First of a series
Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Slaven Gujic
GCU News Bureau
This was going to be a challenge, kind of like trying to win another championship.
The Canyon Worship 2017 album was a hit, following up on the success of the first try, Canyon Worship 2016. The talent in the Center for Worship Arts at Grand Canyon University is so deep, both albums showcased a wide variety of genres, voices, sounds and messages.
But now that Canyon Worship 2018 is here – it’s set for a Sept. 10 release (price: $9.99) on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Shazam and also in the Lope Shop on campus – the feeling among the people who put it together is that the students have done it again. Call it a three-peat.
“Last year’s was so good that, coming into this project, I actually was a little bit concerned that we may not be able to bring it up to that level,” said Eric Johnson, manager of the GCU Recording Studio and the album’s main coordinator.
“But I think we hit the mark and maybe even passed it a little bit because we’re shifting the focus to the corporate worship side. There are a lot of good songs that you wouldn’t necessarily sing as a group in church, but there are songs that you can sing in church.”
“Corporate worship,” also known as congregational worship, is the term used for songs that can be incorporated more easily into a church setting. It’s the direction the Christian music industry is headed.
For the second consecutive year, the album was produced by two music industry veterans, Geoff Hunker (Satellites & Sirens) and Billy Smiley (The Gaithers). Like Johnson, they’re delighted with how it turned out.
“It’s very different,” Hunker said. “As the industry changes, there are new trends that happen. I feel like this record has new trends that are taking place in the industry. The last one, which was a great record, fit that time and there are some great songs on it.
“It makes the Canyon Worship project special. From year to year, you’re getting what’s going on in the industry because you’re bringing on people like me and Billy. I worked in the music industry for a while, so I always have my finger on the pulse of it. We’re paying attention to what music is doing and then instilling it in this stuff so it feels current when this record comes out. It’s going to feel like, ‘This is the stuff that’s popular right now.’”
Hunker likened it to the 1990s rock flair of worship, and while the move toward congregational worship music was intentional, Smiley emphasized the artistic side as well.
“On all of the songs, I tried to do different styles so as not to limit it to one thing,” he said. “The approach was to make it more congregational, worship-based. We tried to not so much find artsy songs but to find some that might have artistic goodness or greatness to them but also can connect with congregations or the Chapel worship service. That was the goal, but also keeping some creative artistic influences in the songs and the writing.”
Another change in this year’s album is the way the songs were chosen. This time, because he felt so many good songs had been submitted, Johnson had the idea of including Hunker and Smiley in the process. The College of Theology whittled the songs submitted by students to 18, and the two producers then listened to all 18 and picked five apiece they’d like to do.
That’s quite a change from the way a producer normally does business.
“A lot of times when I work with artists, I get a chance to develop the song and go through that process,” Smiley said. “Here, they had a process to vet the songs, and then I got a chance, as Geoff did, to go through them and pick the ones that we connected with. It’s not seeing their faces or anything; it’s just hearing the music. That was kind of a cool approach to what we do.”
The 10 songs, chosen from more than 130 submissions, and the authors are:
- “Rhythm” (Harrison Russell)
- “Goes Before” (Katie Brown)
- “You and I” (Mallory Denson)
- “Make Yourself Known” (Kristyn Marie)
- “Witness” (Aaron Bolton)
- “Come to Me” (Harrison Russell)
- “Free Me” (Courtney Welker, featuring Mallory Denson)
- “Hear Me” (Chris Calderon)
- “My Only Truth” (Logan Myers)
- “Still Love Me” (Johnny Harris)
“It’s bringing in a lot of pieces,” Hunker said. “I don’t think it’s one specific corporate worship record, but there are corporate worship songs. There are songs that would be great specials at churches, something that would fit a moment. There’s the electronic side of some of the songs. There’s the more rock side of things.
“I think it has an array. I don’t think people are going to get bored listening to the record, for sure. But it also isn’t just a straight worship record. Every song is God-focused, but it’s not necessarily a worship song.”
Leading up to the Sept. 10 release date, GCU Today will publish a series of stories highlighting the student artists, the level of collaboration that went into the album and how the Worship Arts program makes it possible. Russell will perform "Rhythm" in Chapel on that day.
“I love the idea of what the Canyon Worship record is,” Hunker said. “There are so many creative and talented students here. To take all these different people and allow them a place where they can release their own original music that’s produced professionally, it’s all of the avenues that any artist would want their song to be on.”
So did those student artists meet the challenge?
“We’re blown away,” Johnson said.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
GCU Today (2017 album): Students, genres band together in Canyon Worship
GCU Today (2016 album): 'Amazing' Canyon Worship album to be released