Julia Stone: Re-imaging Church Worship Music

by Nathan Foster

Julia Stone ’24 wants to enhance the way the church worships. As a junior music and worship major with an emphasis in Christian ministries and a double-minor in honors humanities and theology, Stone has a unique worldview that shapes her desire to innovate. Through her studies, she has done extensive research surrounding the church and the role music plays. “Worship is such a huge part of the way the church functions. The way I see it, it’s in need of reform because we’ve been stuck in the same format for so long,” Stone said. “I want to create a space for everybody to have a seat at the table in worship.”

According to Stone, modern church worship is influenced by Christian record labels that tend to produce the same type of music. “In the early 2000s, they searched for the most popular type of music. At the time it was soft rock,” she said. “So they told Christian artists they wouldn’t produce anything that wasn’t soft rock. That’s why if you listen to K-Love or other Christian radio, the format you hear is often one style of music.” Stone thinks worship music could benefit from diversification. “Most church worship bands feature five vocalists, a drummer, and a few guitarists. I’d love to see a jazz band, or brass, or an orchestra in the church,” she said. “Let’s create a space where worship is paramount and is musically inspiring and beautiful. Worshiping the Lord has a huge spiritual impact.” As an example of worship she would want to replicate, Stone points to Michael W. Smith’s “Awesome God” at the Worship Forever concert in 2021, which uses a drumline and full orchestra.

Although Stone is set on a career in worship now, she had completely different plans in high school. “I was going to study business. I’d been a musician for most of my life, but I mostly considered it a side hobby,” she said. It all changed when she had the opportunity to sing on stage during her junior year at her home church in Wenatchee, Washington. “In that moment, I felt the Lord’s pleasure and presence so strongly,” she said. “That’s when I realized that’s what I was meant to do. The Lord created me for worship.” Stone’s epiphany led her to search for top Christian schools with strong music programs, and she found APU.

Stone’s experience in the School of Music has been life changing. From singing in the pit with the University Choir for APU’s production of Phantom of the Opera to caroling in the Santa Anita Mall last Christmas, she has loved making memories with close friends. “The community is phenomenal. I’ve loved being a part of every one of those opportunities,” she said. “I believe strongly in the power of music and what God does through music, especially when you’re in a space with hundreds of people all working together toward the same goal. I love that we get to do something that matters while in community.”

Perhaps the most significant experience for Stone came last summer when she participated in the Angeles Worship Initative’s (AWI) Songwriting Academy. Although Stone was just working the event and wasn’t planning to perform, she felt inspired to write. “At the time I hadn’t written much of anything,” she said. “That day, the Holy Spirit went to work. I’ve never written a song that fast in my life. The lyrics were done in 15 minutes and the chord progression went quickly right after that.” Stone got to perform her song about revival and the Lord moving in tangible ways with world class musicians including Zach Rudulph (Andy Grammer’s bassist) and Michael Lee, MM, professor and director of Music Technology. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

While Stone has big plans after graduation, right now she is focused on learning as much as she can. On top of her music classes, Stone works three jobs, serving as a research assistant for AWI, a teacher’s assistant for Stephen Martin, PhD, director of worship studies, and is a member of the Gospel Choir. “I never do anything in my life that doesn’t have a sense of purpose. I’m incredibly goal oriented and I wanted to apply what I’ve learned in the School of Music,” she said. “Sometimes it involves a few late nights, but I make it work. I’m hoping to help people and have influence in a positive way.”

Nathan Foster '20 is the public relations manager in the Division of Strategic Communication and Engagement.