It started with "Magnify," a worship song written by church music director Forrest Wakeman. The title was prompted by the new name chosen for his Blythefield Hills Baptist Church in Rockford. The composer negotiated the COVID-19 minefield in writing and recording the song while distanced from his fellow artists.
"When I wrote it we were in the middle of a lockdown and I couldn't get people into the studio together to record," recalled Wakeman, who is also on the Calvin University music faculty.
"So we all pulled together in a 'virtual' way – it was done in different home studios and by sharing audio files through the Internet."
Once the song was completed, a conversation with a teaching colleague prompted a further thought.
"Why not try to pursue something to foster creative collaborations? Not just among persons within churches of like faith but cross-culturally and cross-generationally," he wondered.
And so the Magnify Worship Collective was born, at the same time the song "Magnify" was released in mid-September.
"Magnify" is in many ways a classic modern worship song. Its Psalm-like phrasings and ease of melody and harmony make it ready for use in corporate worship. The acoustic opening is led by the sounds of a hammer dulcimer, which resurface throughout.
But the song's bridge is key. It points to action above and beyond mere worship. "To the hurting, to the helpless, may we be your hands of mercy," the lyrics plead. "To the orphans may we be a home."
Wakeman notes that theme also was an inspired one.
"Our church's name change committee played a video setting the vision for why we chose the Magnify name and what the goals were," he said. "And a large part of that section of the song came out of that vision – to be looking out for others and reaching outside the boundaries of our walls and into the community and the world."
The anthem, with vocals by church worship leaders Kelsey Merrill and Joel Nickerson, will make its live debut on Sun. Oct. 11 as the church celebrates its new name, Magnify Church. (A new website is already live,).
You can hear the song online.
Although the Magnify Worship Collective is still new, Wakeman already has some initial inquiries about collaborative possibilities. "I have one potential I'm working on now that would involve a gospel choir," he said. "I'm making connections and trying to build networks of people of varying backgrounds saying, 'How can we make some cool music together that would be of benefit to the church community at large here in West Michigan?'"
Wakeman is an accomplished keyboard performer as well as music director, producer and teacher. He has a Doctor of Musical Arts in piano performance from Michigan State University and has played for more than 20 Broadway national tours that have come though West Michigan. Among them: "Wicked,"
"Grease," and "Les Miserables."
He released an inspirational album three years ago titled "Messes To Miracles" (read our review)
But music specifically meant for worship has been a long-term focus.
The "Magnify" anthem has already been made available to other churches through the collective website. On the resources page are production and backing track packages.
The organization's stated mission is to serve as a resource center for new worship music for the local church, created by members of the local church. At some point there will be additional music coming from under the Magnify Worship Collective umbrella.
"We're having 'conversations between creatives,'" Wakeman said.
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