Newcomers bring diversity to Songwriters Showcase
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Alan Cisneros
GCU News Bureau
Watching her sing so beautifully Monday night, you’d never know that Yoo Jin “Gabby” Kim barely spoke and understood English when she arrived at Grand Canyon University from South Korea nearly three years ago.
Watching Briseyda Payan sing with such eloquence, you’d never know she committed her life to Christ only a year and a half ago.
But there they were at the Spring Songwriters Showcase in the GCU Recording Studio, performing alongside the veterans of the Worship Arts program – and looking as if they belonged.
It was the most notable development of the semi-annual event, which for the second time in the 2020-21 academic year had to be staged without an audience and livestreamed because of COVID-19 protocols.
But that didn’t take away from the sharing of these 12 songs:
- “Hallelujah” (Salvation Song) by Victoria S. Gutierrez
- “Close” by Madison Russell
- “Holy is Your Name on High” by Matthew Grewe
- “Dry Bones” by Nicole Swartz
- “Adore Him” by Briseyda Payan
- “Consumers” by Amanda Riffe
- “One Day at a Time” by Izzy Muzzy
- “Dwell with You” by Madison Russell
- “No Crown” by Yoo Jin “Gabby” Kim
- “Just by Trusting Jesus” by Austin Bratton
- “Dearly Loved” by Trina Beecher
- “The Real Thing” by Nicole Jasperse, Madison Russell, Colter Bonaroti, Victoria Gutierrez
Kim learned of GCU through a partnership the University has with her school, located near Seoul. Talk about a leap of faith. She had to leap over the Pacific Ocean.
“I just remember thinking, ‘Wow, how brave of this young woman to come over here and engage in the worship arts,’” said Eric Johnson, Manager of the Recording Studio.
Engaging in English was tough enough. Her studies through elementary and high school focused on reading the language and listening to it but not writing it and speaking it. She remembers how difficult it was to order food when she first arrived on campus, and it took a full year of listening to professors and watching people’s body language to become more proficient.
Her faith is a different story, and she explains “No Crown” thusly:
“My song is about having a strong conviction and love of God. I was thinking about my own image in the world and the perception of God to see me, and I realized that I’m not going to regret this choice that I made.”
Now that she’s finishing her junior year, the Worship Arts major has grown to love spaghetti and hamburgers. Oh, and one other thing.
“The sunset is really pretty here,” she said.
Payan came to GCU from not nearly as far away – she’s from Tucson, Arizona. But her journey to being a Worship Arts major and being chosen for the Showcase was much more of a longshot. She had started writing songs as a freshman in high school, but those songs turned into worship music only after a youth pastor at her apartment complex introduced her to “Reckless Love.”
“That was the first worship song where I really encountered God,” she said. “I ended up going to youth group with friends, and that’s where I gave my life to Christ.”
Soon after, she joined a Christian club at her high school and started leading worship. She said she wrote “Adore Him” in 10 minutes over winter break while reading the book of Job and noting that her mother has a mat that says, “Oh come let us adore Him.”
“I wasn’t sure exactly why I was writing the song, but just the season I’m in today, that’s the song that I find Him singing over me,” she said.
Making the Showcase as a freshman is the culmination of that season. She got word of the selection while she was in a class on Zoom, and she was so excited she made a funny face, slammed down the screen of her laptop and ran around the room.
“My roommate said, ‘Bri, what is going on?’ And I said, ‘Dude! Look!’”
But it was well-deserved. “She’s emerging into the worship arts family as somebody who’s becoming pretty well known,” Johnson said.
Her experience at GCU has been a similar woo-hoo moment after she thought she would enlist in the Air Force and then go into law enforcement. She thought she would be too shy to spend much time at the Recording Studio, but the atmosphere there made that shyness melt away.
“It has been so good,” she said. “I have met the most amazing people here, just people who are ready to pour into you without even asking, and I love that. The community that is here is super, super, super amazing, and I have found myself growing much more spiritually and I just feel that I’m surrounded by people who love the same things I do.”
It’s the kind of story that Johnson loves to hear. The Showcase makes it that much more special.
“I love these Showcases because they are the one time in the semester, especially during this pandemic, that we get our Worship Arts family together,” he said.
“These musicians and artists, on the whole, haven’t been able to get together and do music for more than a year. When they realize that there are more people doing music than just themselves in isolation, it’s like everything just got re-energized. It’s almost like a big jumpstart.”
Dr. Randall Downs, Worship Arts Coordinator for the College of Theology, noted that students still have found ways to collaborate via video conferencing – in fact, “Hallelujah” is a Zoom creation.
He is thankful for the flexibility and professionalism of Johnson’s Recording Studio crew and everyone else at the University who still found a way to make the Showcase happen this year (it had be canceled last spring because the pandemic had only recently disrupted campus life). And he also was delighted to see the new faces, such as Kim and Payan.
“There were some powerful melodies that are going to stick with people for days to come – I know they will for me,” he said. “That’s the beauty in music is the Scriptural truths that can be conveyed and will be stuck in your head and stuck in your heart. I think it’s really a way of connecting the heart and the mind, and I think these songs definitely did that.”
Maybe Kim celebrated her achievement with a nice, big plate of spaghetti. But …
“That’s funny,” Johnson said, “because some of the tech crew guys and I were talking about celebrating the end of the year by going to Korean barbecue.”
Wouldn’t you know it?
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].