Music

Hey, summer, what's up?!

Well, obviously, spring & summer are the most wonderful times of the year. Can I get an amen? Sorry, Christmas, you're just a little cold & dark & busy to win the title around here. Everything is nicer when the sun is shining, including me. So here's to the season for making merry & making music outdoors whenever possible.

COVERS ep!

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Thank you for sharing the COVERS album with your friends & family!

I'm in love with the whole project & the way people have connected with it, and it wouldn't have happened without your support. That's a fact.

This awesome t-shirt featuring original art by Mandy Rogers Horton & design by Shelly Eve is available & will re-ordered in additional sizes, so if you don't see yours, please let us know what you need, so I can add it to the list!

TWO BIRDS mini-concerts

Along the lines of making music outdoors, my musical friend Taylor Leonhardt & I spontaneously started something we can't seem to quit, a series of back porch mini-concerts (or front porch, when it's raining).

If you could use a little live music over your lunch break, sit in while we share just one song each with a 10-minute rehearsal & an iPhone.

We've dubbed the series "Two Birds." Here's our most recent episode.

Subscribe to the channel to be an earlybird (see what I did there? heh heh) when a new video is posted.

SLOW TRAIN COMING

Last night, I had the extreme privilege of participating in a collective tribute to Bob Dylan's Slow Train Coming album in Carrboro, NC. Esteemed musician Tim Carless planned & led the way & Emmaus Way of Durham sponsored us at The ArtsCenter.

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It's crazy energizing to play together with other musicians. Hoping we have more opportunities to work together!

ESCAPE TO THE LAKE

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Really looking forward to playing in Watertown, Wisconsin, at the end of this month and then heading immediately to ETTL to co-lead a songwriting bootcamp & do a little performance.

Discount tickets available for night-only concert passes (for a limited time). Use promo code "fireworks" and save $5 per ticket (no limit). Tix/Info: bit.ly/ettl15n

I especially recommend ETTL to any of you musicians who are serious about both faith & excellence in art making. It's a uniquely intimate setting where you'll get to spend time with artists, listening, asking questions, being inspired. Join us!

MASTERPIECE PROJECT 2015

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End of July always finds me leading songwriting studio for high school students at Masterpiece Project in southern Kentucky.

I can't say enough about the way Masterpiece impacts students & staff. It's one of the highlights of my year.

The July week is already full this year, but my friend Jessica Campbell will be leading songwriting for Masterpiece the week of June 21, and there are still several spots open. Masterpiece is not just for musicians but for young artists of any medium.  Each week offers specific studios--get the details on their website.


I'll be in Nashville to write next week & will play a couple shows with Jessica Campbell July 17&18 in WV & VA, but in general I'll be hanging out around Raleigh more over the summer, which I'm glad for.

And...a surprising announcement coming soon regarding the fall, so stay tuned!

Hope you & yours are finding ways to be outside, be together & be present.

much love,

christa

 

The Songwriting Life

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 7.56.55 AMSo I sat down and wrote a few lines and tried for a melody, but nothing memorable came. Returned to familiar key progressions, fiddled, stared out the front window at the road, then stood and went back to the oven to check the roasting zucchini.

That was one day.

I sat on a piano bench in a room with community and coffee, and we couldn’t stop smiling, at the inspiration and flow and our own jokes. One sang and tried out a lyric while I played and nodded and a third dropped in spontaneous fiddle parts.

That was another day.

My laptop is open and I’m listening to someone else’s songs, in awe of the instincts and choices. Google title for words, put the tune on repeat and let it fill up the room, while I inwardly cheer that someone thought of it.

I don’t even try for something of my own that day.

Last month, all alone, a song came right up out of my skin. Maybe it had been coursing through the veins for quite some time. Maybe it was waiting for me to take it seriously, take it to dinner, ask the right questions. Love at first sight, we were made for each other.

That was a good day.

But every day…

I make, and I am made.

I sing, and I am sung to.

Together, we listen to the stories, we open doors, and we hold hands.

We laugh for no reason late at night, stand close with tears in our eyes, remind one another to look at the illuminated road rather than the lightning*.

This is the secret truth: the music doesn’t stop, not for one unseen second of our days.

You are a writer, and you are also a beloved character on the pages of another writer’s masterpiece.  A favorite part of the melody in another writer's song.

EVERY day.

