When I look at where I am in life today and think back over the course of my journey, I have come to the realization that one of the greatest influences in my life has been the North Georgia School of Gospel Music. It not only has deepened my Christian faith and motivated me to live a life fully dedicated to serving the Lord, but it also encouraged me to pursue my own music ministry, inspired me to perform in concerts and record my own music, and ultimately caused me to move halfway across the country. Since first attending the school in 2017, everything I have done since has been greatly influenced by my time at the North Georgia School of Gospel Music.
Back in 1982, the doors were opened for a musical experience that would forever change countless lives of lovers of music and learners of all ages. Forty-one years later, and the school is still going strong. The current director, Stephen Butler, says, “It’s been amazing to watch God work in NGSGM over the years. We’ve seen many students come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ at the school. We’ve seen students called to full-time Christian service, lifetime friendships formed, and so much more. We’ve seen the Lord provide financially through people who love Him and this music. God always takes care of us, and we’re always amazed by the way He uses us!
After continuing for four decades, the school just keeps on providing students with a valuable, musical learning experience full of exciting surprises every year. And this year is no different. Stephen Butler remarks, “We have some incredible things happening. First, we will be singing some of the favorite songs from the past four decades. We will be making a brand-new recording this year that will be available this summer. We also will be doing a HUGE closing program on Friday night, June 17, at Coal Mountain Baptist Church in Cumming, GA. I think the thing I am most excited about though, is that on Wednesday, June 15, we will have a special concert featuring The Mylon Hayes Family, Sandy Payton, and Gerald Wolfe. They are some of our biggest supporters, and we will have an incredible time together. The Hayes kids are some of our alumni and have been involved with the school for a long time, so it will be great to have them in concert! A group from the school also sang on the latest Hymn Sing DVD, so it will be great to have Gerald and Sandy with us!”
One of the Hayes family members and singing school alumni, nineteen-year-old Kennedy Hayes, who tours and sings with her family says, “There is truly no other experience like it. Not only do you gain musical knowledge, but spiritual as well. And it’s a lot of fun too. :) I wouldn’t trade the ten summers I attended for anything. I would encourage anyone of any age to come! I promise you will not regret it.”
What makes this school special is the broad scope that it covers, both in the education it offers and in the range of students it attracts. The ages of students attending ranges from five to eighty-two! NGSGM is a place where the well-advanced can learn right alongside those with very little musical experience. Long-time student Jeremy Tyre says, “I first attended NGSGM in 2013 when I was sixteen years old. I knew nothing of music besides a few months of guitar lessons. I knew how to read a tiny bit of music and knew one or two notes on the staff. Even though I was completely new to the world of music, NGSGM had a place for me. They taught me how to identify notes, read music, sing that music, and even conduct it. I started out knowing nothing about music and went home the first year and could lead a choir in a song.” The education received is truly priceless. Stephen Butler adds, “We offer comprehensive music theory classes, choir singing, private lessons in piano, voice, and guitar, and much more.”
There is something special for everyone here, and there have been so many individuals whose lives have been touched by the school in ways big and small. “We have hundreds of students who have come through the school over the years. We have many who are serving in local churches as music directors, musicians, and choir members. There are a great number of high school, middle school, and elementary school music teachers who are alumni. Students who advance and progress through NGSGM
over several years typically move to the top of their classes in college. We also have alumni who have toured professionally as singers and musicians. It’s incredible to see where the Lord has taken them!”, Stephen says.
Young and old alike are impacted by the school. Nine-year-old student Bethany Butler says, “I learned how to sing shaped notes and now it’s really easy for me to sing them!” Jeremy Tyre also adds, “My favorite memory from music school is a memory that is one of the most important moments of my life. The very first year I went to music school in 2013, we had come to the end of group singing in the evening. It was a very special time as the Holy Spirit met with us that night. It was at this moment that the Lord pressed on my heart to go into the ministry. It was here that I received the call to full-time ministry. Ever since this moment, the Lord has been guiding me, leading me, and equipping me to follow His calling in my life. I now currently serve part-time at my local church assisting the youth pastor and senior pastor. What a journey it has been, and I look forward to what the Lord is going to do; but it all started at NGSGM in 2013.”
It is quite amazing to see how those same students who have been impacted are now using the gifts they developed to influence others. “I look forward to impacting students that same way I was impacted by music school. I now serve at music school as a campus chaperone who oversees the students while there. I now have the opportunity to give the students the same experience that completely changed my life. An experience that brought me close to God and grew my love for Him. Passing that same experience on to another generation is what I am looking forward to this year at NGSGM,” Jeremy says.
Another individual, Kennedy Hayes, who continues to impact others with her music, comments, “I truly don’t think I could be doing what I’m doing today without the musical knowledge I gained from attending this school…from learning how to sing harmony, to how to sight read music, to shaped-note singing, to song writing, I owe so much to the teachers and leaders who invested in me during my time I spent at this school.”
Along with learning, there is just a whole lot of fun that takes place at the school. And the life-long friendships that are cultivated at the school are like no other. They are friends that stick around for life. According to Jeremy Tyre, this is his favorite part about music school. He explains, “This isn’t like any other summer camp or school you might go to. You go here and meet people who become those friends that you can cling to. Those friends you can always count on. Those friends that you will always have. You make lifelong friends at music school. You sometimes meet more than just friends here at NGSGM. It was here at music school that I met my fiancé.” Bethany Butler shares again about a memory from the school – “My favorite memory is when Mary Katherine Dickey (another staff kid) got her feet stuck behind a chair, and it took 30 minutes to get her out!” There have been many stories told throughout the years of the many exciting incidents to occur, by young and old alike. Funny and serious. Musical and moving. Kennedy Hayes recalls this memory – “One thing that has always stuck with me is when Mike Speck came and spoke to the students one year, and I can’t even tell you what he spoke about, 😊 but I remember telling my parents afterward how inspired I was by it. I remember he came and personally spoke to me afterwards and just encouraged me to keep pursuing music and singing for Jesus, and that’s something I’ll never forget!”
Without the amazing staff on board at this school, it simply would not be what it is today. Stephen says, “If there’s something about NGSGM that stands out to me though, it’s our staff. Our staff is an incredible group of musicians who love the Lord first and foremost. Secondly, they love the students, and work tremendously hard to help them succeed. Finally, they are some of the greatest musicians in the world. They are all serving in local churches, and while you may not know their names,
they have their fingerprints all over Gospel music. Come and meet them, and you’ll see why I love them so much and think they are the best anywhere!”
The words shared by these few individuals are words felt by many, many other students who have attended NGSGM as well. I know because they are the words spoken by my heart too. The love for this school can be heard in the sweet melodies as the students of all ages gather each evening to sing praises to the Savior. The love can be seen in the smiling faces as they learn new teachings to further their musical passions. The love can be shared in the many songs penned down through the years at the school and the musical legacy transferred from the teachers to the lives of the students. There is no telling how many hearts have been touched and by the heart behind the North Georgia School of Gospel Music. Jeremy closes, “It shaped me to most importantly sing for the Lord. That is the foundation to why I sing and play, which was shaped by NGSGM. That is the heart of NGSGM: to worship our Lord through the gift of music.”
We would love to have you join us this summer from June 12-17 at the Coal Mountain Baptist Church in Cumming, GA. Please visit our website @ www.ngsgm.com for more information!