Canyon Worship 2022 is in step with collaboration

June 14, 2022 / by / 0 Comment

Canyon Worship 2022 artists include, standing from left, Victoria Gutierrez, Colter Bonaroti, Nicole Swartz, Baraka Shekanena, Nicole Jasperse, Gabby Kim, Amanda Riffe and Edwin Lopez and, sitting from left, Madison Russell, Trina Beecher and Kyleigh Almich. (Photo by Elizabeth Tinajero)

First of a series

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

The state-of-the-art Recording Studio at Grand Canyon University houses rehearsal rooms, a Songwriters Lounge, a Recording Lab and plenty of other nooks and crannies where students can create and jam.

There’s even a state-of-the-art stairwell.

Utilizing the brick-enclosed reverberation chamber on the west side of the Technology Building proved to be a sound idea in the making of Canyon Worship 2022.

This year’s album of songs written and performed by Worship Arts students, scheduled to be released in September, features collaboration on four of the 11 tracks.

Collaboration is aided by reverberation. So one night during a songwriting class, where students are encouraged to create music together, several of them decided to switch it up.

“The stairwell was a very different environment with the acoustics, how much echoes in there, and that it was outside but inside,” said Colter Bonaroti, who put together “The Real Thing” there with Nicole Jasperse, Madison Russell and Victoria Gutierrez. “It felt really isolated, like we were the only ones there pouring into this idea that we were coming up with on the spot.”

But he couldn’t help but notice the irony.

“I always think it’s so funny that we came up with such a great song like ‘The Real Thing’ in the stairwell when we had such a great recording studio right inside the door,” he said sheepishly.

No need to apologize. As it turns out, stairwells rock in the music industry.

“There’s lore in the recording world of capturing a vibe or a sound, and traditionally stairwells and bathrooms have been locations of really good acoustics,” Recording Studio Manager Eric Johnson said.

Victoria Gutierrez has become the go-to bass guitarist in the program. (Photo by Elizabeth Tinajero)

The album’s collaboration reflects the welcoming culture of the Recording Studio. Gutierrez, a commuter student from Peoria, Arizona, who will be a senior in the fall, noticed it right away.

“When I first walked into the Studio, I didn’t know if it was an off-limits thing or only if you had a project,” she said. “I felt like a cool kid walking into somewhere where there were people who shared the same values I do and have a passion for music the same way I did.”

But it took awhile. She was shy. Now she spends all of her campus free time in the Studio. She even works there.

“I still have a lot more growing to do because I still feel shy sometimes, but up here it’s family to me,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about how I have to act around them. I can just be myself.

“It felt so welcoming. It brought down all of my barriers. It was just really nice to get to know people who wanted a genuine connection.”

The album first-timer collaborated on two other songs that made the list, “Sometimes” and “I’m Yours.” There’s a reason for that: After Joseph Vaught graduated a year ago (he’s now a full-time employee of the Studio), students sought another top-quality bass guitarist and discovered Gutierrez’s talents.

She created “I’m Yours” with Russell, Nicole Jasperse and Annabelle Butcher via Zoom. Even when the Worship Arts students aren’t in the same space, they collaborate.

“It’s been a huge blessing to get to share what was on our hearts when we wrote this,” Gutierrez said. “The song is about where we came from and how we once were and how we felt we had to belong with the crowd.

“But God pulled us out of it and showed us, ‘You don’t have to belong to that. You belong to Me.’ It’s just a big joyful song of singing, ‘I’m Yours, God.’”

The fact that she even is at GCU is a matter of letting God take over. Gutierrez had enrolled to study jazz at another university but left on the first day of classes.

“I wasn’t trusting the Lord,” she said. “But the one thing that, looking back, felt really clear was that God was like, ‘I’m going to provide for you.’”

Annabelle Butcher

She transferred to GCU and soon after met Butcher, another first-time album qualifier whose path to the University was winding. Butcher didn’t want to leave her home in Longmont, Colorado, and go to college. She just wanted to lead worship at her church.

“I got accepted and I was like, ‘Well, I guess I’ll go,’” she said. “But it was an immediate ‘this is where I’m supposed to be.’ I made so many friends right off the bat.

“I don’t think I was ever really challenged on anything until I came here. I came here and there were people who challenged my beliefs, who challenged my perspective on worship, my perspective on songwriting, on life, and it was like, ‘Oh, this is how you grow.’”

Now that she’s going to be a senior, she also has a perspective about the Recording Studio:

“There’s nowhere else like this. When else are we going to have peers our own age, passionate about leading worship, passionate about following the Lord, who can all gather in this space that’s meant for us to collaborate and with the resources we need?”

Students notice that spirit of collaboration wherever they look. Trina Beecher, appearing on the album for the first time with Edwin Lopez and Alex Ramirez on “Here (I Will Be),” said she used to write all of her songs on her own. Not anymore.

“I really feel like I’ve learned the beauty of collaborating with people in worship,” she said. “I’ve learned so much from people’s styles and how they write.

“It’s more of ‘Let’s all worship together,’ and then these songs just pop up. I feel like that’s really powerful. Sometimes pride can get in the way where people are like, ‘I wrote this song. This is my song.’ This is the Lord’s song. It’s always supposed to be for the Lord.”

The stairwell became such a popular place, Nicole Jasperse recorded a song there. (Photo courtesy of GCU Recording Studio)

Dr. Randall Downs, Coordinator of the Worship Arts program, points to the open mic nights in the Recording Studio as another tool that has encouraged students to work together. He is so thrilled by all the collaboration, he plans to incorporate even more of it into fall classes.

“I think it reflects the community in a pretty profound way,” he said.

Maybe most profound is the way it has affected Russell. She’s such a prolific songwriter and artist that other students gravitate to her, but collaborating has benefited her just as much.

“I’ve always been open to co-writing, but I think I was too afraid to be vulnerable and share my ideas with someone else,” she said. “Just writing with another person is a pretty vulnerable thing, but I’ve gotten past that and I’ve accepted the idea of someone taking what I’ve offered and doing what they want with it.

“It’s been really fun, and I’ve gotten to know people better because of that. All of my friends, we’ve gotten a lot closer by getting to write together.”

No matter where they’re doing it.

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


Related content:

GCU Today: Canyon Worship Night brings album to life

GCU Today: GCU celebrates release of Canyon Worship 2021

GCU Today: The music of Canyon Worship is all grown up

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