By Billy Liggett
BUIES CREEK — “Who says worship can’t be fun?” Jim Davidson asked with a smile and a wink, talking about his experience at Monday night’s Carnegie at the Creek concert at Butler Chapel.
“You have this wonderful time of worship, done in a style that is basically indigenous to this area … and it was done so well,” Davidson added. “It was entertaining, powerful and refreshing at once.”
Davidson came to Campbell University this week from First Baptist Church in Hickory as one of about 140 attendees of the Divinity School’s third annual OASIS church music conference (which culminates with a third day of sessions and a public performance at 7 p.m. by the All-State Youth Choir). The highlight for him and the conference as a whole so far has been Monday night’s performance featuring composers Pepper Choplin and Joseph Martin (both worship leaders at this year’s conference), bluegrass musicians and a choir made up of men and women from all along the East Coast.
Carnegie at the Creek was an encore performance of the Bluegrass [email protected] concert led by Choplin and Martin at Carnegie Hall in New York City from February of this year. As part of the famous venue’s Distinguished Concerts International series, the duo was accompanied by a choir and the bluegrass band Monroe Crossing.
Many of those same choir members joined Choplin and Martin — along with Campbell University musicians and church singers from the area and region — in Buies Creek for the OASIS performance, leading to an overflow crowd in the 400-person capacity Butler Chapel. It was by far the largest crowd to attend an OASIS concert, according to Larry Dickens, association professor of church music and worship for Campbell Divinity School.
“I wouldn’t say we were surprised by the crowd,” said Dickens. “It was more like an affirmation. If we’re trying to become a destination for academic training of church music, we need to be committed to today’s church musicians, not just tomorrow’s. Our vision for OASIS from Day 1 was for Campbell and the Divinity School to become a place where people can have these kinds of experiences and renew their spirit through music. [Carnegie at the Creek and the crowd] was a total affirmation that, yes, this is exactly what we’ve set out to do. And it’s working.”
A TRUE OASIS
“Oasis” is defined as a fertile spot in a desert where water is found, or a pleasant or peaceful area or period in the midst of difficult, troubled or hectic place or situation.
Since Day 1 in Year 1, that’s been the point of OASIS at Campbell University — for church musicians to not only be reminded about the importance of worship and music, but to refocus and refine their skills and approach to keep God at the center of their ministry.
“I enjoy the intimacy of this conference,” Davidson said. “The quality and the intimacy. It really is an oasis here. After a whole year in the ministry, it’s nice to get away for a little while and relax, be challenged, gain new perspective and relate to other ministers of music and to be fed spiritually. It’s wonderful for a dry and thirsty soul that’s looking for refreshment.”
OASIS was April Brown’s first introduction to Campbell in 2012. Then a senior at Judson College in Alabama, Brown drove up to Buies Creek for a campus tour during the conference and fell in love with not only Campbell and the Divinity School, but OASIS as well.
This year, as a first-year Divinity School student, she’s one of the many faculty and students running the show.
“I’m refreshed every time I’m on campus,” Brown said. “It’s become home to me.”
Brown said she’d never seen a church venue as packed as Butler Chapel was Monday night. She said she was in awe of everything from the atmosphere to the laid-back vibe of the musicians and attendees. She loved the choir, the bluegrass music … and most of all, the piano.
“I grew up around fantastic pianists,” she said. “But this pianist blew them out of the water. It’s like there were 10 hands on the piano … it was amazing.”
Danny Hester, a 1979 Campbell graduate and adjunct professor of organ for the Divinity School, said it’s always a special experience for him when Butler Chapel hosts services or concerts. But he was particularly impressed and moved by Carnegie at the Creek.
“I think by the time we got to the last piece [a medley called ‘Great, Great Morning’], you could just feel the electricity in the house,” he said. “The medley ended with ‘I’ll Fly Away,’ and by then, you could feel the positive energy. You knew everyone there was having a powerful church experience.”
Brenda Grager of Strasburg, Pa., was one of the many singers on hand who performed the same program at Carnegie Hall last February.
She said the musicians who took part in that concert enjoyed it so much, many jumped at the chance to do it again at Campbell University. And while performing at Carnegie was a dream come true for Grager, she said her experience this week at Campbell was equally rewarding.
“It was exciting,” she said. “I had tears throughout … but then again, I’m a pretty emotional person. [Unlike Carnegie Hall], the performers here were more relaxed. We weren’t in our tuxes, and we could just let our hair down and enjoy ourselves and the music.”
OASIS was Grager’s introduction to Campbell University, and she said the experience has been wonderful.
“Oh my, the southern hospitality,” she said. “We have been treated so well, and everyone has been so accommodating. We’ve really appreciated how everyone here has gone over and above what’s expected to make us feel welcome.”
The three-day OASIS conference will culminate tonight with a 7 p.m. concert at Butler Chapel featuring the All-State Youth Choir. The choir is made up of young people from Baptist churches from around North Carolina, and tonight’s performance marks the first in a week-long tour that will include concerts in Rocky Mount, Washington, Fayetteville, Roanoke Rapids and Raleigh.