Her Canyon Worship wait ends with ‘In the Waiting’
Fifth of a series featuring the 10 student artists who wrote the songs for Canyon Worship 2021, scheduled to be released in September. Today: Nicole Swartz.
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Some songs take months or even years to germinate.
Some ideas grow into lyrics in a few minutes.
Nicole Swartz’s “In the Waiting” on Canyon Worship 2021 is a little bit of both.
The genesis of the song was what she experienced during her first year in the Worship Arts program at Grand Canyon University, a time when everything seemed to be going right after she transferred from Chandler Gilbert Community College.
“I felt a lot of fulfillment and I felt a lot of amazing things that God was doing in my life,” she said.
But then her brother enlisted in the military and was stationed on the other side of the world.
Her sister moved to Ukraine.
And several family members passed away.
Just like that, the baby of the family – six and three years younger than her siblings – was feeling a little lost as she sat in her Old Testament class and listened to a discussion about the third chapter in the book of Habakkuk, which reads in part:
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
They were the right words at the right time, inspiring Swartz to eventually pen these words of her own:
There’s an end to every season, an open door to the unknown.
“Even in the drought, even in the waiting for you, Lord, my heart continues to beat for You. I continue to be faithful to You, Lord,” she said. “It’s this whole culmination of Israel and their suffering and their waiting for God to bring His fulfillment and then coming to that resolution that waiting with God is better than any fulfillment that you could have by your own works.”
But the door wasn’t opened, and that fulfillment wasn’t fully realized until she was walking into the GCU Recording Studio with its manager, Eric Johnson.
He casually asked whether she had a song ready for Demo Day, where students can record an original song, create a professional demo and do what they want with it.
She told him she didn’t have one.
“Well, go write one,” was his equally casual reply.
Swartz, who works in the Studio, didn’t have a lot going on that day, so she went to a practice room and immediately thought of the book of Habakkuk and what had happened in that season of her life.
“An hour later,” she said, “it was like, ‘Here we go.’”
You might wonder: How on earth do you write a song in an hour?
“By the grace of God. It just came out,” she said. “I know a lot of people say they wrote it in five minutes. I don’t personally believe that’s the regular story.
“All I can say is, when I sat there at the piano, there it was. It was right for my heart. I think it was a really awesome point for me as an artist where I saw my writing go to the next step – my words were becoming right in touch with the words that God had put on my heart.”
It’s her first Canyon Worship solo, and Worship Arts Coordinator Dr. Randall Downs thought it was about time she made the album after all the times she has been chosen for the twice-a-year Songwriters Showcase.
“She’s always been a great songwriter since I’ve known her,” he said. “She’s always impressed me because she’s come in and asked, ‘How can I improve different elements of my songwriting?’ She has taken any kind of advice she has gotten to heart, and you can see that she has really developed into who she is.
“She is very distinctively a solo artist, and you can tell her style – she does so well with it. I love that she brings her own personality.”
Johnson recalls the conversation with Swartz and wasn’t surprised that she followed through on his suggestion. “Nicole is a natural leader. She is a strong songwriter and sings with conviction,” he said.
He also saw those traits when she accepted a student worker position in the Recording Studio in March 2020, only to be told a short time later that she wouldn’t be able to start until the fall semester because the pandemic was forcing the closure of the Studio.
“When she finally started her new job in the fall of 2020, she came in with an infectious enthusiasm and immediately hit the ground running,” he said. “Before long she was in the Studio recording one song after another for her personal projects, and now she is featured on the Canyon Worship project. I have a feeling we will be seeing (and hearing) a lot more from Nicole as she continues her journey at GCU.”
Swartz is just grateful to make the album and finally get the opportunity to work with producers Geoff Hunker and Dave Wiley.
“It’s a big honor,” she said. “One of the reasons I came here was Canyon Worship. I toured other colleges, and I haven’t seen anyone else that’s doing what GCU is doing right now. They’re building momentum in an amazing way.
“For me, as an artist and songwriter, this normally would never be an opportunity for me, especially as a college student, to have professional engineers and professional producers like Geoff and Dave. It was a beautiful song to the Lord; they’ve made it just so much more professional and brought out more beauty in it. They’ve taught me so much.”
She already knew a lot about the piano, which she has been playing for 15 years, and the guitar. She also loves playing the drums about as much as she enjoys coffee (has her own espresso machine), cats and photography. She loves the way Canyon Worship also utilizes the talents of students outside the Worship Arts program.
“I’m very passionate about music being the platform for all creatives to meet,” she said.
But Worship Arts – and the Recording Studio – are what she knows best, and she has a little advice for those who will come after her and her peers as she looks ahead to graduating next spring.
It’s something Desiree Aguilar, who was on the first Canyon Worship EP, told her: Take advantage of opportunities. Don’t get overextended, but ask questions and spend as much time in the Studio as possible.
“There are so many talented people in this program,” she said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things we’ve seen as the program has evolved – it just gets bigger and bigger every year.
“Working at the front desk, I get the privilege of seeing these freshmen who are go-getters right from the beginning – all of these incredible musicians who keep growing, finding their voice and learning.”
It’s that open door to the unknown, only you don’t know when it will open. Might happen now. Might happen later. God works on His own schedule, but it’s worth the wait.
Related content from Canyon Worship 2021:
GCU Today: The music of Canyon Worship is all grown up
Related content from previous Canyon Worship albums:
GCU Today: ‘Amazing’ Canyon Worship album released