Karen Peck performs with Brenau student Arabia Jones, winner of the 2018 Brenau Gospel Experience solo competition. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Brenau Gospel Experience showcases variety of musical talents

Apr 2, 2019
Kathryne Davis

Gospel fans experienced two days of musical events featuring powerful concerts in Pearce Auditorium, an instructive panel and a songwriting workshop during the Brenau Gospel Experience March 29-30 at Brenau University.

The two concerts on Friday and Saturday nights featured performances by Karen Peck and New River, Jeff and Sheri Easter, Ty Scott King, as well as the Brenau Gospel Choir, Vessels of Worship and Arabia Jones.

Karen Peck and New River perform during the Brenau Gospel Experience. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau Univeristy)

Karen Peck Gooch, a Brenau alumna, and her group New River performed Friday evening in front of a packed crowd in Pearce Auditorium. The group has had five consecutive No. 1 songs in southern gospel music, are winners of numerous Absolutely Gospel Album of the Year awards, and she is a 2018 Gospel Music Hall of Fame inductee. They formed in 1991 and include Karen, her husband, Rickey, her sister, Susan Peck Jackson, son Matthew, daughter Kari and vocalist Grant Gibson.

“Never would have dreamed that 39 years later I’d be standing on this stage singing gospel music,” Karen said Friday night. “I’m out of my mind. I am beside myself. So if I start crying tonight y’all, please just look over me.

“I’m gonna cry before this night’s over because I love this place. I love Brenau.”

The Brenau Gospel Choir, led by Portia Burns, opened Friday’s performance. Arabia Jones, Brenau student and winner of the 2018 Brenau Gospel Experience soloist competition performed “Hope for All Nations” with Karen Peck and New River. The group also sang “Four Days Late,” which was named Song of the Decade by Singing News Magazine in 2010, and their No. 1 song “Pray Now.”

Sheri Easter, also a Brenau alumna, performed Saturday night with her husband, Jeff, their daughter Morgan Easter Smith, Morgan’s husband, Landan, and Jeff’s cousin Jared Easter. Jeff and Sheri Easter are winners of six Gospel Music Association Dove Awards and two career Grammy nominations.

Jeff & Sheri Easter and their band perform during the Brenau Gospel Experience. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Saturday, Sheri shared the story of how she chose Brenau for her graduate studies after graduating from the University of Georgia, starting a family and touring.

“My kids got old enough to where I thought, ‘You know what? I’m a lifetime student,’” Sheri said. “‘So I’m going to go back and get my master’s.’ So I chose Brenau and I passed that love for Brenau down to my daughter-in-law (Shannon) and to my son (Madison). They both attended the online school.”

The Brenau Gospel Choir also performed on Saturday night, as well as North Georgia’s Vessels of Worship.

Ty Scott King was the final performer for the night. She is a published author, speaker and award-winning artist who has found a balance between poetry and hip-hop. King has performed on television networks such as BET and TV One, in front of international audiences and even at the Pentagon. King’s poetry has been featured in ads for Pizza Hut and McDonald’s.

“It’s been our blessing to be a part of this plan tonight here at Brenau University,” King said.

Ty Scott King performs during the Brenau Gospel Experience. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

Before Saturday evening’s performance concluded, audience members stood up and sang along as the Easters, Vessels of Worship and King got on stage to perform “When We All Get to Heaven” together.

“My hope and my prayer tonight is that you leave changed,” said Nathan Goss, assistant vice president and executive director of recruitment, who emceed both concerts Friday and Saturday. “That you’re not just merely entertained tonight, but rather when you leave this place you are enlightened, that you are enthused.”

The Brenau Gospel Experience is part of the Kay and Doug Ivester Endowed Program Series, which provides high-caliber educational experiences to Brenau students and the community.

The Ivesters were in attendance during the performances Friday and Saturday evening, and Doug Ivester said he was looking forward to seeing Karen perform.

“She went to the same church I went to up here,” Ivester said. “They used to stand her up in the pew and let her sing. I probably haven’t seen her since she was 5 years old.”

First founded in 2001, the series brings programs of such caliber to Gainesville and Brenau that they arguably could not be possible in the community otherwise. It has brought numerous speakers over the years including Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, Jack Welch, longtime CEO of General Electric who turned it into one of the world’s most admired and successful companies, and Beyond the Talking Points: What Election 2016 Really Means to Women, a discussion with Republican pollster and strategist Kristen Soltis Anderson and Democratic organizer and commentator Maria Teresa Kumar.

Charné Furcron, left, and Amy Jacques demonstrate how dancing helps heal. (AJ Reynolds/Brenau University)

The two-day event also included a panel discussion about the healing properties of music Friday afternoon and a songwriting workshop the next day. The panel was led by Barbara Steinhaus, Brenau’s chair of the department of music, and included Paul Lennard, director of the Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology Program at Emory University; Sandra Brim, associate professor of English at Brenau; Audrey Milo-Turner, retired associate professor of education and counseling at Clemson University; Charné Furcron, education director and dance therapist for Moving in the Spirit youth development program; and Amy Jacques, adjunct instructor of dance and psychology at Brenau.

“Nowadays with the way life is, with everyone very connected to electronic devices and with jobs being more sedentary,… there can often be a disconnection between the mind and the body,” said Jacques, who showed examples with Furcron of how dancing helps heal and control the body. “A dance movement therapist believes that when you can do something in movement, it automatically carries over into the rest of your life.”

Jeff and Sheri Easter’s son Madison and his wife, Shannon, were originally going to lead the workshop Saturday, but were unable to travel. Morgan Easter Smith and Jared Easter ran the workshop instead.

Smith and Easter shared their songwriting process and experiences, including how they come up with song ideas, how co-writing with other performers helps make their songs stronger and how they record. During the workshop, participants were able to share their music and get feedback from Smith and Easter. Other participants offered advice on where live music could be performed in the Gainesville area.

“Take inspiration from other songs where you find it,” Easter said. “Pretty much every chord has been made, every combination of chords has been played. Don’t let that discourage you.”