Students' voices sweeten the wind at Songwriters Showcase

Abby Sorensen performs her song “Abide” during the Songwriters Showcase on The Quad.

Photos by Ralph Freso / Slideshow

The wind made tree branches dance above her and the moon shined bright as senior Abby Sorensen’s voice filled The Quad on Grand Canyon University’s campus Monday night.

I will abide in you Lord

Like so many of the writers who performed at the Worship Arts program’s spring Songwriters Showcase, she found those words alone in her room that were gifted to those listening on a cool spring evening. She closed her eyes and raised her arms to sing a soulful melody of “Abide.”

“With this upcoming year and so many changes —  I’m graduating with unknowns — it just felt like abide in the Lord was my heart vibe for the year,” she said afterward. “Even just singing tonight, this song gets me going, and I can worship through these words because they are so needed in my life right now.”

Kyleigh Almich (right) performs her song “Forevermore” during the Songwriters Showcase.

The showcase gives Worship Arts students an opportunity to perform their original music for the first time for peers and be evaluated for inclusion on the next Canyon Worship album.

“It’s always low-key, casual and very community,” said Recording Studio Manager Eric Johnson of the showcase, performed for the second time outdoors. “I like it, the only thing that would make it better is fire pits.”

It would be hard to top the singing leaves and voices of the eight participants.

Sorensen, who will have a song on the 2023 Canyon Worship album, arrived at this moment later than others, though she did play the piano at a young age. She transferred to GCU from Oregon to study elementary education in 2020 and switched to Worship Arts in the fall of 2021.

“I feel like it was God’s timing. I don’t know if could write songs in high school that could be truthful,” she said. “I remember being nervous about it. It was a huge confirmation from God. He reveled a new gift, a new calling in my life through songwriting.”

After working at a youth camp in Colorado this summer, she hopes to continue working on a worship team in a church or teaching music in a school — and find a way to keep writing songs.

“I hope so. Every time I write it’s like, it’s probably all I got. I will run out of melodies,” she said. “But that is what so cool about music. On nights like this, it’s like wow ...”

Maclaren Keffer performs her song “Safe Place.”

There are so many ways, Sorensen said, to express yourself.

She heard the soaring voice of Megan Close in “Where I’m Found,” and Olivia Lazzarini’s “Celestial” as the moon hung overhead, and the sweet Celtic inflection of Lindi Swift’s “Royalty.”

But to be wowed by a freshman was a welcome surprise.

Sarah Renay was introduced by Worship Arts Director Dr. Randall Downs, saying, “It feels like GCU is your new home.”

Then she sang a beautiful song, “Always Find You,” and those trees swayed in time.

“I love anything outdoors. I think that is also what inspired the song,” Renay said. “It feels visual, and I love how Jesus speaks in analogies. So being outdoors inspires that, too. I feel like the trees tonight, the branches are worshipping, as well — through the wind.”

Renay said she was looking for a home after a summer of change and difficulty after high school graduation.

“I write a lot of songs in my bedroom late at night, almost like a desperate plea to God, a sort of journal or diary of how He has worked in my life,” she said of writing “Always Find You.”

Sarah Renay, accompanied by Kyleigh Almich on cello, performs her song “Always Find You.”

When she discovered GCU and came to campus last fall, she carried one song with her.

“I kept it in my back pocket. When I heard I could record it in a professional studio with a professional producer, I jumped on it immediately,” she said.

She didn’t feel lost anymore, she had a home, and new music came to her, along with new interests and friends.

“It's incredible. When I walk down Lopes Way I see so many faces,” she said. “I participate in Honors, The Gathering, Chapel, Life groups. I’ve truly found a community, and I am so excited to be here for the next three years.

And on the very day she performed it live, “Always Find You” was released on Spotify and Apple Music.

"It’s one thing to record but another to perform it with the soul and meaning behind it,” she said. “There are so many emotions that can be portrayed, so I love being able to perform it in the showcase. Any opportunity I can get to share how God is working in my life at GCU, I take it.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

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Spring 2023 Songwriters Showcase set

“Forevermore” by Kyleigh Almich

“Where I’m Found” by Megan Close

“Safe Place” by Maclaren Keffer

“Always Find You” by Sarah Renay

“Abide” by Abby Sorensen

“Celestial” by Olivia Lazzarini

“Royalty” by Lindi Swift

“For All You’ve Done” by Matthew Grewe

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Bible Verse

"What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God — through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:24-25)

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