This is the story of God working through people
to accomplish His end.
-Dr. Mark Foley
It was Thursday. The meeting in the Weaver Hall office of University of Mobile President Dr. Mark Foley had just wrapped up with approval of a design plan to turn a large classroom space in Martin Hall into a top-notch professional recording studio.
But there was a catch. The price tag for renovations and professional recording equipment was $650,000. The money wasn’t in the budget, and the funding would need to come from outside the university’s resources.
The scenario could have been discouraging – if not for a generous lady from Odessa, TX who loves the Lord – and His music.
This is much more than a story about how the University of Mobile will open the Joyce Fisher-Curtis Brewer Recording Studio in January 2014, in time for spring semester.
It is the story of how God was at work in the lives of four people and a university over the course of years.
Joyce Fisher: A Love Story
Joyce Fisher tells a story about her late husband, Mike. At the time, the couple was attending a small church.
“Poor Mike, he couldn’t sing anything,” Fisher said with a smile in her voice. “I told the pastor I was getting concerned, that we didn’t have enough people to drown Mike out. Mike sang anyway, and he loved it.”
Later, they joined First Baptist Church of Odessa, TX, the “friendliest large church you will ever enter,” as Fisher describes it.
The couple was impressed with the commitment and talent of Curtis Brewer, associate pastor of worship and celebration. They wanted to be part of the program in a special way.
“It started with my late husband, who felt the need to support the music ministry because he just loved it,” Fisher said. After Mike’s death in 2008, she continued to financially and prayerfully support the growth of the music program.
Music is an important part of worship, she said.
“I feel like the music prepares you for the sermon. If you have a beautiful song, it influences the whole congregation and it influences everybody’s week. It’s the biggest part of the worship service to me. I get a lot out of the sermon, but the music really carries me through,” she said.
As a member of the congregation, Fisher said she is blessed to enjoy the fruits of the labor of choir members and worship leaders. With her support, the FBC Odessa choir and orchestra just completed their third national release with Prism Music in Nashville.
“I enjoy seeing the music ministry grow. Curtis had great ideas of things he had always wanted to do. When he presented them to me, I couldn’t help but support them – they were just wonderful ideas. That was how I came about doing this project with the University of Mobile. I have always trusted his judgment to do great things,” she said.
Curtis Brewer: Preparing Hearts and Minds
For 31 years, Curtis Brewer has shared the gospel of Jesus Christ through the music ministry of FBC Odessa. A native of Mississippi, he previously served as a minister of music in Montgomery, AL. He has led worship for many regional and national Southern Baptist Convention conferences, including evangelism conferences in Texas and New Mexico, pastor’s conferences and crusades in Texas and Mississippi, and music week at Glorieta, NM and Ridgecrest, NC.
He was at the 2011 Metro Music Conference, a national gathering of worship pastors, held that year at The Grand Hotel in Point Clear, AL when he heard a performance by VOICES of Mobile, one of the university’s flagship performing and traveling vocal ensembles. The group, produced by Roger Breland, has sung at the White House and the Pentagon, performed from Hawaii to Alaska, and sung internationally in countries including Israel.
“My first thought was that my church had to hear them – and I knew it couldn’t happen without Joyce Fisher,” Brewer said. “Joyce is one in a million. Her generosity not only to her church and community, but also to organizations she supports in town, is wonderful. She has got one of the most gracious hearts in the world you’ll ever find.”
Fisher provided the financial support for VOICES to travel to Texas, and several of the students visited in her home. She was impressed not only with the musical excellence of the group, but also by the outstanding caliber of the individual students.
“I could not believe the talent! How does one university get that much talent? It was just amazing!” Fisher said.
So began a relationship between the UMobile Center for Performing Arts and FBC Odessa, made possible through the Joyce’s generosity and support. One indication of the depth of the relationship is that VOICES will be present in 2014 to help the church dedicate its new worship center.
Today, Brewer serves on the Deans’ Council, an advisory board for the Center for Performing Arts. His insight into the quality of the program is one he readily shares with worship leaders throughout the Southern Baptist Convention and beyond.
