Books

2017 + a book review

First of all, Happy New Year!

Yes, yes, we are 30 days in. But writing here on the blog hasn’t made it to the top of my list before now, so I haven’t said it yet! 

Our first Christmas in Nashville wasn’t half-bad, though we had deep moments of homesickness for our family of friends in North Carolina.

I entered this new year with a mix of emotion: heavy-heartedness around the events shaping our world and culture, and yet a persistent hope that we are fully capable of doing better, of drawing closer together for things that matter.

I woke up with fresh ideas brewing for songwriting, potential projects and collaborations that excite and challenge me, that hopefully will see the light of day and feed others in some meaningful way.

I carried over the awareness that the best way to push back against quiet despair is with loud thanksgiving, so I remind myself of the monumental gifts I still enjoy every single day.

I also started 2017 with an armful of new books - poetry and fiction and memoirs - that help me wake up every morning and think new thoughts.

Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, and Seth Godin were all under the Christmas tree. I don’t usually read just one book at a time but have them all right there on the wicker chest coffee table, and I pick up whichever is calling me at a given moment.

Here’s something from Mary Oliver’s Upstream that spoke to me as an artist:

"No one yet has made a list of places where the extraordinary may happen and where it may not.  Still, there are indications.  Among crowds, in drawing rooms, among easements and comforts and pleasures, it is seldom seen.  It likes the out-of-doors.  It likes the concentrating mind. It is more likely to stick to the risk-taker than the ticket-taker."

It’s amazing really. The power of a single poem to transform my outlook at the start of the day.  Thank you, Wendell, Mary and Seth for your good and life-giving work.

 

And then I occasionally am lucky enough to get free books from author friends or publishers who are looking for book nerds to potentially review or endorse a new release. Because of that, I’m getting to read an early version of Tsh Oxenreider’s At Home In The World (more on that in the near future!) and Erin Loechner’s Chasing Slow.

I don’t know Erin personally, but I wasn’t shocked to discover that she is friends with Tsh Oxenreider - one of my favorite bloggers, thinkers and online pals - and has been working with Tsh on the Simple Show podcast.

I’m not gonna lie. The first thing that drew me to Erin’s book was the cover. Yes, I might sometimes be that shallow. It was just so clean looking. Modern. The layout & design of the hardcover is very cool, very different. She’s a designer, after all.

And also, I like the word “slow” (almost as much as I like the word “quiet”)

Erin is a former art director/stylist. She’s a wife, mother, writer, designer. But most helpful to the rest of us is that her story has had some major challenges to face, which has given her added depth and insight and relatability. Well, it's hardship AND that she’s from Indiana. A midwestern girl who just happens to spend time in Hollywood and be featured by HGTV and the NY Times. Since I attended college in Indiana, I pretty much have to like her.

I’ve seen a lot of writing about “slow living” the past few years, because obviously we’re bad at it. We’re trying, though, and all of us have at least one bee-keeping friend and have tried to grow our own basil. We walk when we can and play games with the kids and celebrate simple moments on Instagram. But we all know it’s an effort in these times when you CAN do/be/see/try/accomplish so much.

So I appreciated reading Erin’s personal story of working harder and harder, to get...where, exactly?? That’s the thing I’m personally realizing: How little we stop and question ourselves on just about anything. We follow whatever crowd we identify with and react emotionally and do-by-default more than we think we do. (At least, I do.)

Foreclosure, bankruptcy and family losses helped Erin see that what “everybody” wants was not actually what she wanted. A Pinterest-perfect house isn’t necessarily a heart-safe home. And work success doesn’t equal life-success.

Though it’s not the only less-is-more story, it is Erin’s unique story, honestly and vulnerably-told, and a good one especially for female friends who struggle with perfectionism and a my-life-looks-plain-next-to-hers inner monologue. Also a good one for the young, creative crowd finishing school and ready to find an exciting place in the world. Erin’s husband is a filmmaker and they spent their first married years in L.A. pursuing work in the arts.

Click here to order your copy of Chasing Slow. Or here.

Well, here's to a new year full of making - music and art and words and moments, stories that light up our small and big patches of the world.

It's an honor to be on this journey of making with you.

Love, Christa

 

 

 

 

 

 

thoughtful gifts for songwriters...

ITBMW_Art Well, friends,

Before I get to the point, if you haven't yet gotten your free download of the Christmas single (cover art above) I recorded with my pals Jess Ray & Taylor Leonhardt, I want to make sure to give you that link, so go ahead and CLICK HERE. Merry Christmas!

Hopefully you're ahead of me and have finished all your gift planning for the Christmas celebrations. If not, and if one of the outstanding recipients happens to be a songwriter/music-maker, then this is for you.

My friend, Taylor, and I were talking about how sweet it is when you find a gift that truly adds to a life without also being a burden in terms of clutter or maintenance.  I googled "gift ideas for young filmmaker" the other day, because I have one of those in my house, and I thought I'd put together something like that for us musical types, in case you're googling "gift ideas for songwriters" (probably not on the most searched list, but still...).

