose song will be chosen for a Canyon Worship album.
You would think they aren’t overly eager to help each other with lyrics or music, that they tend to reserve their best work for themselves.
You would be wrong.
“When someone is truly in service to God, the world’s metric of success seems to fade away into the noisy background,” said Eric Johnson, who manages the GCU Recording Studio and sees the vibe in action all the time when students gather there.
“These students tend to focus on who God has created them to be, and they simply want to pursue that purpose. Helping others to be who God created them to be is a natural extension of a worship artist’s purpose and the reason why one would find joy in another’s success.”
Interviews with the student artists on Canyon Worship 2018, scheduled to be released Monday, produced the same sentiment over and over. What keeps coming up is how much they care for each other – and especially for newcomers.
Katie Brown and Logan Myers both talked about what it was like for them when they first came to the Recording Studio. They appreciate how they were made to feel comfortable and included.
“I really didn’t know very many people and I’m very shy. I was afraid of not making friends,” Brown said. “But the way the classes are formatted and (with the culture) the community creates in the studio, there are a lot of shared interests.
“I have grown so much just by being a part of this community and being able to quickly gain friends and feel like we have a lot in common, that we want to be around each other.”
Myers overcame her reticence by just coming to the lounge to eat or do homework and spending all of her free time there. She grew comfortable with the scene: Someone playing guitar and groups of students collaborating and singing.
“Everyone’s so kind and nice and friendly, and they want to be your friend,” she said. “They invited me places. It’s hard to make friends where you don’t really know anyone, and I didn’t know anyone in this program. It was scary, but they’re really inviting.”
Chris Calderon got to GCU a year ago, coming all the way from Chicago. Now he’s so comfortable up in the studio, located on the fourth floor of the Technology building, he feels like an old-timer.
“I always like to tell people, it’s like the first-century church,” he said. “We have this area we can come to and gather, but what we have out there in the lounge, it travels wherever we go. Having this area helped us cultivate that culture like the first-century church where we’re eating together, praying together, doing Scripture, growing in our relationship with God.
“It’s an amazing community. You can tell that God is the center of everyone’s focus within our friendships.”
It wouldn’t work if some of the students had big egos. It wouldn’t work if they thought it was all about them.
“There are extremely talented people here that don’t parade it around,” Courtney Welker said. “They’re very humble with their talents. It’s a place where it’s easy to grow because you’re challenged by these humble peers that are really gifted and you realize you could be like them – you could be better by honing your craft – but there’s never pressure to be like them in particular.
“The goal is to edify Christ with what you have. They don’t do that by requiring certain hours of practice a week or something that could rob the joy of our craft. They encourage it just by celebrating what people are able to do when they hone their craft.”
Or just hone their life. Mallory Denson had been through some challenges in Mississippi, where she grew up, before arriving at GCU.
“Oh man. It changed my life,” said Denson, who graduated in April and this week was named Worship Director at Paradise Church in Phoenix. “The Worship Arts program in general completely – just having professors who were so intentional and so helpful to your spiritual life, not just academically.
“GCU completely made me secure in my calling, made that affirmation happen in my calling, especially when I got onto the Worship Team as a worship leader. That grew me so much. I knew what my calling is, but it grew to where I was completely sure what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
“I made my best friends here, and I still have so much family here. Even though we’re from all different places, it’s like you have those friends for life. GCU really impacted my life in ways that I never would have imagined. I got to know who God was in such a different way, and I got to experience Him in ways that I never thought I could have.”
But here’s the thing: It’s not as if collaboration is required or pushed on anyone. It just happens. And if students want to work alone on a song, they can do that, too.
“I think it’s a really healthy mix of both,” Aaron Bolton said. “I think I come up with some of my most personal ideas by myself, but at the same time I think it’s really helpful, especially as you’re starting out songwriting, to just get with somebody else who can complete your idea.
“It goes even deeper to the fact that we should be building each other up and wanting to support each other. You’ve got all these songwriters (in the industry) running around who are like, ‘No, I just want to do my own thing. I just want to write all my own stuff. I’m better than anyone else.’ But we need people, not even just for songwriting. We need other people to make it through life – Jesus was clear about that.”
The co-producers of Canyon Worship 2018, Geoff Hunker and Billy Smiley, feel the vibe, too. It’s not hard to pick up on it. It makes their job easier.
“It’s a place where a lot of different people can put their arts together, and then there’s the collaboration of not just the students but the people who are working on design, the video and all the elements of these different outlets for creativity that go into this,” Hunker said. “I think it’s amazing. I feel humble to be part of it.”
Smiley said, “They’re all talented in their own way. That’s what’s so fun, is just bringing it back to the influences of where they come from, what their influences are and molding it. They’re just like sponges. Some of them just really want to learn and grow. It’s a chance to feed into them, especially vocally.”
But they’re trying hard not to be jealous. That, after all, would be wrong. And the Recording Studio is just not a place for a bad vibe.
“If I was a student, I would love this,” Hunker said. “The facility is so great, I would be in here nonstop.”
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.