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AN NRT EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
Vernon Hill: Passion for His Presence
Worship leading veteran and producer Vernon Hill is approaching music from a collaborative angle that creates a powerful experience for the Church.
 


Vernon Hill oozes passion. And he has from a young age. The worship leader and son of an ordained minister started his music ministry banging on the drums, and this passion likely translated into volume--which is probably the reason why his parents transitioned him to other instruments.

He was one of the primary worship leaders at his home church from the age of 15, and his relationship with God and passion to praise Him only grew as he grew. Now, serving as a worship leader in Annapolis, Maryland, Hill's passions have grown beyond the walls of the church as he shares original praise tunes and develops other worshippers as a producer.

The fruits of his recent songwriting and producing can be enjoyed in Hill's debut collaborative record, Songs from His Presence, which released in 2013, but is even still catching on with new fans, pleasantly surprised by the passion displayed in its seven tracks.

In a recent interview Hill and I talked about his upbringing, passion for worship, and the state of praise today in the Church. 

You're a lifelong Marylander. Is that what they're called, Marylanders?

Yes, Marylanders! I come from the Owings Mills area of Maryland.

I'm so excited to talk with you about your music and have people get to know you. First of all, tell us a little bit about yourself as far as the non-music stuff: where you live, what family life is like, church life, all that kind of stuff.

I'm pretty a songwriter and also a musician. I started playing the drums at the age of three, and I started playing piano at five. My parents found a good way to move me away from drums. I have two wonderful parents, my mom and my dad. I'm a junior, Vernon Hill Jr., and my father is Senior, and he's an ordained minister and my mom works with him at my home church, Mount Pleasant Church Ministries.

For me, I'm more of a music coordinator right now at First Christian Community Church of Annapolis. I started ministering at church at the age of 15 at my own church, and from there I began to consult other ministries in the areas of praise and worship.

I love my Baltimore Ravens. I have a strong passion for the things of praise and worship and being a musician and what that does for service, and also this interaction between playing and also leading worship and being with worship leaders.

You said you started ministering in music at age 15. What was that like, and how did you know this was what you're called to do?

I knew I was called to do it, and I was actually doing it even earlier than that, but it became official at my home church. I was kind of doing it underneath the tutelage of other musicians that were there, and before you know it, God just worked it out that myself and my other good friend began to play. The crazy thing about that is the size of that church at that time of being 15 and being a part of a major ministry.

I kind of grew into it over time. My parents always supported me to just go in that direction, just go and follow where the Lord is leading.
 

Beyond just being a worship leader and singer/songwriter, all of the above, you're a producer as well. Talk about that for a second.

I've been able to go to school for music production and engineering. I have a B.A. in that. In doing praise and worship and those kinds of things, even very young I always had a desire to record. That was even during the times of just having the little karaoke set. People are lucky even now that computers are doing so much more. I was using cassettes to kind of record here and there.

I was in the process of just trying to approach different A&Rs, different labels and things like that. Things were kind of moving, but then it just seemed like the doors kind of shut at one time because it was heading towards a different genre. But there came a point where it was like, "No, you need to stop because there's a set of music that you have that needs to be released."

As a producer, I just love bringing talented people around and kind of cultivating that. I've had the ability to work on independent projects and things like that, and not just independent film projects, but other things to develop songwriters abroad and even locally.

Songs from His Presence is a very collaborative project. What I love about it is the way you presented it; it's not just you. At the end of the record, when you hit "finish," and you knew it was done with all of the people you worked with, what were you trying to go for at the end of the day?

I wanted to be able to have a project that would just take you from where you are in normal life and really put you into that place with God, truly in His presence. That really it doesn't matter if you're sitting in traffic or wherever, that you would be able to really go there and be in His presence. That nothing would hinder, or that it would be more of an escape to be in His presence, to allow fear and doubt and worry to subside and to really find that when people listen that they would just be able to be personal and that it would be intimate. 

Do you travel around? Is that something you want to do as far sharing your own music there?

Yes, locally, mostly. We're fortunate to have a night of worship there in Annapolis where all of us got together, the wonderful people from this project, LaVarn Gordon, Jemila Richardson and Keon Jones. We were able to do a night of worship there, and we're hoping to do nights of worship again in different places as people become aware of the project.

We do songs that are familiar to everybody, because we want not to just display our music but more importantly that we would set a spirit of worship that will cultivate people to change and to really be impacted. So we mix in wonderful worship songs with the songs that we do as well. We love the worship of Hillsong, we love the worship that Tasha Cobbs brings and also Matt Maher. It's such a mixture of things that are all bottled up within us. 

You mentioned names like Matt Maher and Tasha Cobbs. Who are some of your influences?

As a producer, I truly enjoy Donald Lawrence for his quality and songwriting ability, as well as Kirk Franklin. I just love how they're able to mix what they do, and just the production quality. I also love the songwriting of Darlene Zschech. There are a few others. It's so meshed together. 

What would you say, as far as you can sense in your spheres, is happening in the Church right now with regard to worship?

I think that it's becoming more and more relevant to churches. I think it's becoming more prevalent the way that it should, because there's a time in certain churches where it was more like it's just the prelude or it's the concert, but I love the fact that it's becoming more intertwined.

I think what's very important, though, with praise and worship for churches is also to understand how it's so interconnected with every form or every part of service--specifically to prayer, it's important. I think sometimes it's imbalanced, where it becomes so much of a concert or it's just a lot of flair. Substance is important, too.

Wherever I go, I always think of the passage in Ephesians where it says "and I will sing with understanding." When there's understanding, there becomes great power to sing to each other with songs, hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in your heart unto the Lord. I think it's so important that we connect to every age group and every walk of life, doing it not just in the music, but also in what we're saying in the music that brings understanding of God's word and of God's truth.

With what we sing or even how we write songs we should always keep the understanding of God's Word there, to not to be too much in our lyrics that we don't say it literally, because the only thing that has staying power, the only thing that has more power over a note or a melody or how a person sings is the Word of God. That is where the power is.

That's what separates what our music is from other people's or other genres of music, because we have the Holy Spirit. We have the word of God, which will stand forever. 

How can people be praying for you, Vernon?

I just pray that people would pray that the Lord would continue to allow me to gain wisdom, wisdom even for what He's showing me and what He wants me to do even further in this particular area of music ministry for me. Also for my family, and also to the songwriters and gifted people that are on this project, that the Lord would give us wisdom and creativity to do another project like this that would really bless people's lives.

 

Executive Editor Marcus Hathcock pursues worship and words. He has been a newspaper reporter/editor a church communications director and small groups guy. He's also been involved in opera, acappella, a CCM group and now is a songwriter and the worship leader at his church in the Portland, Ore. area. Follow his journey at www.mheternal.com.

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