All in Music

Matt and I suddenly found ourselves writing songs we couldn’t play in church. Songs that would fit better in a bar or a club — venues we had started playing when we were too young to drink in them.

The songs we were writing weren’t necessarily risqué, but they were more about eros than agape — more focused on the divine in human love than the love of the Divine.
A wise and wonderful editor of mine once told me that she believes there are two types of children's book writers: those who study children and those who are children inside. I knew immediately which group I belong in! It just feels very natural for me to write for children. And I feel very fortunate: children are the best audience in the world. They will go with you anywhere, much further than adults. It is an honor and a privilege to write for children, and also, of course, a great responsibility.
The mountain doesn’t look like the mountain when you’re on it. Often enough, it doesn’t look like much at all. Like standing only a few inches away from one of Georges Seurat’s pieces, all I see are points of color. It’s just dots, at least that’s true to some degree. Yet I’d venture a guess that Seurat was not primarily or initially moved by a vision of tiny marks on a canvas but that he took up the brush and diligently, meticulously made those millions of tiny marks because he was moved by a vision of sand and water or skin and eyes.

What we believe about a child, and the person who that child is becoming, is significant. As Charlotte Mason says, "A child is a person." Children are not just babies becoming people, they are already people. In this way, we hold and relate to them with honor and respect. On one hand, we don't need to idolize them in preciousness. Nor do we need to belittle them for their weakness.

This reality is a great equalizer, and it makes me want to consider that honor even in the hope that the simple songs they sing and memorize should also be great songs.

“We do not have to live as if we are alone.” One would not be hard pressed to interpret a large percentage of Bruce Springsteen’s extensive catalogue of songs over the last thirty-something years as attempts to communicate the same message. The role of an artist in our world today surely includes, among other things, the task of expanding our moral imagination . . .

April in Paris

My mother adored Daddy, as she called him, but she swooned for Ravel. Family legend has it that a recording of Ravel’s best known piece, Bolero, which somehow turned up in my mother’s possessions when in high school, was promptly destroyed, being deemed far too sensuous for the impressionable oldest daughter of a Swedish Baptist preacher. And she could painfully recall not being able to attend a friend’s birthday party as a child in Pasadena, because the planned activity for the group was to see a movie — a novel, rare treat in 1930. The first time I saw the film Babette’s Feast, I had some inkling of the dilemma my mother’s upbringing must have wrought in her blossoming creative life, as it would later in mine.

I hate that I don’t play the violin regularly anymore, but I know I will pick it up again. Sooner rather than later if our son will start his scratching at the same age when I started mine. But my joy in the listening has increased during my sabbatical. At some point, without my noticing a shift, patronizing the local symphony orchestra became a privilege rather than a presumption, much to my glad surprise.
There has never been a better moment to be a middle-class or an independently thinking artist making and performing music than right now. The costs and complications of creating, recording, manufacturing, and distributing music are at an all-time low, enabling more music to be made and more artists to make a living than ever before. If your ego can bear not being rich and famous, you can make a respectable and sustainable living as a blue-collar musician. The problem used to be access; now it’s obscurity. And this brings with it a completely new set of problems and opportunities.

Celebrating 20 Years of Art House America

In late October and early November 2011 we celebrated Art House America’s twentieth anniversary. With three events — two in our home, the Art House, and one at The Village Chapel near downtown Nashville — we looked back over twenty years of Art House history; enjoyed amazing music, beautiful food, and the company of people from all eras of the Art House America story. Twenty years still seems quite extraordinary when we look back on our beginnings.

Small things. Sweet tea and warm cookies. An Americano, fresh and local. Simple gifts with a profoundly Eucharistic quality. They are the work of another person’s hands; acts of attentiveness in the creation of a personal and communal experience. Simple gifts, but rich and nourishing.

A good teacher is creative. A good computer programmer is creative. A good mom is creative. A good lawyer looks creatively beyond the contingencies of injustice and works to bring a more virtuous existence into being.

In fact, the argument could be made that a human being is most God-like when she is most creative, ingeniously crafting the true and the beautiful out of the confines of the present tense. Remixing tomorrow out of the raw materials of today. Re-appropriating a dream into reality.

Letter to a Young Musician

You've chosen a noble vocation. Or, perhaps music has chosen you? That's even better. An invitation is preferable to a cold call.

At all times and in all ways, you must relentlessly pursue success. That is, as long as success is defined as increased skill and ability, imagination, humility, generosity of spirit, good humor, gratitude, innovation, love, and empathy, and becoming more like Jesus, not less. Your life as a musician is an invitation to become one kind of person in the world and not another, while leaving the world a better place than when you first arrived. It is a unique calling to live a seamless, integrated, creative life before God and the world, cultivating and enjoying the gift of music. Take it seriously . . .

My parents almost never went out alone together. They smiled giddily as they gave Jane instructions about dinner and bedtime. I paid attention. My father put his hand on my mother’s back as he opened the front door and ushered her out. Something important was happening in this moment, and it had everything to do with two fuzzy looking singers, one strumming a guitar worn high across his chest.
My conversion was real, but it divided us. I had no finesse in my clumsy attempts at evangelism, but I ached for him to join me, to understand. I was baptized on Coney Island in a lightning storm, and ever faithful, he stood on the beach and watched, hands dug deep in the pockets of his Levi’s. I knew he wrestled with the turn I’d taken, but we stopped talking about it. We suddenly got polite.

The Art House Dallas Song Project: a Recap and Reflection

For anyone who is serious about having a songwriting life inspired by Jesus, it’s time to deal with what He is interested in — everything. This means people seeking God in a more beautiful, faithful way of living which is holistic in scope — beyond pietism to a true rightness, the rightness revealed in the person of Jesus and all that concerns Him.

She’s a mother, a hair stylist, a published fiction writer. Kristin Russell isn’t trying to show off. She’s just that impressive. Between her work at a hipster salon in the 12th South neighborhood of Nashville and caring for her two-year-old son Finn, her husband Rann, and her yorkie Audrey, Kristin has made the time to release her literary energy. Her attempts have resulted in a successful first novel, Recovering Ramona, a story about a “young woman who tackles her mom issues and her fears about starting a future family with the help of an eccentric hippie and a 1986 Volvo.”
I do a fair amount of dreaming in terms of what sounds fun to do next. Who would be fun to work with? I have the luxury of being able to ask myself questions like that, and I take it pretty seriously. Josh, Sandra, and I were sitting around a few different times saying, “So what next? What am I gonna do? What follows the year I’ve just had?” And I looked at Josh with a smirk and said, “Time to make a worship record.” 
In the hands of another author, the blood and shame meted out in her stories would be cruel and nihilistic, a demonstration of an unfeeling universe smiting everyone alike. But O’Connor’s aim was different. She was focused at her core upon the Gospel, the arc of sin, redemption, and glorification, and though many of her stories stop short of redemption (much less glorification), redemption is the long shadow cast over the whole proceeding.
I remember the first time someone actually purchased one of my CDs. It was 1999 at a roller-skating rink in Sacramento, California, where I was opening for a ska band (a story unto itself). The kid who made the purchase had blue hair and was probably sixteen. He handed me sweaty cash from his pocket saying, “I didn’t think I’d like you,” which I took as a compliment. Further, I took it as a sign that I’d made a connection and, as corny as it may sound, I was actually moved.