Here are a few that came to mind, in no particular order.

I apologize for not taking time to add pretty pictures and poetic descriptions. As I mentioned, I'm not done with my own preparations yet! May update in time for next Christmas?

Instrument or Accessories

I almost didn't include this, because it's obvious, but if it's time for new strings or a travel case or cables or boom stands? Easy.

Journal & Pen 

I'm partial to ordinary composition books these days. Less intimidating, less guilt if I don't fill it, slim & lightweight. But, I've loved many a fancier journal in my life - so just choose something soft that lays flat when opened. Then find a nice ink pen to wrap with it. Voila. (I do have this Moleskine journal now in my store, but I promise that's not why I mentioned journals.)

Books

I know not everyone enjoys reading, and there are artists who make great work without reading a lot.

But if you CAN enjoy it, I say it's one of the very best things you can do to fuel your art.  For me, any books that come highly recommended and are well-written, fiction or non, will make me happy.

But here are a few I've especially appreciated as an artist:

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art – Madeleine L’Engle

Writing Down the Bones – Natalie Goldberg

The Artist's Way - Julia Cameron

Steal Like An Artist - Austin Kleon

Show Your Work – Austin Kleon

A Million Little Ways – Emily P. Freeman

Songwriters on Songwriting – Paul Zollo

Writing Better Lyrics - Pat Pattison (okay, this one I have not yet read, but a number of my writer friends have & have highly recommended it)

 Subscriptions

American Songwriter magazine - I love this magazine so much & only wish I had time to read every issue cover to cover

Tickets

There's almost nothing more helpful to a performing artist of any kind than to actually GO to see live performances. If cost were no issue, I think most of us would be attending a lot more shows and watching less Netflix.

Give your loved one tickets to concerts, and not just the big productions. Those are great fun, but most of us aren't ever going to have the resources to pull off that kind of show. Find tickets to a house show with a reputable artist performing or an intimate local venue, so they can learn by watching & be inspired.

Give tickets to theatrical productions & arthouse movie theaters. Most people will spend money to hit a mainstream theater a few times a year, but it feels risky to a lot of people to try an independent film. Because those films are often so interesting and provocative, get two tickets so you can go together and then have dinner & conversation after.

 Host a House Concert

If your writer is interested in sharing their work publicly, help them out by graciously planning a concert in your home and inviting your neighbors, friends and family. It'll be a gift for you, too!

Does it sound scary or difficult? It's totally do-able, and my friend Matthew Clark has this great house concert resource page for you. Check it out!

Yeti Blue Microphone 

I love this little guy for capturing work tapes or even rough demos. We've also used it for broadcasting live online shows. I love it because it doesn't require me to be a techie and it's the best affordable USB mic I've found so far.

Headphones

I've used Bose and Audio-Technica. Again, I'm not a techie, so definitely do some research, but something other than earbuds is super helpful for recording and listening to mixes.

Scholarship to Masterpiece Project

I work at Masterpiece Project as a songwriting studio leader one week every summer and cannot speak highly enough about this place. It's exactly what I wish I'd had when I was a teenager, a safe intimate environment to explore art and make friends under the mentorship of faith-based professional artists.

If your artist is rising 9th-12th grade, this would be a fantastic Christmas gift that won't end up on their bedroom floor with dirty socks.

Demo Recording Session

For a beginning songwriter, one of the most exhilarating experiences is to have one of your songs recorded professionally. Demo production can range from $200-$1500 depending on complexity of recording and reputation/demand of the particular producer.

If it's a new/young/aspiring songwriter, definitely find someone in your local area who will do it on the budget end of the scale. Make sure you hear samples of their work before hiring.

Portable PA

This has been the handiest thing I've purchased in the past few years. I use the Fishman tower system, but I've heard good things about the Bose, as well. Perfect for small venue performances. If you only need 1-2 inputs, you won't even need a soundboard.

Soundboard

For performances with multiple vocalists or instruments, use a mixing console like this one from Yamaha with your PA.

Music!

You can't go wrong with iTunes gift cards. Or vinyl for the young/audiophile crowd. Or physical CDs for the non-digital car. And maybe give them some music that has stood the test of time that they wouldn't ordinarily seek out. I was heavily influenced by music I found laying around my childhood home, music popular before my time...Patsy Cline, The Beach Boys, Dire Straits, Roy Orbison. Help your writer get acquainted with the greats of the past OR greats from genres other than their first love.

Time

If your writer is a grown-up, one of the best gifts I can think of is dedicated time.

Is she a mother? Take the kids away from the house for a day and let her write in peace!

A married man? Give him an evening a week to himself & a place to create.

Or get crazy and find a place on the beach where you can go together - but go your separate ways during the daytime.

