First on-campus Canyon Worship Live is a big hit
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Elizabeth Tinajero
GCU News Bureau
Moises Felipe knows these Grand Canyon University students well. He teaches them. He is a worship director himself, so he understands the challenges of performing in front of a live audience.
And yet, as he watched them absolutely nail one song after another in the Canyon Worship Live concert Monday night in Ethington Theatre, even he was taken aback by their confidence.
He saw what all this work – their work, his work, the work of all the faculty members in the program – has wrought. He saw the future.
“I see the future of worship,” said Felipe, who leads worship at Love International and also was part of the program Monday, performing three songs. “Being here at GCU is a privileged opportunity for faculty and staff to somehow connect with the students and hopefully inspire them to change the future. It’s humbling to have the platform to be able to do that.
“At the same time, we have to understand that while we don’t have the power within ourselves to some extent, we have to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to use this, to be an influence for them. This is an organic thing, and when we invite God to be part of something where He is honored in the atmosphere, I believe anything could happen.”
What happened Monday was spiritually enrapturing. Ethington was packed. It was loud. The crowd and the performers both couldn’t seem to get enough singing, clapping, jumping, worshipping as all 10 songs on Canyon Worship 2019 were featured. (Here’s a full replay of the concert, and the album can be purchased on Spotify here.)
Harrison Russell, who got it off to an energetic start with his “Praises” from this year’s album plus “Rhythm” from last year, graduated last spring. But it’s comforting for him to see first-hand the talent following in his path.
“It seems like the people that are coming up are getting some rich teaching and some rich instruction, and I feel like that’s really pouring over – like Moises, for example,” Russell said, noting how much Felipe’s Junior Projects and Senior Projects classes helped him.
“Those classes in particular are really hands-on. Students are getting a lot of very practical experience. The kind of wisdom we’re getting from people like him … that kind of instruction and inspiration empowers students in a way to feel confident besides just stepping into their calling.
“Even the level of musicianship and the amount of collaboration – there were not many songs that were just one person. In the community of Worship Arts, we can help each other and support each other. When brains get together and hearts get together, it’s really cool, what can be the end result.”
This was the fourth time the Canyon Worship artists have performed in front of a live audience aside from their twice-a-year Songwriters Showcases, but it was the first time they did so on campus. The other three were in local churches.
It made a huge difference – the audience was filled with GCU students and already knew many of the songs. The frequency also helps the musicians, such as bass guitarist Dan Bongard.
“I think musically it’s getting tighter as a whole with the band and the students, and the songs they write are really good,” said Bongard, who knows a little something about music – he has been playing the guitar for 40 years and travels the country performing in prisons, inner-city shelters and churches for Campus Crusade.
“I really like the songs on this album and the last album because so much of the worship we do at church is very formulated to sing along easily – the progressions are real easy, the melodies are real easy to sing along. These students are writing things that have a few more twists in them, and I think they’re a little more interesting musically and vocally. And the lyrics are great.”
Junior Elaina Marchegger, who collaborated on two songs for the album (“Who Am I” and “Has a Name”), has seen the artists’ development in her time at GCU. She and Chandler Blueberg created and sang “Who Am I” together, and as they prayed and prepared for Monday night they talked about how powerful this all has become.
“We’re not up here to be like, ‘Oh, this song that we wrote is so cool and it sounds good.’ We’re worshipping together as a family, and I think that’s where the confidence comes from,” Marchegger said. “We all just prayed so much tonight together about showcasing, about the songs, just everything. It’s not about us and it’s not for us. It’s just a way that we get to worship together as a group, as a worship family but also as the body of Christ.”
Marchegger remembers how thrilled everyone was a couple of years ago just to hear their songs played over the loudspeakers in front of GCU Arena. Now the Canyon Worship albums are known nationally, and Marchegger has received requests from her hometown (Carson City, Nev.) to perform in churches there.
“It’s crazy to see how far the album reaches beyond just Phoenix,” she said.
The collaboration even extended to the production of Monday’s concert. Learning how to do the sound, lighting and video also is available in the Worship Arts curriculum, and the confidence of those students is evident, too.
“I think a lot of that has to do with the preparation,” said senior Bryce Morrow, who also played the drums for two songs on the album. “We know what we’re walking into a little bit more.”
It’s quite a combination. Felipe, who has been teaching at GCU since 2016, has found that watching his students perform onstage is as comforting as watching them accept their diplomas at commencement.
“I have a 2-year-old son, and the feeling of seeing my son do something I love, it’s pretty similar to seeing my students graduate,” he said. “Just to see them develop in their gift, it’s super inspiring for me.
“It’s funny to hear that it’s inspiring for them to be here under the influence of faculty members. It inspires us. They inspire us to keep doing what we do and to stay plugged into the heart of God, to have hopes for what the future can bring.”
In the Worship Arts program, the present is pretty good, too.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].