Alumni Profile • George Lanning '04
Unlocking the song

George LanningOn a spring evening in 1996, when he walked into a music department recital and heard Professor Carl Kaiser singing German leider, George Lanning’s ’04 life changed course.

“It was like someone had come along with a secret key to a chamber in my heart,” Lanning remembered. “Inside there was emotion of such veracity, an overwhelming passion and vulnerability I never thought possible. I was moved to tears. In that moment I knew I wanted to sing like that, no matter what it took.”

Soon the sophomore was taking voice lessons with Professor Kaiser. Though Lanning had sung in his high school choir and theater department musicals, classical music presented a complex new challenge. Beneath that was a darker current preventing Lanning’s song.

“I struggle with a great and terrible fear — some call it a depression — that I will never enter into the joy God has for me on this earth, that I’m alone and that my heart is far too weak to be a great man in this life.”

That lie runs deep in Lanning. His mother walked away when he was eight. His father, alcohol and drug addicted, was in and out of prison. Bounced from home to home and sometimes a refugee on the street, Lanning, at 15, experienced two miracles that he says changed his life.

Through a friend, Lanning was introduced to Jesus Christ; soon afterward, he found himself at St. John’s Home in Grand Rapids. Begun in 1889 as an “orphan asylum,” its mission since the 1970s has been to treat abused and neglected children. Caregivers at St. John’s met more than his physical needs. “There I discovered a new truth,” Lanning said, “that the suffering pales in comparison to the power of real love, which, until then, I believed was the biggest lie of the universe. Now it’s all I live for.”

His heart, as Lanning describes it, “began to grow.” By the time he graduated from Creston High School in 1994, he was ready to take St. John’s up on its offer of free college tuition and to “find out what God had in store.”

For the next six years Lanning took classes at Calvin full time, worked nearly full time, and, on overtime, battled recurring depression. In 2000 he dropped out. But thanks to the love and friendship of his friends and professors — his “family,” Lanning calls them — he walked across the stage in May 2004 for his diploma. “They struggled with me and helped me discover a new way to live out loving myself as my neighbor.”

Lanning now works with high school kids in various churches, offering the same sort of unconditional love and true friendship that helped him “unlock his true heart.” He also puts on benefit concerts, singing the classical repertoire that he loves.

By next fall Lanning hopes to be enrolled at Indiana University to study opera. The former street kid knows it’s a stretch — financially, emotionally, spiritually. But he also knows that “God’s purpose for me is powerful, and my life’s struggles are his tools. I’m going to sing, no matter what.”

Lanning invites inquiries about his concert schedule and career plans; e-mail