By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Amanda Riffe already was uneasy about the 1,905 miles between Grand Rapids, Mich., where she grew up, and her new home away from home, Grand Canyon University.
The adjustment to college life can be challenging for any freshman, but the Worship Arts major had another reason for her angst on that September 2018 day – she had to come up with a song for the Songwriters Showcase, and she didn’t feel confident about submitting any of her previous work even though it was extensive.
“I was really praying about it – I was so stressed,” she said. “I don’t know why, but God just brought this passage to me. I was sitting at a piano, just playing around, and it just came out at once. I revisited it maybe two times and changed a couple lyrics, but it came out pretty much the way it is now.
“I remember sitting back and thinking, ‘OK, that just happened. Thanks!’ I partially don’t take credit for it because it’s definitely a Holy Spirit thing.”
Monday, almost exactly a year later, she was performing that song, “Isaiah 55,” for a large audience in Chapel. She not only made the Songwriters Showcase; her song was chosen for Canyon Worship 2019, which has just been released to the public. (It's available on Spotify, Google Play Music, iTunes and at the Lope Shops.)
Riffe’s transition was made that much smoother by the culture of the Worship Arts program and its favorite hangout spot, the GCU Recording Studio. She quickly realized that even though every songwriter desperately wants to be on the album, it is not an everyone-for-themselves situation. It’s everyone for everyone.
“I was really intimidated at first because I didn’t know what classes would look like, how difficult classes would be, even just with students – creative people can be kind of competitive,” said Riffe, who first heard of the GCU program at a Kari Jobe concert, listened to the Canyon Worship albums and quickly fell in love with them. “But, honestly, I never have felt a sense of competition between people here. I’ve always felt like they’re genuinely concerned, and if they give me feedback they’re not trying to get something from me.
“I’ve always had a lot of support in everything I’ve done, and that’s been something that’s really special. Even in my songwriting class, we do ‘collabs’ together.”
It is a culture that has built upon itself, with each new group of students perpetuating what already had been created. That makes them even more appreciative of what they inherited.
“It’s definitely a different kind of community from what I ever would have expected to be in at a college,” said Matthew Melchisedeck, who with his brother Christian wrote and performed “How You Love Me” for the album. “GCU is astounding just in itself – the entire GCU community. I didn’t think it could get any closer than that.
“Then I get to the Worship Arts community, and tons of people are walking up to you wanting to hear your story, like, ‘What do you do? Are you part of the production? What instruments do you play?’”
Said Christian, “It’s hard if you’re trying to get band members together – you have to go on Craigslist and search for somebody. Here, if you start as a freshman in the Worship Arts program, when you graduate you have all these connections and you can pick out the really good ones that you want to work on music with … or you can just have them as friends.”
The experience has been made even more special by the fact that Matthew and Christian are best friends. They were born on the same day of the month 20 months apart, and they most definitely are on the same page.
“Our relationship has definitely not been like any other brothers that I’ve ever heard of, because we’ve been best friends our entire lives,” Matthew said. “There hasn’t been a point where we hated each other or there was any strife. It’s been pretty incredible to have a live-in best friend my whole life.”
They needed that relationship when they faced some traumatic teenage times after their family’s move from Colorado Springs, Colo., to Seattle, and that’s where the song comes in.
“Obviously, when your faith is tested, it’s not like you’re flawless every single time,” Matthew said. “When you’re at your lowest, sometimes you’re angry at God, saying, ‘Why on earth are You letting this happen?’ And yet, even in those times of imperfection, God still loves us and still pursues us even in times where we might be 100% turning our backs on Him.”
They hope their song can be therapeutic for kids going through similar travails. “There are so many kids out there who don’t know that God is going to be there for them no matter what,” Matthew said.
Years later, they see how that strife led to a new life.
Matthew: “If all that stuff hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have been the worship leader at my school. I don’t think I’d even be at GCU.”
Christian, who recently got married, said: “I felt like I’d lost everything. But without moving to Seattle, I wouldn’t have met my wife, I wouldn’t have gotten involved in youth group. In the song, it’s like, ‘All right, God, how could you love me after I completely bashed You? I could have used this time to be glorifying You.’”
Belying the serious issues it represents, the song has “a nice groove to it,” said Dr. Randall Downs, Coordinator of the Center for Worship Arts. “It’s going to be one that people are really tapping their foot to.” Recording Studio Manager Eric Johnson calls it “this sort of country-home feel, and I don’t mean country music, I mean someone who grew up in the country.”
That is quite a contrast to the last song on the album, “Chasing After Your Heart” by Mary Van Vleck from Fresno, Calif., Amanda Hauck from Albuquerque, N.M., and Bailey Drake from Chandler. It’s the first time on the album for all three.
“A pop, fun, dance-y song,” Van Vleck said. “This definitely could be a youth group or camp song.”
Drake’s mother told her they sound like the Bangles.
Downs described it as “a very cool vibe” and said, “It’s definitely something that you could hear in a congregation, and it’s a song that I think you could play in any style.”
Like Riffe, they put it together quickly. Van Vleck said they started talking about the idea of God pursuing you in an intentional way during songwriting class, and they had a song by the end of their third get-together.
Downs and Johnson said they really didn’t know the depth of Van Vleck’s singing talent until she sang the song in Showcase.
“It was like, ‘Oh my gosh, where is this big voice coming out of such a small package?’” Johnson said. “She has this sort of Gloria Gaynor, Diana Ross sound.”
What also makes the song stand out is the bottle of sprinkles. It’s listed right there on the album cover -- Stereophonic Sprinkle Shaker: Brandon Cruse. A funky, fancy instrument? Uh, no. A bottle of sprinkles, the kind you shake onto the frosting of a cake.
“Makes a great shaker sound,” Hauck said. “Someone had left it there, and we asked if we could use it.”
And that’s what Canyon Worship 2019 and the Worship Arts program are all about: a variety of sounds.
As Van Vleck put it, “Everyone comes in with different ideas about what worship should look like or how liturgical it should be, and it’s cool that in classes we learn to be more accepting of all those things. The main thing the program has taught me is that there’s no one good and proper way to worship God other than genuinely.”
Because the students never know when God is going to put a song on their heart … or a bottle of sprinkles in their hand.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
Here are the songs featured on the album:
- “Praises” (Harrison Russell) lyric video, behind the song
- “Like You Will” (Courtney Welker) lyric video, behind the song
- “Come Up Here” (Katie Brown) lyric video, behind the song
- "How You Love Me" (Christian and Matthew Melchisedeck) lyric video, behind the song
- “Coming After Me” (Chris Calderon and Logan Myers) lyric video, behind the song
- “Whom Have I” (Chandler Blueberg and Elaina Marchegger) lyric video, behind the song
- "Isaiah 55" (Riffe) lyric video, behind the song
- “Omnipresent” (Emma Terlizzi) lyric video, behind the song
- “Has a Name” (Marchegger, Joseph Vaught, Taryn Nellermoe) lyric video, behind the song
- "Chasing After Your Heart" (Hauck, Drake, Van Vleck) lyric video, behind the song
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