Campus News

Worship arts students stretch their vocal chords in Nashville

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Keep an ear out Bethel students: your fellow students are about to enter the music world. Over Christmas break, Dec. 10-18, to be exact, the new worship arts program took some of its majors and minors on a little trip to the Music City itself: Nashville, Tenn. Right after finals were over, 9 students, Andrea Neumayer, Breanna Hendershot, Cidney DeBrodt, David Andrews, Rebecca Rickaby, Zechariah Good, Chandler Walters, Remella Coffey and her daughter Brianna Pitchford, along with Dr. Terry Linhart, took off from Bethel and headed down to Tennessee to meet Billy Smiley, who is best known for being one of the core members of the Christian band White Heart. Smiley had previously visited Bethel’s campus this past fall to host a songwriting workshop for the worship arts program. As well as meeting with Smiley, these students got the opportunity to record a CD with original student-written songs as well as some covers. Linhart, who is chair of the religion and philosophy department, said, “This was kind of a spur of the moment thing to help jump-start the program and create something that could promote the whole college, too, not just the worship arts (program)." Once they got down to Nashville, they started recording, and they kept on recording. Coffey, a sophomore music and worship arts major, talked about the students’ experience. “We went to studios, we went to record labels, we had jam sessions," she said. "Anything that connected with getting that CD done and getting it done well we were involved in doing." Walters, a junior worship arts major, went on a bit more. “We basically sang day after day after day, take after take after take…it was tiring, but it was good at the same time.” The students were given a crash course in song production. Each original started out as a “scratch track,” a version of the song with just the vocalist and a guitar or piano. From there, studio musicians listen to it and chart out the chords and get a basic idea of how the song sounds. From there, they create the musical backing that goes underneath the main vocalist. The other students sang the background vocals on the tracks. Not all the students were songwriters, such as Neumayer, a junior worship arts and liberal studies major who went along as well. “I didn’t really write any lyrics, so I wasn’t highly involved,” she said, “but from a pianist’s point of view, I got to be in the room with Mason Embry, who is the pianist for Chris Young, a country artist, and… he’s very, very talented … When he was laying the foundation for our tracks I got to be in the room with him, watching him play and see what settings he’d use for the synth sounds, or watch him play the organs, it was really, really cool.” Neumayer was also able to sing background vocals and play piano for some of the tracks. From what I was able to gather, the group didn’t have a great deal of free time to spend seeing the sights, since most of their time went towards producing the CD. But they fit in sightseeing where they could. “We sang a lot at Dark Horse Studio,” said Rickaby, a freshman theatre arts major, “and then we got to go around to different small in-house studios and we recorded some stuff there as well. And then we went to some bigger name-brand studios and got a tour of those.” “Billy got us into places like Word (Records) and Sparrow (Records),” said Walters. “We got (to) experience the business aspect of music that a lot of people don’t see and it was pretty cool and impactful to see.” The students also got to meet Steve Hindalong, cowriter of the popular song, “God of Wonders.” Andrews, a senior social studies education major, and Good, a freshman worship arts major, mentioned the famous Nashville food. “What Billy said about food: that’s the most important thing about music,” said Good, which drew a laugh from the group. But it wasn’t all fun and games for the group. As Linhart said, the trip was meant to be able to promote Bethel as a school as well as grow the worship arts program. The students went to learn what it’s like to be in a professional environment. “My real hope is that they know now there’s a professional standard out there to shoot for and that excellence matters,” said Linhart. “Because one of the biggest things that you do when you walk in there is you see people who can play, and work hard and try to do their best and mediocrity doesn’t have much place in the room.” Good said, “I think it’s also put a drive in us to do better than what we’ve done before.” Walters stated, “I think for me, one of the biggest things for me as a musician was the development of hearing things became a lot easier in Nashville just because they’re so good at it, and that’ what they do. Like if something sounds bad, it’s not really going to go well there.” Coffey said, “The one thing that I did learn, too, is that I have to stay true to what the song meant to me. If a song is a song that’s given to you, you have to carry that for everybody else.” I asked the students how they felt about the trip now that they’ve been back a few weeks. “Overall, it was an awesome experience…and humbling too,” said Neumayer. “That was one of the biggest things I learned…growing up … here and having a small town setting, when you have a skill, you get used to the idea that you’re pretty good, but then when you go to Tennessee, it’s like a whole new world.” Linhart said, “Now that we’re starting to hear the mixes coming back, it’s pretty impressive to see the final product, and everybody just knew they were part of something really special.” Good commented, “It just all seems surreal, especially coming back here, hanging down there with Billy Smiley and all these superstars in the studio and then you come back and it’s like, did that really just happen?” But what was the take-away? I’ll let the songwriters and performers speak for themselves. “When I came and sat down in front of Billy, I was singing my song to him, and it just began to grow and build … that process was … from the heart and then it was just growing. It still blesses me today, what happened, that process,” said Coffey. Rickaby added, “It’s so amazing to watch all of the parts come together…you take just a tiny bit from here and you take a tiny bit from here, you do it a hundred times and then it comes into this amazing piece." The tracks for the CD are still being finalized, and the CD should be available soon.
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