Students don't miss a beat as Showcase goes virtual

Dr. Randall Downs shares his closing thoughts about the Songwriters Showcase, which took place virtually because of the pandemic.

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

Worship Arts student Tyler Villines was the emcee.

The semiannual Songwriters Showcase had to improvise Monday night. Instead of performing before a large crowd in the cozy atmosphere of Canyon 49 Grill's outdoor patio, Worship Arts students were in the comfort -- and relative isolation -- of the Grand Canyon University Recording Studio because of the pandemic.

But this meant that even more people could watch the event (see it here), and Dr. Randall Downs, Coordinator of the Worship Arts program, was pleased with both the songs and the production team, mentored by Recording Studio Manager Eric Johnson.

"Some talented students, and Eric and the production team knocked it out of the park," Downs said.

Another new touch was having a student, Tyler Villines, serve as emcee. Villines talked at length about each song, explaining the background where appropriate and explaining why he liked it.

Here's a rundown of each song with comments by Downs and Villines.

Trina Beecher

"In Your Goodness"

by Trina Beecher

Beecher was going through the challenge of moving from Oregon to Arizona. "Everything was uncomfortable and out of her control," Villines said, "and from that God worked through her to write this song about being desperate for the presence of God."

Downs: "That was a bunch of new students, but their blend, with their harmonies, the way that they played off each other, was remarkable. They sounded like they've been doing that for years together."

Travis Hathaway


by Travis Hathaway

Villines got excited hearing this song being rehearsed. "At the beginning of 2020," he said, "he (Hathaway) had this fire burning inside of him from this frustration of seeing the enemy trying to tear apart the body."

Downs: "Travis is a legend in the songwriting field here at GCU. One of the things I love about Travis is that he's a great writer, very talented singer, musician, and then he has a great supporting group around him. I was amazed, as always."

Austin Bratton

"By Grace Through Faith"

by Austin Bratton

This song is from Ephesians 2:8-9, which reads:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.

Downs: "Austin is just such a deep theological thinker and loves Jesus. He has a wonderful voice and is passionate about the Lord."

Nicole Raum (left) and Elaina Marchegger


by Elaina Marchegger and Nicole Raum

They spontaneously created this chorus at a worship night before the pandemic, then finished it in the middle of the shelter-in-place weeks last spring.

Downs: "Nicole is also a talented singer and songwriter. To have them teamed up was pretty huge." 

Madison Russell

"All I Want"

by Madison Russell

Russell was on Canyon Worship 2020.

Downs: "All the songs she writes are just top-notch. Actually, I had that song stuck in my head this morning because it's so catchy." 

Amanda Riffe

"Take Up My Cross"

by Amanda Riffe

Riffe had two of the most popular songs on Canyon Worship 2020.

Downs: "It was such a beautiful song lyrically, and it shows her ability and diversity. She's able to transcend so many different genres. Just to have her up there with a track that had more of a soul-type feel to it was just amazing and shows her depth as far as creativity and performance." 

Tim Hesman

"Living Hallelujah"

by Tim Hesman

Downs has had him in two classes this semester.

"In everything he does, he's one of those students who's going to bring his best," Downs said. "He has a strong voice, and his performance on the piano was phenomenal. I love that he connected church history to the message of the song and came up with this theme about glorifying God with our whole self."

Travis Hathaway (left) and Daniel Stugan (second from right)


by Travis Hathaway and Daniel Stugan

Downs: "Everything I've heard them do together has been superb. They have such a unique sound. I'm a folk music fan, and they just do it so naturally."

Anna Salmon

"Empty Days"

by Anna Salmon

She submitted it a cappella, and Downs loved the way it sounded. But she added guitar for the performance and it was even better, in his mind:

"It really showcased her voice, and the fact that she can shift up into the higher register with her voice so easily was a beautiful touch. For a new student, that was a really powerful song."

Victoria Gutierrez (left) and Madison Russell

"Made for This"

by Victoria Gutierrez and Madison Russell

Downs: "That was cool to see them working together on each of their songs. I heard someone talk about that this morning, just how their voices blended so nicely together. It almost seemed like they've been singing together for years." 

Isabelle Muzzy


by Isabelle Muzzy

Downs also has Muzzy in two of his classes, and she submitted two songs for the Showcase:

"'Radiate' stood out," he said. "It's a unique song. The melody stands out on its own. She did a great job to accompany herself, and I thought it was a strong performance."

Nicole Swartz


by Nicole Swartz

Downs: "'Ransomed' got picked to be the last song because I thought it would be a fun closer, and it looks like I wasn't wrong about that. It was a really neat performance with the full band -- a lot of energy. Nicole is a great songwriter. I've seen her progress at her craft from the time she's been here at GCU until now. It's really been fun to see how she has worked on her craft. I thought it was a powerful closer, a great performance and a wonderful song."


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May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14)

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