Manders prefers to save souls rather than create fans
Stephen Manders has been on a musical journey his entire life.
The most recent cause for celebration along that path is the release of the first album with his group Decree, on June 24.
The album, appropriately entitled The Journey: Vol. 1, has been brewing since the creation of the group in 2015.
“I had written my first song in 2009, Under His Wings, which did well. When I started the group it was really to be able to continue creating music,” Mr Manders said.
An accomplished musician and songwriter, he draws on personal experiences for inspiration. He says the album is a reflection of his journey with the Lord.
“The album is called The Journey because it is literally the journey of my life and how God has blessed me.
“I have had a lot of health issues; I’ve been in a couple car accidents here and there. A lot of different challenges have presented themselves through my life, but each time something crazy would happen God would always give me a song that could speak to that situation.”
Some of the melodies came to him while he was in hospital, others were inspired by the many blessings he has received.
"I write songs from that place of gratitude and love for God and it inspires me and also uplifts me,” he said.
Mr Manders was raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and attended Bermuda Institute – they both greatly impacted his interest in music as a child and through his adolescence.
“My love of gospel music really started in the second grade, being a part of the school choir. I was always around gospel music at church, at home and at school,” he said. “Musicians like Owen Simons and Gail Taylor were some of the people that really piqued my love for music and created an appetite for it for me.”
Mr Manders soon realised that he had a natural gift for music and remained involved in church and school choirs for over a decade. During that time, he was nudged to pursue his talent by his music teacher and mentor, Owen Simons, who also gave him piano lessons.
“Owen would push me to lead out in choir because he saw that I had that drive and niche for music. This helped to build my confidence in my craft. I can’t say enough how instrumental Owen has been in my music career.”
After graduating from Bermuda Institute, Mr Manders left the island to pursue a degree in public relations at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama. However, his love of music never left him.
“I studied public relations in school because I always loved communications. But music had become a part of me and it was something I was always involved in, no matter where I was. So naturally, while at Oakwood I became involved in music ministry.
“I started to play the piano for Dynamic Praise, a choir formed by Owen Simons, and eventually I became co-director. I also was given the opportunity to serve as assistant minister of music at Oakwood University Church.”
He played music throughout college and soon realised he could turn it into a career.
Currently living in Huntsville, one of his highlights came in April 2020 when a recording of his virtual choir performance went viral and was featured on the pop-culture platform, The Shade Room.
When asked why he chose to pursue gospel rather than secular music Mr Manders said that it was just a “natural progression” that took place.
“I had no technical training in music. It was purely a passion for creating music and a passion for worship that led me here.
“I really believe in the Bible verse that says your gifts will make room for you. And that has been the story of my career. Because I chose to give my gift back to God, He allowed that gift to lead me to professional success.”
His debut album features eleven songs, many of which are inspired by his childhood memories of singing in church.
“I’ve always been drawn to hymns. I think the musical structure of hymns is just such an attractive and beautiful sound.
“If you look at the titles of some of the tracks on the album, they are based on hymns. You have Higher Ground, which is a contemporary spin on a hymn and Love Lifted Me, which is another rearrangement of a hymn. I also did the song Heaven, which incorporates the popular and classic hymn When We All Get To Heaven.”
M. Manders is adamant that in addition to God’s grace, the album is the product of years of support from his parents – Kenneth Manders, the president of the Bermuda Conference of Seventh-day of Adventist, and Claudette Manders.
“My parents have invested a lot in me, and this is a project that I want to dedicate to them. My mom was the one to put me in piano lessons all those years ago. They have supported me ever since. My daddy was the one who really helped me to raise money for this particular project.
“So I dedicate this to my parents so that they can see that their investment was worth it. I also want them to see that I am going to continue using my gifts for the Lord. This album is the fruit of their labour.”
Mr Manders hopes the project will ultimately reach hearts around the world and lead them into relationship with Christ.
“God has literally blown my mind. A lot of the industry choir directors and artists are really happy with the result of the project and it is reaching people. I hope and I believe that it will do well, but that is not the primary focus.
“Accolades are great, but the real goal is to save souls. If this album can save one soul and lead one person into relationship with Christ it would have achieved its purpose.”
The Journey: Vol. 1 is available for download on iTunes and Spotify