Get ready for better than ever Canyon Worship

September 06, 2019 / by / 0 Comment

Last of a nine-part series on GCU academics

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

In their first three years, the Canyon Worship LP albums have gotten 250,000 listens – 100,000 last year alone.

Those numbers are about to jump significantly. Canyon Worship 2019 is here.

The latest album by Center for Worship Arts students at Grand Canyon University will be released Monday with great fanfare, most notably with sophomore Amanda Riffe singing her song on the album, “Isaiah 55,” at Chapel.

But more than ever is being done to reach more ears at churches, high schools and among Christian music fans.

There will be a new website,, coming soon. It is designed to be like a fan page with interviews of the student artists, videos of the songs, chord charts to enable church choirs to perform the songs and plenty of other resources. Though, before its launch, fans can access the current Center for Worship Arts website.

Katie Brown is the only student artist to appear on all four Canyon Worship albums. (Photo by Mathew McGraw)

“We want to get it as far-reaching as we can,” said Worship Arts coordinator Dr. Randall Downs, adding that the idea is for people to be able to learn about the artists as they hear their work.

In addition to the album being available through major music outlets, including Spotify, Google Play Music and iTunes, two live performances are scheduled:

  • Oct. 4 – Mountain Ridge Baptist Church, 23104 N. 67th Ave., Glendale
  • Oct. 21 – GCU’s Ethington Theatre

“We really hope to build some momentum there,” said Dr. Jason Hiles, Dean of the College of Theology.

The momentum in Christian music in recent years has been toward congregational worship, and the new album has that – and several other genres.

“I’m really excited about this album,” Downs said. “I think it has a little more of a congregational worship feel to it, but there certainly are some songs on the album that have a pop feel, like the songs that you hear playing on K-LOVE.

Amanda Riffe performs her song, “Isaiah 55,” at the Songwriters Showcase last year.

“Hopefully churches will be able to take in some of these songs and incorporate them in their worship services.”

Eric Johnson, who has been managing the GCU Recording Studio through all four albums, said the biggest changes he has noticed are the continued improvement of the songwriting and the push toward congregational worship songs. But there’s another interesting thread through this year’s offerings.

“They seem to be borne out of very direct Scripture references,” Johnson said. “Amanda Riffe’s “Isaiah 55” is a clear example of that, but the other songs are very clearly referencing Scripture, which is really kind of cool.”

Downs said of Riffe’s song, “It’s straight Scripture, and there’s nothing more powerful than the word of God. It’s powerful in that regard in that it’s conveying truth. But when you hear it, you’ll see melodically that it gets stuck in your head – very easy to sing, very easy to recognize. It’s just a powerful song.”

Mary Van Vleck, Amanda Hauck and Bailey Drake (from left) rehearse “Chasing After Your Heart.”

The Recording Studio was busier than ever last year – 359 songs, an average of almost one a day, were recorded there, which led to 27 singles, representing 17 EPs and seven LPs, being released by Worship Arts students.

“That’s a big deal – those are not small projects,” Johnson said. “Some of those projects take months to finish, but our students are driven. They are driven to get their original songs out there. They are driven to get these Christian songs into the public ear. And they are driven to participate in their local churches in a way that is beneficial to their communities.”

The pace of submissions for the twice-a-year Songwriters Showcases (the next one is Dec. 2 at Canyon 49 Grill) was just as busy – the 10 finalists for the album were the best of 140 songs.

Elaina Marchegger (Photo by Mathew McGraw)

Those 10, produced by Geoff Hunker and Matthew Odmark, are:

Russell and Brown, who both have graduated, are repeat Canyon Worship performers – Brown is the only student to be on all four of the albums. Welker’s song was chosen for the third straight year, and Calderon and Myers both were on CW2018.

But it’s not as if it’s a competition – not at all. Johnson continues to be amazed by how the students just take it in stride no matter whether they make the cut.

Emma Terlizzi (Photo by Mathew McGraw)

“When they hear how many submissions we get for the Showcase, they’re not put off by that as much as they are excited or surprised, kind of like we all are when we get that many submissions.

“It tells me two things. One, wow, everyone is really engaged in this process. And, two, if my song doesn’t make it, then I know that I’m in really good company because even though we try to pick the songs that align best with the idea behind the project, a lot of these songs end up getting recorded anyway. So the students still will pursue recording the songs that don’t make the project.”

Another figure demonstrates how much an impact the Recording Studio is having. During the summer, the Worship Arts managers realized that GCU graduates are working at churches in 16 states.

Chris Calderon and Logan Myers (from left) perform “Coming After Me.”

“The studio is having a larger impact than I think we can measure,” Johnson said. “The trajectory is in place. We’re seeing the growth. We’re seeing the representation for students who call Worship Arts their degree program, for students who make the studio their home in the Worship Arts program. Our impact is out there.”

A quarter of a million listeners would agree – with more on the way.

Coming Monday: How Amanda Riffe from Grand Rapids, Mich., found a home in the Recording Studio — and at GCU. 

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


Related content:

GCU Today: Canyon Worship artists value performing in concert

GCU Today: He’s taking Canyon Worship to the community

GCU Today: Upbeat ‘Rhythm’ sets tone for Canyon Worship







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