GENEVA — Light, fluffy snowflakes fell quietly on Jan. 31, coating St. Stephen Church with a soft, white blanket of snow. This cold covering, however, did little to muffle the deep-bass thumping of music coming from inside the church.
The church was rocking with the music of local Christian musician Corey Comer and three students from St. Francis-St. Stephen School. Students, faculty and parents from the school had gathered in the church for the performance, which was one of the highlights of the school’s Catholic Schools Week activities.
Jeanette Hernandez, who teaches art, Spanish and humanities at the school, coordinated the concert and has organized the school’s annual talent shows in previous years. She likes holding talent shows because they allow students to show off their personalities and their prowess in such extracurricular activities as dance, karate and music.
Hernandez said she switched things up a bit this year by arranging for three students to stage a mini talent show before Comer’s performance.
At about 12:30 p.m. St. Francis-St. Stephen students bundled up for the short walk from their school to the church. When they’d all assembled in the pews, Hernandez introduced the first performer, sixth-grader Hannah Dean. Hannah, who has been playing the violin since she was 2, played “Vivaldi in A Minor” in front of a church packed with her peers.
Although Hannah said she sometimes gets nervous when she plays in front of people, she didn’t hesitate when Hernandez asked her if she’d like to participate in the show.
“She asked me if I would like to play, and I said, ‘Of course,'” Hannah told the Catholic Courier after the show, noting that her nervousness usually wears off quickly when she starts playing.
Eighth-grader Carmella Gentile-Rondon also was excited about participating in the show. After Hannah’s performance, Carmella took the microphone and sang a popular mid-1990s remake of “Killing Me Softly.” The song has always been a favorite with Carmella and her mother, who listened to the tune while she was pregnant with Carmella.
“I have known that song for a long time. It’s my favorite,” Carmella said after the show.
After Carmella’s performance, sixth-grader Shelby Bradley got up to sing “It’s Magic,” a song from Disney’s “Cinderella II: Dreams Come True.” A technical glitch with the CD player forced her to postpone her performance while several people searched for a different machine, but Shelby maintained her composure and gave a strong performance. Shelby even gave an encore performance after the show for Principal Elaine Morrow, who had to step out for a meeting before Shelby performed.
Newark native Comer began his show by encouraging students and adults alike to open up to the music and the ways in which it might move them.
“If you feel like clapping or singing along, feel free to do so,” he said before launching into his first song, a piece about love, peace and trust in God.
At least half of the students took his advice and stood so they could dance, twist, clap and jump freely. As he began his next song, a Christian version of “Ease On Down the Road,” a few of the teachers joined in the fun, leading lines of dancing students up and down the aisles and through the pews.
Looking out from behind his keyboard in the sanctuary, Comer smiled at the joyful faces in his audience.
“I think up in heaven the Lord’s saying, ‘Yes, look at my children. They’re free, having a good time and smiling,'” he said.
Life often is marked with such terrible, tragic events as war and terrorism, but in spite of these it’s important to remember how much God loves his people and wants them to love each other, he added.
“This is what it’s about — the happiness, the smiles, the love,” Comer said.
Comer said that he has been blessed with many God-given talents and gifts, but the greatest of these is love, he later told the Courier. Comer has been in the music business for about 20 years and has sung everything from rock, country and jazz to oldies, rhythm-and-blues and classical music, but he recently discovered his true calling — Christian music.
“This is sort of my road to Damascus. I heard God, and I said yes, I’d do it,” Comer said. “The focus of my passion is Christian music. I’m here to spread the word of love, the word of life.”
Comer also spread the word about the afterlife, through a deeply personal song he wrote about a dream he had.
“I dreamt of what I thought heaven should be, or is going to be like, and painted a picture through words,” he said as he introduced the song. “If anybody has gone through a loss, know that there are answers, and (loved ones) are in better places.”
Much of his show was filled with danceable, upbeat music, but Comer left his audience on a more serious — yet still positive — note. As they grow up, the students will go through happy times and sad times, he told them. Don’t get discouraged, he said, because even Jesus experienced tough times and stumbled now and then. Each time he fell he stood right back up, and Christians are saved because he stood up and kept going. We’re all sinners, he said, but those who are saved are just sinners who fell down but got back up.
“Remember this. You weren’t the first person to fall. Christ fell too, but he got up. Remember this song, if you remember nothing else, as you grow up,” he said.