Why Music & Worship Arts Week is magical to me

By Deanna Heslep

For three generations my family has been coming to Music & Worship Arts Week at Lake Junaluska, and for three more I pray that future generations will continue to follow our tradition.

I started making my yearly trip when I was 6 years old with my mom and my brother. Over the next 11 years, I grew up with music as my guide through every choir from daycare to adult choir, finding a new sense of hope every time.

Watching the older people come down from the mountains to delight in our time of worship is a memory I’ll hold onto for the rest of my life.

Using photography as a way to bring a little bit of the experience back home with me every year … to a world that’s never seen something like this … brought me unspeakable joy. Closing my eyes and listening to all the voices from different states of people I’ll know for the rest of my life would make me want to sit down and sob.

I’m lucky to have met so many cultured and amazing people not just at Music & Worship Arts Week, but everywhere. The beauty of every different type of person in one place, the beauty of every voice, good or bad. My life has been absolutely crazy and every year the same people would be waiting for me there, like nothing had changed except for the way we appear in front of one another.

Mark Miller and Young Adult Choir in 2017
Mark Miller, right, works with the Young Adult Choir at Music & Worship Arts Week 2017. (Photo: Daniel Craig)

I got to work under Mark Miller in my second to last year that I attended and experience the magic he can create by throwing a bunch of misguided teenage voices together. Sometimes I still live vicariously through it by watching the recording of the final concert, which blows me away even more every time. Every piece we performed in that concert was published by Mark himself and each one was more exquisite than the next.

I miss my time at the lake; I miss seeing the people that loved to put their voices together just as much as I did; I miss running amongst dozens and dozens of roses at 6 a.m. before everyone got up; I miss staying in the historic Lambuth Inn and peering over the cliff by the cross and looking for hope in the distance.

Most of all, I miss being surrounded by so many people who barely knew me, who could only show love through the music in the air. I understand taking time off and relaxing, but this is something much different, something people are blessed to experience.

I believe that my life would be a catastrophic mess if I didn’t to learn to love what Music & Worship Arts Week at Lake Junaluska is. When my life in Virginia was hectic and rushed, I couldn’t wait to leave it all behind for a week and be somewhere where all I am is me. Not my mistakes, my pain, my grief, but a growing young adult who just liked to sing.


Deanna Heslep is an 11-year attendee of the magical Music & Worship Arts Week who loves to sing and loves becoming one with the music soaring through the air at Lake Junaluska. She currently resides in Richmond, VA, and is the hard-working mother of a sweet 11-month-old, Isabella Marie.


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