Every January music ministers, worship leaders, choir directors, musicians and clinicians from all over the country gather in Florida for a large choral worship conference. The exhibit hall is set up like a trade show, showcasing the very latest in choral music ministry and technology, with four days of workshops and seminars offered as well. By the end of the week the attendees are usually feeling more than a little overloaded and weary. In fact, on the evening of January 7, 2016, right before Geron Davis stepped into the spotlight to premiere his new choral project, a collaboration with Bill Gaither called Let the Glory Come Down, the executives from Capitol Records warned him not to take it personally if the crowd wasn’t very responsive. “They’re not really here to enjoy a concert,” they told him. “They’re looking for music they can take home and use for their own choirs and worship teams. This is work for them.” But when Geron walked onstage with a 40-voice choir and three soloists — Joseph Habedank, Joyce Martin Sanders and Amber Nelon Thompson — and hit the first notes of the first song, that worn-out audience started coming alive.
It all began about a year and a half ago when Bill called Geron and said, “I want to do something new.” He had an idea for a choir project, with a bit of a twist. Geron shakes his head. “It is incredible to me that as Bill approaches 80, he’s still out there looking for something fresh and different to do,” he chuckles. “But that’s what makes him Bill Gaither.” Geron is well known throughout the choral and gospel music world as a skilled arranger and prolific songwriter. He and his wife Becky have penned such worship classics as “Holy Ground,” “In the Presence of Jehovah” and “Mercy Saw Me.” Twenty- five years ago when the two men first met, Geron was a worship pastor at a church in Louisiana and Bill saw him in action leading a large choir at his church. “Bill just loved our choir,” Geron remembers. “We broke all the rules in the choral world. We did a wide cross section of styles, we mixed black gospel with white gospel, and threw in a bona fide bass section with some fun, funky rhythms. Eventually we put out a project with our choir music, and then Bill brought me in to conduct the choir for the third Homecoming video he ever did. We’ve worked together on many occasions since then, so we’ve been a part of this family for a long time.”
Bill’s idea was to take a mixture of songs, some Gaither-penned, some new material, and put them together in non-traditional choral form. Geron brought in Bradley Knight, leader of the renowned 500-voice Prestonwood Baptist Church choir, who is a great arranger in his own right. “I have always believed in collaborating with people whose strengths are different from my own,” says Bill. “I wanted to see if three people from different backgrounds and generations could come together and create something relevant and meaningful for today’s church. I know great songs and these guys know where the church is right now. So we combined my years of producing and programming experience with Geron Davis’s giftedness and Pentecostal background and Bradley Knight’s musicianship and experience at Prestonwood.”
Gloria Gaither had a lot of input as well. She was very involved in the song selection process, and she sent Geron what ended up being the title song of the entire project, “Let the Glory Come Down.” Written by Benjy Gaither, Suzanne Gaither Jennings and Marshall Hall, it seemed an unlikely choice for a choir record, as it is a rocking, guitar-heavy, dance-in-the-aisles song that David Phelps occasionally belts out with the Gaither Vocal Band. Gloria had one very specific request for Geron. “She wanted me to keep the energy of the song, and stay true to the nature and the feel of it as written. She told me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t water it down. Don’t try to make us choral; make the choirs sing us.’ So that’s exactly what we did.”
Once the decision was made to use the 500 amazing singers in the Prestonwood Baptist choir as the centerpiece of the project, the recording process began in earnest. “Everything was approved by Bill, but he never micro-managed us,” says Geron. “He said to make it new and fresh, and Bradley and I were given free rein to create.” The dazzling array of soloists includes such familiar Homecoming faces as Karen Peck, David Phelps, Joyce Martin Sanders, Adam Crabb, Amber Nelon Thompson, Angela Primm, Joseph Habedank, Joy Gardner, Becky Davis and Charlotte Ritchie. “We even got Bill to sing a little bit on it,” Geron says with a smile. “We’ve got people from every age group and every style, which in my opinion is exactly what the church is supposed to be.”
So that January night in Florida, as they waited to premiere the finished product, Geron gathered his 40-person choir and handful of soloists together backstage for prayer. “I purposely brought in a scaled-down version of the project,” Geron recalls. “I wasn’t trying to blow everybody away with our huge production, I wanted them to see that this music could successfully be sung in their home church by their own choir. So I told the artists, ‘Y’all, they may just sit and stare at us, but we’re here to sing. I guarantee you some of those people sitting out there have been to hell and back in the last year, and we need to try to bless them. Let’s not go out there and try to sell music, let’s just go out there and do what we do — this is going to be a worship service.”
And it was. “We started singing, and we didn’t let up,” Geron says. “We opened with ‘Let’s Just Praise the Lord,’ followed by ‘Praise’ and our third song in was ‘Let the Glory Come Down,’ which starts off with this electric guitar DA NA NA NA— and they loved it. Then at the end of the night when we were singing ‘Worthy, Worthy is the Lamb That Was Slain,’ all around the room people started just randomly standing up. Man, I’m getting chills just thinking about it! They were singing and smiling and tears were flowing. By the time we got to the key change, the whole room was on their feet and hands were in the air.” With great satisfaction, Geron says, “It was just an awesome event, and the response could not have been stronger. When I told Bill all about it the next morning on the phone, he said, ‘Now on the next one, we need to include…’ and Gloria said, ‘I’ve already started a list!’”