Web Extra: Masterful MusiciansJune 24, 2005
Megan McCallon and Ryan Richardson
Chapel worship leaders Megan McCallon and Ryan Richardson have a secret. They rarely spend more than five minutes rehearsing the songs they will play together. But their collaborative ease keeps listeners from ever guessing.
"Our sound check is our practice," says McCallon, a junior majoring in public relations. "It's really easy working with Ryan because he's such a talented musician. We mesh really well." Likewise, Richardson, worship coordinator for University Ministries, praises McCallon's "low-maintenance" talent. "She has a great ear and an ability to improvise things. We can run through a song once or twice and she's ready to go," he says.
After almost two years of playing in chapel -- Richardson on the piano and McCallon on guitar and vocals -- they know one another's style inside and out. But they played at Chapel for the last time together in April, ending one of the most successful musical collaborations the required class has known.
In 2001, Richardson, then a graduate student in George W. Truett Theological Seminary, was hired as a chapel worship leader. The next year, he took over responsibility for the logistics of chapel, a position he still holds. He graduated with his master's degree in global missions in 2004.
A pianist, self-proclaimed "functional" guitarist and a songwriter, he has recorded two CDs of original music and travels frequently as a worship consultant and leader in churches and youth camps around the nation.
For Richardson, leading worship and playing piano are spiritual vocations. "Anytime I try to deviate from that calling, there's a very clear calling from the Lord pulling me back on this path," he says. Richardson doesn't read musical notes, but always plays by ear -- hearing songs and then reproducing them on the keys. "It's of the Lord for sure because it's a supernatural experience for me," he says when asked to explain his ability.
Despite his musical gifts, what Richardson enjoys most about his job is interaction. "The reason I love worship is that it's a vehicle for relationships to form," he says. He enjoys getting to know students who approach him with suggestions for or questions about chapel. "It strengthens us both and sometimes they make me aware of something I'm not aware of," he says.
McCallon entered the picture after winning the 2002 Baylor Icon contest -- a campus-wide talent competition for musicians and vocalists. Richardson, who was one of the judges, was receptive to her request to help lead chapel worship.
She had led church worship as a high school student in her hometown of Paducah, Ky., before coming to Baylor. As a college freshman, she found a musical outlet playing at local venues, but wanted to return to church music.
"I really missed [leading worship] here my first semester, not being able to be a part of it," she says. "I felt like God has gifted me in that way." McCallon says that she is communicating her faith, whether singing and playing in chapel or "writing normal, secular songs and trying to live a life that reflects [God]."
Her first CD, "Missing Piece," released in fall 2003, contains nine original songs. She performs about once a month in Waco, Austin and Dallas venues arranged by her manager. In addition to guitar and vocals, she also plays the piano.
The two say they will miss the camaraderie they have shared when McCallon steps down from the chapel stage after the spring semester to focus on her senior-year studies. After graduating in 2006, she hopes to continue to build her music career and move to Dallas.
Richardson and his wife, Kristen, who is a student at and a recruiter for Truett Seminary, want to travel as missionaries to more remote areas in the United States that do not have access to worship leaders.
Despite obvious talents, McCallon and Richardson emphasize that what's important in chapel worship is not the people on the platform, but the one they strive to honor. "Even if students say, 'I don't even know who that guy is, was there a guy on stage? All I remember is that I met God here,' that's my overall goal," Richardson says.
McCallon described her favorite moments in chapel as when she and Richardson weren't playing, but listening to the almost 3,000 voices in Waco Hall praising God a cappella. "There's just something about standing up there and leading others in singing a song to God that we worship and adore."