What's new? The talent at Songwriters Showcase

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau

A lot of football teams would love to have the depth that the Center for Worship Arts at Grand Canyon University displayed Monday night at the semiannual Songwriters Showcase.

They’d score a lot of points.

Chandler Kruse appreciates the help he got from Chris Calderon on his first Showcase song.

But the Worship Arts depth goes deeper than just talent. There is a depth of musical genres, of community feeling, of interesting stories. It is why the Worship Arts coordinator, Dr. Randall Downs, felt comfortable introducing some fresh faces on the outdoor patio of Canyon 49 Grill.

And he could have brought in even more newcomers.

“It’s so neat to see people rising right up and filling spots when people leave,” he said. “We had some amazing submissions but just didn’t have enough room for the Showcase. Hopefully the students will record them and release those. We’re blessed with students and their talents and their desire to glorify God.”

One of the first-timers was junior Chandler Kruse, who sang “All We Need” with Chris Calderon. Kruse is a business management major but added Worship Arts as a minor because of what he saw in the program.

“This is a really cool opportunity that I don’t think a lot of people get – to be part of something like this,” he said. “It’s such a high caliber of talent but it’s also so extremely personal. I feel like I know half the people here, which is really cool. It doesn’t feel like a huge corporate thing.”

Chris Calderon now is producing songs as well as recording them.

Another example of the talent: Calderon has stretched his musical skills into producing. It’s a classic example of how talent makes other talent that much better.

“I’ve grown musically, spiritually, crazily just by the people I’ve been around,” Kruse said. “Even just writing that song with Chris, he was showing me things that I was like, ‘Oh, that was awesome, I never would have thought to do that.’ It’s affected how I play the piano and how I sing.”

Jaime Espinel sang at the Showcase last April, but he has yet to be chosen for the annual Canyon Worship album and, like Kruse, followed a winding path toward songwriting and performing.

Espinel actually played football – he was a defensive back at Scottsdale Community College – but when he had a chance to move up from there, he chose to tackle music instead. However, as he put it, “Life happened, God happened, there was a spiritual battle, a physical battle,” and he wound up at GCU in his late 20s, majoring in information technology.

Then one of his professors mentioned the Worship Arts program. He was intrigued. He picked up songwriting again – but with a much different focus.

Jaime Espinel (right) performed with Mary Van Vleck.

“I just felt really strongly that my lyrics were different this time around,” he said. “I was writing lyrics based around God and my relationship with Jesus.”

Espinel does rap, an extension of the poetry he wrote in high school, and his high-energy beat in “Be with You” was a great way to start the Showcase. But Espinel saw a simple victory in something else: Unlike last spring, he didn’t forget the lyrics.

“I get nervous right before,” he said. “I feel fine five minutes before, but right when I get up there it’s like, ‘Whoa.’”

Travis Hathaway, who performed “The Garden,” doesn’t feel any nerves about singing but said he needs to work on speaking and ad-libbing before and after his song. No problem Monday: He seemed much more at ease. And he certainly is comfortable with the Worship Arts program.

“People who love Jesus, who love music, it’s really cool, he said.

On the other side of the patio, Christina Lundstrom was at the controls of all the sound for the performances. She’s looking forward to graduating in April with a degree in Worship Arts with an Emphasis in Production and then has a very specific goal beyond that.

Travis Hathaway (center) performs "The Garden."

“I want to tour with artists and run their sound for live shows. That’s the dream job,” she said.

It’s a wide variety of talent, and Downs was happy to share it with the crowd. Of course, that also means that picking the songs for Canyon Worship 2020 – a process that begins shortly – will be that much more difficult.

“The one thing I’ve seen between all the Showcases is that they’re so incredibly unique,” he said. “Tonight, just hearing all the different stylistic approaches. We had bossa nova, we had gospel, we had rap, we had contemporary worship folk. I just thought it was a great blend.

“I felt like the night flowed really smoothly. There were moments of upbeat, there were moments of slower, ballad-type songs. I’m just so impressed. And it was cool to see the overall theme – the faithfulness of God, God’s pursuit of us – that was highlighted the whole night.”

It helps when you have a lot of people who can carry the ball.


Courtney Welker

Jaime Espinel, “Be with You”

Amanda Leininger, “You Found Me”

Amy Estes, “King Jesus”

Chandler Blueberg, “You’re All”

Chandler Kruse and Chris Calderon, “All We Need”

Travis Hathaway, “The Garden”

Nicole Jasperse, “Until Then”

Courtney Welker, “I Do Not Deserve Thee”

Amanda Riffe, “Love Is Alive”

Logan Myers

Elaina Marchegger, “Fights for Me”

Chris Calderon, “You Don’t Turn from Me”

Madison Russell, “All You Need”

Logan Myers, “You Are Enough”

Taryn Nellermoe and Joseph Vaught, “The Father’s Song”

Here's a slideshow with more photos.

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


Related content:

GCU Today: Brown, Russell bid farewell at Songwriters Showcase

GCU Today: Canyon Worship Showcase resounds with big crowd

GCU Today: United state of Worship Arts resonates at Showcase


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Bible Verse

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