Canyon Worship Showcase resounds with big crowd

December 04, 2018 / by / 0 Comment

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau

The greatest thing about the Canyon Worship Songwriters Showcase on Monday night was that it had so many great things.

The first performance of the Canyon Worship Songwriters Showcase, by Braden Paul, had the big crowd standing and clapping as Paul really got into it.

There was the music, of course. Students from the Center for Worship Arts at Grand Canyon University continue to build upon the talent that now is a staple of the Canyon Worship albums.

But there also was the Canyon 49 Grill venue, again a winner for its intimacy and atmosphere.

And the huge turnout that packed just about every inch of the Grill’s patio.

And the number of graduates of the program who came back to hear their former classmates one more time and discover some new talent.

And the number of current Worship Arts students who came out to show their support even though their songs weren’t chosen for the Showcase.

The attendees were packed in, and the performers had their full attention.

And it was hard for anyone familiar with Canyon Worship not to notice that only three of the 13 songs were by performers who have appeared on the annual albums.

And you also couldn’t miss the ever expanding variety of sounds – the 13 songs performed (out of 70 submissions) featured a wide variety of genres, from contemporary Christian to folk, hip-hop and rap.

Maybe the greatest part of all, however, was the way the big crowd got into it. There never was a dull moment on a night filled with clapping and rejoicing and ovation after ovation.

“I think that’s the telltale sign, when you can see people really engaging with the music,” said Dr. Randall Downs, the new Worship Arts coordinator. “Their eyes aren’t glazed over, they’re not in a trance. They’re sitting there and they’re taking it in and enjoying it.”

As impressed as Downs was in his first chance to witness a Showcase, it was even more astounding for Dr. Jason Hiles, Dean of the College of Theology. He remembers well the first Showcase, in December 2014, the first year of the program.

Amanda Riffe performs her song, “Isaiah 55.”

“We were really proud of what the students did in those days,” Hiles said. “But it’s at such a high level now, it’s hard to imagine the distance they’ve come. They’re collaborating, they’re starting to find a style, and I see the same artists working together on multiple projects. We’ve seen them come a long way in four years.”

Newcomers to the program are coming a long way just to be part of it.

One of the performers Monday was freshman Amanda Riffe from Grand Rapids, Mich., who first heard about what GCU was doing when she attended a Kari Jobe concert. She visited the campus, fell in love with it and happily left behind her winter coat and scarf, but the climate was only an added bonus.

“The weather is so nice here, so much sunshine, but mostly I’m here because of the program,” she said.

This is a performer who’s already pretty accomplished – she produced her own CD, “The Journey,” earlier this year – but what she likes best about the program is the camaraderie.

“I’ve been really surprised at how not competitive it is,” she said. “You can just walk in the Recording Studio and people will help you with your songs. You can play stuff and people will give you feedback. Even the vibe tonight, everyone was just so encouraging and uplifting. That’s something really cool to come into as a freshman.”

Elaina Marchegger was visiting GCU as a high school senior two years ago when she learned that there just happened to be a Songwriters Showcase that night. So she went – and right away she knew what her college choice would be.

Elaina Marchegger (right) was joined by (from left) Joseph Vaught and Taryn Nellermoe in singing “Has a Name.”

“I saw that this is the presence of Christ,” she said. “How all the students drew in to the room was just, like, wow. That’s really what I was looking for in a program was something that wasn’t as music-centered as it was Christ-centered. I’m sure you saw it tonight – everyone’s heart is just praising Christ.”

Marchegger was the only performer chosen to do two songs, but even that wasn’t the highlight of her night. Her parents, Marcus and Lisa Marchegger, surprised her by coming to Phoenix from their Carson City, Nev., home to support her.

“It was amazing,” she said. “My mom and I had just been talking about how I committed at the Showcase.”

She also noticed the number of students in attendance who aren’t even in the Worship Arts program, but equally head-turning was the turnout of graduates.

“It’s like they can’t get enough of it,” said Eric Johnson, who manages the Recording Studio. “They feel such a connection to their family, they want to be here in support of what the family is continuing to do.”

The long list of new faces was startling as well. Even Harrison Russell, whose song “Rhythm” is the top attraction of Canyon Worship 2018 (more than 30,000 listens on Spotify alone), said he found himself trying to put names with faces at the Showcase.

Harrison Russell’s performance of “Praises” was an appropriate ending for the evening.

“It’s crazy. I feel like every song I’m asking, ‘Who’s that?’” he said, laughing.

Appropriately, Russell’s newest creation, “Praises,” was the closing song, and it was another show-stopper. But the crowd wanted more – people chanted for Russell to play “Rhythm.” Right on cue, Johnson had the sound board technician dial it up and play it … and the crowd sang along and danced to it, knowing the words by heart.

That shows how much the program has grown – the attendees have their favorites. But if Monday night is any indication, they soon will add some new ones.

“I feel like every year it’s just growing so much,” Russell said. “Now we have a full-grown program, and there are such talented people every year in every class.

“It’s cool to look to the future and think in four years what it’s going to look like.”

There’s only one bad thing about all this growth: If this keeps up, they’re going to need a bigger venue for the Showcase. If that’s your biggest problem, you’re doing great things.

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].

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