Vincent Hanna was about to play guitar in front of the largest crowd in his 15 years and he did not appear nervous at all.
"I just hope I play it right and the crowd likes it," he said.
Hanna, from First Congregational UCC in Manhattan, Kan., was among more than two dozen musicians participating in the All Strings Jam Session during this evening’s worship at the UCC’s National Youth Event (NYE). The musicians -- mostly youth but a few chaperones joined the jam -- played guitars (acoustic and electric), bass, keyboards, violin and even a ukulele.
The All Strings group performed "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga and "Waiting for the World to Change" by John Mayer. During their performance, the crowd of almost 2,500 in the Elliot Music Hall at Purdue University was on its feet, with many singing along.
Aaron Gaines, lead vocalist of Tribe of Judah, which has been leading worship music during the event, helped organize the musicians and form them into a band.
"Y'all ready to rock out?" asked Gaines at the beginning of Thursday afternoon's rehearsal. "You’re going to be our rock stars tonight."
"Yeah!" was the unanimous reply.
Gaines said he chose these two songs for many reasons. "I wanted to play tunes we listen to and that speak to our community," he said.
The Gaga piece, said Gaines, fits with the event's theme for the day, "Imagine a world where differences are embraced." Mayer's song reminds us that "we're still here, ready and willing to be active, for our hit at the bat," he said.
Worship music, Gaines added, does not have to be just Christian or Gospel. Many secular songs also have a place in worship.
Hanna agreed. "It's good for worship to add as many [musical] genres as possible, especially for the youth."
Kevin Cantrell brought his guitar from Trinity UCC in Wooster, Ohio, to play in the band. He also was selected to play a solo in "Waiting for the World to Change." Cantrell says Lady Gaga's message through her music is similar to the messages at this week's youth event. While he's never played in a group this large, he knew it was going to be fun. "I'm going to learn a lot," he said.
Rajinee Buquing plays in an ensemble in her home church of Grace UCC, Houston, Texas, and has played at the Houston House of Blues. Regardless of the size of the audience, Buquing says she feels more of a connection to God through music.
But this, she knew, was going to be big.