Macbook

Enough said. It's true, not all artists love Apple, but it's a good bet.

This Calendar

I don't have this, but someone is getting it for my young filmmaker, because he's interested in making actual progress toward goals, and I've heard great things about this helpful tool from Jon Acuff. Check it out.

 Professional Photos

If he or she wants to share their music or book shows, this is going to be necessary. Find a good local photographer who has some experience with artist photography (different from wedding or baby portraits) & book a session.

Website Design

You don't have to have a pro do it nowadays, at least not to start out, because there are some good build-your-own sites. But if they are getting busy with music work, this could be an amazing gift. OR, simply buy a domain with their name so they can use it whenever they're ready!

Skype Songwriting Mentoring Session(s)

Finally, I love to encourage up-and-coming songwriters. It's one of my passions to come alongside others who are using their gifts.

If you have a songwriter in your life who would benefit from conversation and feedback on the craft of songwriting or the life of music-making, I'm happy to offer a limited number of session times as I have time.

Please email me at christa@christawellsmusic.com to discuss the possibilities. Fun!

 

So, there you have it. My quick brainstorm on thoughtful gifts for songwriters. Have more ideas? By all means, share them below!

Love,

christa

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Book Basket...

So little time, so many great books. 

People often ask how or where I find time to read. Normally, I squeeze it in late-night…almost every night, no matter how the evening was spent or how late it is, I read by flashlight before falling asleep. Honestly, it’s my little treat, right up there with morning coffee. 

In case you're looking, here are a few from my recent stack: 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog (Muriel Barbery)

"On the outside, she's covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary--and terribly elegant."

This philosophical piece of fiction, translated (very well) from French was so delightfully fresh and interesting. The beauty of the language was itself worthwhile, and I’m keeping it handy to spur some song ideas. The chapters alternate between the voice of a homely residential concierge and a suicidal 12-year-old resident of her building, both of whom possess far more intellect and sophistication than anyone realizes (which is the way both characters want it). Enter elderly Japanese tenant...This would be a great book club book…if I were in a book club. 


Deep Church (Jim Belcher)

"When we become more humble in our beliefs, we are willing to see that our own denominatins or traditions do not have a corner on all truth..."

My pastor handed this to me to help answer some questions I’ve had concerning the traditional church and the emerging/emergent church movement. The author has spent time in both circles, has real friends in both, and is now pastoring a PCA church in California. He proposes there is a third way, and the possibility of real, peacemaking dialogue between the two camps, and is attempting to shed light on some misunderstandings. Excellent so far. 


Better Than My Dreams (Paula Rinehart)

"The struggle is a door, and inside God waits.  If you are willing to walk through the portal, you find what you could not experience deeply any other way."

My friend brought me an autographed copy of this book by her counselor and friend, Paula Rinehart, who lives here in Raleigh. This book is for every woman who has been disappointment in life and needs to hear how she can meet God in the gap that exists between her ideals and her reality. Very well-written but accessible, easy to read. 


Little Bee (Chris Cleave)

“Most days I wish I was a British pound coin instead of an African girl."

I’m in the middle of this painful, eye-opening story of a Nigerian refugee whose life intersects tragically with that of an upper-middle class British magazine founder/editor. Chapters alternate between the voices of the two, and although the actual events are fictional, it stirs up new awareness of the violence we all know really is out there and prompts examination of our own willingness to sacrifice for others.

*Note: Contains bad language & R-rated situations.  Since writing this post, I've become less enchanted with the book because of an adulterous relationship that has become too much in the foreground.  


Orthodoxy (G.K. Chesterton)

"All denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it."

Not a late-night read…I have to do this one early morning or while traveling. Started this a year or two ago but didn’t have the “bandwidth” for it at the time. Now I’m chewing it slowly , underlining and pondering. It requires a lot of mental attention, but is so provocative. If you’re doing crosswords to stay sharp, maybe try reading a paragraph a day of this book instead. 


Little Dorrit (Charles Dickens)

"Thirty years ago, Marseilles lay burning in the sun, one day."

Like Chesterton, I find Dickens requires more of me than I can typically muster at 11:30pm with a flashlight. But since my little girl gave it to me last year for Mother’s Day, I really want to read it. And Dickens is always worth the effort in the end. I’m not that far into it, but so far so good. 


Love Walked Among Us (Paul E. Miller)

"Being loved gives you the freedom and resources to love."

We have been doing a study based on this (See Jesus) and also attended a seminar with its author, Paul Miller, a couple of weeks ago. It’s so simple and so profound, and gets you to really pay attention to the marvelous way Jesus had with the people he encountered. What we know but haven’t really paid attention to in so much detail is Christ’s intentional “incarnating” with people…seeing, feeling and then acting in a balance of compassion and honesty. In the workshop, we each sat in the “hot seat” and let the group observe our interactions. It’s shocking how unaware we can be of our own failure to balance the two.