The lights are up, stage is set and the amps are ready. Who’s playing? Not who’d you expect.
To celebrate the start of the semester, Bethel College hosted a back-to-school kickoff concert on Friday, August 26. And who did they book for the gig? Talent that’s about as local as you can get: our very own Pilots. Aside from two outside acts, the concert completely consisted of original student-written and performed music. Many students who performed were also part of the Nashville, songwriting workshop trip hosted by the worship arts department last semester. I talked with sophomore worship arts major Breanna Hendershot and senior worship arts and liberal studies major Andrea Neumayer, who performed as backup singers during the concert and who also went on the Nashville trip, about how this concert came to be. “We talked about it on the trip, but we didn’t quite know what it looked like," said Hendershot. "This summer, Terry Linhart just kind of pieced it together and created this kick-off concert that we could have for the start of school.” “Terry is very much a big-picture [person,] like, a dreamer,” said Neumayer, “so he loves doing really big things and talking about it with us, so it definitely started [with] talking about it in December...I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a reality, and then we started [getting] emails and all that stuff that it was actually going to be in the works, probably around April or so, so we’ve been working on this all summer.” The students who went on the trip actually put together a CD of their work, called “Anchor in the Undertow,” that was available for purchase at the concert and is also available to stream on Spotify. The concert itself was a tremendous testimony to the variety of the artists. Zechariah Good opened the concert with his song, “Pick Me Up.” The worship genre was carried with Katherine DeBolt and Cidney DeBrodt each performing multiple originals and David Andrews performing his song “Unknown God.” Chandler Walters’ song, “All My Ways” took the title of the only love song in the concert while the worship band, Driven came and livened up the end of the concert with some gospel-style music. There was even some Irish fiddling courtesy of Jean Watson. The students also had the opportunity to work with Christian artist, Billy Smiley on the trip, where he helped them produce an album of their original music. Smiley was present at the concert on Friday and talked a bit about what this concert is really about. “This is a celebration of what took place last December and January and February,” he said. “This is kind of a celebration of that so the kids can actually perform some of the music. So I’m here just to enjoy and see the fruits of that, and this is just the beginning step.” Smiley said he hopes that concerts and programs like this will help usher students into churches and other venues, where they can minister with their music. I also asked Smiley how he feels this experience has affected the students. “I think it’s really given them the courage to know that they can do something, they can excel, they can take it to beyond their expectations, they can dream, and they can actually see certain things come true, but it takes a lot of work,” he said. “Music, as we all know, has really changed dramatically since the 70’s and the 80’s and the 90’s, and it’s going to continue to change. So the method of trying to get in front of people and bringing people out to hear music and to respond and to honor it is the trickiest part.” I also caught Dr. Terry Linhart, who, as mentioned before, planned most of the concert, afterwards and talked to him about what he felt was the heart of the concert. “It’s a weird mix in that you want to showcase what you’re doing at the school and you’re doing music that has a purpose, to worship, to honor God, [and] at the same time, it’s a chance to say ‘we’re doing something special here,’” he said. I asked Hendershot and Neumayer how they felt the experience as a whole, the concert, the CD and Nashville trip all included, has affected them. “It’s very inspirational,” said Neumayer, “to work with such high-quality musicians, it’s like ‘I have the potential to be that good,’ like, ‘I have the potential to be even better than where I am right now.” “It’s really encouraging and inspirational to be working with these musicians and producers…from Nashville,” Hendershot added. “But even more than that, it’s really opened doors, especially for those of us who started in the program as freshmen, it’s opened doors for us to talk to musicians and people that work in Nashville, and we might not be making those connections to get jobs down there right now, but that is one thing we can do with this.” Neumayer went on: “As a student it’s really cool to have the experience to say Bethel has just started this program that is really just getting started and yet look at these opportunities that we already have, and there’s hoping to be more in the future too.” I asked Linhart if he hopes that this will be a recurring thing for the worship arts major. “I hope it’s a recurring thing for Bethel College,” he said. “This is bigger than just one major, and so we invited a lot of people from across campus…I’d love to see Bethel be a place where artistry of all sorts, drama, visual arts, musical arts, just finds its way into the community [and] Bethel becomes a place in the community where, if you’re interested in theatre, if you’re interested in visual arts, if you’re interested in music of any sorts, that this is the place to come.” And who knows? Perhaps this concert is the first of many original music nights to give Bethel students a chance to spread their wings. Or guitar strings. Either way, let’s keep an eye out for more.