“Every university will provide you with a diploma – that’s not a problem if you do the work. But there are few universities that will equip you to be successful in life. That’s what the University of Mobile is doing. When people are looking for worship pastors or someone to lead in their church, I immediately refer them to the University of Mobile,” Curtis said.
He praised Breland and the lead role he has played in the music program.
“Roger is a legend in his own time, and he has touched and impacted the lives of countless numbers of worship pastors and church leaders. He has his handprint on thousands of adults and has spent a lifetime making an impact. To call him my friend is overwhelming. To see what his dream is for the university is inspiring,” Curtis said.
The Next Step
When he joined the UMobile faculty in 2003, Breland had a vision for the university’s music program – one that emphasized providing students with hands-on experiences to put the lessons learned in the classroom into practice in professional settings.
The combination was designed to make UMobile graduates top recruits in the music and recording industry, churches and worship leadership arenas, music education, and vocal and instrumental performance.
Now, the Center for Performing Arts/School of Music and School of Worship Leadership is home to 22 performing ensembles that travel the world. The annual Christmas Spectacular, the largest Christmas concert along the Gulf Coast from Pensacola, FL to Biloxi, MS is a “must see” multi-night live event for audiences totaling more than 9,000. In 2012 the concert was broadcast multiple times internationally through three satellite television channels, a practice that will continue this year. Also in 2012, the event gained national exposure when a clip from the performance was featured on multiple Fox News Channel national news shows.
Graduates were being offered positions at some of the largest churches in the nation, were launching performing careers touring nationally, and were highly sought after as music educators.
A recording studio was the next step.
The University of Mobile committed space on the second floor of Martin Hall for the studio, a crucial part of the music program’s expansion and launch of its own record label, 8Eighty Records.
The university’s move into the recording label business is part of the expansion of the School of Worship Leadership, where students may concentrate in areas such as music business, technology, film and theatre, and church ministry. The program aims to train worship pastors, media directors, studio musicians and engineers, film and stage performers, recording artists and songwriters.
It also is aimed at providing opportunities to develop students beyond graduation, with opportunities to record and publish original works.
A Magnificent Gift
Some months earlier, Breland had introduced the idea of an endowed chair in the Center for Performing Arts to his friend, Curtis Brewer.
Brewer said he told God, “If You want this to happen, place it on Joyce’s heart.’”
She liked the idea. She was moving forward with a major donation to the music program when the university’s desire for the recording studio was brought to her attention. She agreed to give $650,000 to create the Joyce Fisher-Curtis Brewer Recording Studio, with $100,000 creating the Curtis Brewer Chair to help fund a music professor.
“I hope it trains and prepares the talent that you have there,” Fisher said. “I hope it prepares them to go out and lead a great church with great music. Nobody gets any bigger blessing out of this than I do. It’s a big part of my life. I feel like it’s my ministry.”
Brewer said he is excited about opportunities students will have through the Fisher-Brewer Recording Studio.
“To think of the countless numbers of young adults who will be trained in there, of the University of Mobile students who will have an opportunity to go to a first-class studio and record their God-anointed song and put it on YouTube and make an immediate impact, is mind-boggling,” he said. “I’m pretty much overwhelmed by it. If it were not for Joyce’s graciousness and Roger’s dream, it wouldn’t be happening.”
‘God Did It’
Foley said the gift is clear evidence of God at work.
“There is no way that any of this would have happened without Joyce Fisher, whom God has blessed in marvelous ways. It wouldn’t have happened without Curtis Brewer and his tremendous encouragement to Roger and Joyce. It wouldn’t have happened without Roger and what he’s done over the last 11 years in the Center for Performing Arts.
“It wouldn’t have happened without our talented students and our leadership team on campus looking for ways to expand for the School of Music. Audrey Eubanks, our vice president for academic affairs, envisioned rearrangement of space usage. Steve Lee, our vice president for business affairs, figured out a funding plan to make several other major projects happen that cleared the space.
“All of these pieces – God brought together,” Foley said.
Joyce said the entire experience “really kind of amazes me.”
“We were at lunch one day and all four of us were talking about how it came about. It hit all of us at one time. We didn’t do any of this. God did it,” Joyce said.