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From Pain to Praise with Deion Payton

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This past Wednesday evening I had the privilege of attending Deion Payton’s Senior Presentation, “From Pain to Praise!” This performance featured music from composers such as Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Faure, and included a 30-voice Gospel Choir, as well as some of Deion’s original compositions.

Music has always been a major part of Deion’s life. He first heard about Cairn, (PBU at the time), because one of his high school teachers had recommended that he check it out. However, this school was last on Deion’s list. He said, “God made it very clear that this is where He wanted me to go. He put me with the right connections and made sure I knew who I needed to know.”

Since starting at Cairn, Deion has always been a part of the Gospel Choir. It was his first year here that his friend left him in charge of the choir back in 2012. This meant that he had to build it from the ground up. One of his goals for the choir was to show the diversity of music. He said, “I saw that there was no exposure to the Gospel side of music here, and I wanted to make sure that students could come to understand both the spiritual, as well as the cultural aspect that goes along with Gospel music… African American Gospel music, that is.” For the first three years, there was only a small group of students who were apart of the choir. He referred to them as the faithful six. By Deion’s fourth year here, the group grew to about twenty students. Once the group was large enough, the school eventually made it into a roster course, along with the other preexisting vocal ensembles: Chorale and Chamber Singers.

Being at a place that was not exposed to African American Gospel music, and being a Gospel musician, Deion had to learn over the years how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable … both spiritually and musically. He said, “I now feel like I can swing through all of the doors comfortably because it has forced me to break down walls and become comfortable with the audience here. This school has simply broadened my horizon.”

Music is one of the ways in which Deion communicates with God. Although prayer and reading the Bible are both important in one’s walk with Christ, he mentioned how many forget the importance of worship. Deion explained, “As I become a leader, nothing I did replaced my relationship with the Lord. Before I led or directed anyone else, I made sure to direct myself to God first.” Whether he was in a difficult season in his life or not, the songs that he has written over the years minister to him in his own time of need. Music is one of Deion’s passions, and when your passion and faith go hand-in-hand, you can use that very passion to glorify God. Deion shared with me a story regarding the day he was born… 

Most people don’t know that the cord was wrapped around my neck as an infant. As I’ve come to understand my birth story more over the years, I have grown to appreciate this gift that God has given me. I shouldn’t even be able to talk. Without God, I would not have this gift to share. It only makes sense that I give this gift back to Him.”

There have been many faculty members at Cairn that were a major inspiration to Deion over the years. He would like to thank Dr. Shockey, Ms. Ruth Naomi Floyd, as well as, Dr. Hurst for being a part of both his music career and overall journey here over the past few years. Someone who inspires him in the world of composers is Richard Smallwood. Deion shares, “He encompasses the two styles I love most: Classical and Gospel. And he continues to change and influence the Gospel community.”

After graduation Deion hopes to continue to perform, teach, and possibly even pursue higher degrees. He says, “My long-term goal is to open up my own after-school program in urban communities, whether that be in Philly or other parts of the country. I want to give people like me, (who grew up in non-ideal/urban communities where all they know is the church and the streets), and give them a way that they could use the Arts as a mode or outlet to release all of their emotions and pain. As we said in high school, “art saves lives.I want to give others the chance I had. I definitely want to continue doing shows, concerts, recitals, lessons… I want the program to incorporate all of that. But I also want the program to have a Counseling aspect of some sort. That way the students would be able to benefit even more so from the program.”

Even though at times Cairn can feel like a bubble, Deion mentioned, “When you find those who really love Jesus, those who can give you more than advice, and can help you more than just in the natural… that is what I will miss the most when I leave here.” Whether his seasons at Cairn were good or bad, Deion had to learn how to overcome much during his time here. He said, “I’ve seen the Lord do so many great things. I wouldn’t trade my Cairn journey for anything. Was it hard? Absolutely. Academically, spiritually, emotionally… but this journey has helped mature me. I am thankful for it all.”

Deion ends with an encouraging word to his fellow peers:

Look out for yourself, and in doing that, never box God in. He is far bigger… His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. Our thought process of who God is… He is greater than that. We can never fully understand him. When you’re exposed to things that are unfamiliar to you, it can be another part of God that you do not know yet. If you reject what He is doing in others than you are rejecting him.”

Regarding his presentation he explains, “There were so many emotions going on. In the moment, I definitely felt that it provided the students a chance to see Gospel music in a more authentic way. My objective for the night was to encourage people and to show others that both Classical and Gospel music can go hand in hand.

If you did not get a chance to attend Deion’s presentation, you most definitely missed out on an amazing performance. You could truly tell how much Deion loves pursuing the heart of the Father through his worship.

As beings created by God, we were designed for the sole purpose of worshiping our God in Spirit and in Truth for, well, eternity. If we want to be able to witness Heaven on Earth, we are going to need to learn how to pursue worship with all of are heart, with all of are soul, and with all of are mind. We must make sure that we give are entire selves over to the Creator of the universe; by laying down are pride, are self-consciousness, and any other distraction(s) that would hinder us from giving Christ are all.

Deion you have brought much joy and freedom to this campus. As your fellow peers, we look forward to all the more you will accomplish as you continue your music career after graduation. Thank you for sharing your gifts and talents with us, and for pouring your heart and soul into your music. Most importantly, thank you for showing us that we have the ability to come to know Christ more intimately and passionately through are personal worship with Him!

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