About 50 people are stuffed into a small room in the Chi Alpha Campus Ministry house. Amidst the kneeling, raised hands and quiet prayers, there’s an ambience that’s difficult to pinpoint. The crowd claps and smiles during the upbeat songs. During the slower numbers, a more solemn mood sets in.
Julie Hutton stands before the group and sings for the campus ministry, for herself and for God. After all, Psalm 98:1 says, “O sing unto the Lord a new song.”
But to some, that command has become a passion. In many religions, music serves as a key tool for enhancing services, building communities and cementing faith. Offering that music is often the task of a group’s religious leaders, such as Hutton. She does so by recording songs, whereas others in her role tour, pick bluegrass tunes on a banjo or simply select the right CD.
Wade Vandelicht is a band leader at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church. His band plays during services — usually contemporary religious songs — but also does miscellaneous side gigs.
“Worship music is a way to prepare your heart,” Vandelicht says. “It gets you in that mind-set or that mood to receive the message.”
MU professor Craig Roberts is an elder and leads worship at the Eastside Church of Christ. With a background in music, a degree in biblical studies and a past role as an editor in chief of several journals and books for the Crop Science Society of America, Roberts helped compile a hymnal with several others who have equally exacting standards. They scoured archives for worthy hymns and completed those that lacked lyrics or music.
He also has strong convictions about good and bad devotional music. “I’m really disturbed at some of the nonchalant, cheesy, low-calorie, lazy hymn worship,” Roberts says. “I think it goes back to: Do you believe you’re approaching God? If so, treat him differently.”
Roberts avoids most popular church music, including contemporary religious camp songs. To other similar musicians, the best music has substance regardless of its popularity.
For Hutton, the perfect melody might not have been written yet. Sometimes, it’s a new song from the heart.
It was only after she graduated from MU in 2010 that she really started writing music. During prayer, she wouldn’t speak; she would sing. Those songs became the music that she eventually performed and recorded.
“I remember the day I shared my first song,” Hutton says. “It’s your heart. You think, ‘What if people don’t like it?’”
She recorded three of her original songs within the past year: “Breathe Into Me,” “Your Presence Is So Sweet” and, her most recent recording, tentatively titled “Deeper.” The process is slow, but Hutton is determined to continue creating and recording music. “I feel like with worship songs, you’re putting a prayer in (someone’s) mouth,” Hutton says. “You want what you’re giving them to be good.”
So far, the response to Hutton’s work has been positive. After all, Hutton believes music can help brings listeners’ hearts closer to God, too.