As AU prepares for Homecoming, five alumni are preparing for a special musical reunion on campus. In celebration of the 30th anniversary of their first performance in 1989, members of the Presence quartet are returning to AU for a concert during Homecoming weekend.
Coming from all across the country, David Anderson, Jeff Bell, Randy Miller, Tim Hatch and pianist Shawn Nason will create and share their magic once again where it all started.
The male gospel quartet Presence began in 1988 when Dunn Hall roommates and long-time friends David Anderson and Jeff Bell met neighbor Tim Hatch and discovered a shared passion for music and God. Having both grown up with musical influence, Anderson and Bell began their freshman year with the intent of starting a gospel quartet. The two roommates connected with Hatch, Miller and eventually Nason, forming not only a group of life-long friends, but a perfect ensemble of extraordinary voices and accompaniment.
The college students began singing old hymns, pulling inspiration from their heroes like the Cathedral Quartet, Gaither Vocal Band and The Statesmen Quartet. This led to the group writing their own songs and recording pieces that blended old gospel standards with their original songs.
At their upcoming concert, “Presence Reunited,” the group will perform different arrangements of old gospel songs, as well as Presence originals.
Gospel quartets have been a significant part of AU’s history since the school was established as the Anderson Bible Training School in 1917. Fred Shively, AU alumnus, professor and former member of multiple AU gospel quartets between 1957 and 1961, explained that gospel quartets rose in popularity in the 1950s and ‘60s at AU with numerous male, mixed, female and even trumpet quartets. He said that gospel quartets are deeply rooted in AU’s history as well as in the history of the Church of God.
After the popularity of gospel quartets fell, AU had no quartets for years. Dr. Richard Sowers, current director of AU Chorale, said that Presence helped to revive the gospel quartet tradition at AU. He describes Presence as embracing new music while still singing the older pieces.
While staying exceptionally active with Dativus, Chorale, Male Chorus and IM sports, Bell explained that Presence was “just a time to get together and sing about Jesus in a practice room.”
He went on to share his favorite part of the group.
“What most people would call rehearsals were our worship time,” said Bell. “It was, with all the craziness of college, just a time to be alone in the presence of God and give him our praise.”
Through some of the most difficult times and tragedies, Presence provided solace and a safe space. The gospel quartet instilled a lifelong habit of praising God in moments of uncertainty and hardship.
Miller elaborated on the remarkable effects of Presence on the members as well as the community and college.
“Our friendships and unity came out when we did concerts,” he said. “People picked up on that. You can’t manufacture that—you can’t conjure that out of thin air—it’s either there or it’s not. It was a very unique thing about Presence.”
The camaraderie and connection the men found so naturally in the group allowed them to effortlessly praise God and share his praises with AU.
With the combination of the incredible power of music and the strong bond and connection between the men, Presence created a unique worship experience not only for themselves, but for all of AU.
“It was clear very early on that this was something unique and anointed,” said Miller.
Although the five men currently live in different states, they still find ways to meet and sing together occasionally. “Presence Reunited” will be their first reunion shared with the community, and they are ecstatic to be back to a place so meaningful and important to them. The concert will be exceptionally special for not only the five of them, but their families, AU alumni and current AU students and professors.
“Presence Reunited” will take place in York Performance Hall at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 19. The gospel quartet will be performing old gospel standards, a few acapella songs, Gaither Vocal Band pieces and even a couple songs from their Male Chorus days. Along with a wide array of songs, the group will also tell stories from their tours and college experiences.
After 30 years, Anderson, Bell, Miller, Hatch and Nason continue to use music and their friendships to praise God. Despite the distance, they have proven that college experiences and friendships go far beyond graduation and continue to shape and mold spiritual relationships and lives.