So am I, even on the staring-out-windows days.

 

 

 

*Taken from Eugene Peterson's A LONG OBEDIENCE IN THE SAME DIRECTION, where on page 30 he paraphrases Elie Wiesel on the stories of the Hasidim.

Panning for gold...

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 I go to the riverbed, shoes on the shore

I’m shaking a little bit, hardly know what for

Oh, and the water’s cloudy as the sky

I’m looking for answers in the riverbed of life…

My parents are pretty amazing, no doubt about that.  My childhood was filled with enough love to make the frequent relocations more than bearable, our house filled with people always.  I have no complaints.

But Mom & Dad were very careful about what kinds of music, books, and television we consumed, so I missed a few moments in pop culture while I grew.  Okay, I didn’t know a single Prince song until I saw Pretty Woman.  That’s a fact, Jack.  (Unfortunate that I didn’t miss more of the fashion trends.)

But as they slowly opened the doors for us to explore music and film during our teen years, they also taught us to pay attention.  To think for ourselves.  To listen and work to discern truth and notice all the big and small ways Truth gets told in stories that aren’t necessarily telling - or trying to tell - the whole gospel truth.

 I go to the pages handed down and worn

I’m hearing the sages with the truth on their tongues

Sifting beauty from the layers of ash

I’m tracing the universe with my fingers in the sand…

Above all they showed us that all people are worth our attention and that there’s nothing more important than looking for things to love in others.

Over time, for me, that theme has carried over into the way I see all of life--our books, films, music.  There’s gold just about everywhere.  Maybe all our moments--of triumph and failure and longing and love and humanity--are moments within the great story.

It’s a game of Where’s Waldo or I Spy.  Give us something well-made, thoughtfully crafted, and shaped in pursuit of excellence. Don't we want to spot the good, the true, the hopeful, the redemption, the STORY – even if only glimpses – in the most unlikely places?  Cosmos from chaos, as Madeleine L’Engle wrote in Walking On Water.

Sometimes the good is more breathtaking for having been discovered like a baby grand at Goodwill.

It’s here in the city where the nations converge

It’s in the graffiti and the shapes of the earth

Choir lofts and kitchens, where voices ring loud

Reflections of faith shining glory over doubt…

Friends, I’m about to do something different, and I’m a bit tentative. Not because I have doubts.  But because I’m so hopeful you’ll want to go down to the riverbed with me and do some panning.  I’m so hopeful that you’ll be as excited as I am to put fingers in the sand and trace the true, even in the dark moments of your own journey.

Get ready.  Sharing soon.

Gonna be beautiful.  And fun.  And truly worthwhile.

Panning for gold, I’m panning for gold

Until I have all my heart can hold…

 

Jealousy & Her Rival, Community

*This is for a couple of young artists who asked me about jealousy amongst artists & how to find community in art-making.  Maybe for you, too? Screen Shot 2013-10-06 at 10.11.40 PM

JEALOUSY

So you were sitting there trying to enjoy a performance when all of a sudden something ugly starts to wake up inside you and you find you're staring at the stage and the performer with less delight than dejection, more jealousy than joy.

You're feeling insecure about your work.  You feel underused...overlooked...uncertain.

If it goes on long enough, you start to get really good at finding fault with those "more successful" creatives.  You get critical in an attempt to protect your own sense of worth.  But it doesn't work, because instead of fueling better art in you, it makes you bitter, brittle, dry.

You weren't meant to be this way, and you don't WANT to be this way.  You WANT to be generous and cheer others on.  But you don't know how.

The first track on my album Feed Your Soul is called "Vanity Vanity":

When they passed me over like a penny on the sidewalk

I wanted to roll into the gutter

I wanted to listen in case they talked

Oh, little darlin', you've got a problem

Better treat it before it's too late

Vanity, vanity, how'd you get your hands on me

Goin' to the doctor who knows my sin

And he'll show me what I've got and take me to the river to get clean

Nobody likes to feel passed over.

You have gifts, you're pretty sure, but have no earthly idea what to do with all those songs/screenplays/ideas/drawings.  Or you're trying.  But your thoughts and motives are confused, and you don't want to admit it to anyone else, because it's ugly and everyone else seems above it.

Prayer.

I don't have answers or a prescription but I've been ugly inside, too, and I've often felt like a big zero.  And when I heard someone say to pray for those you do not feel love for, that it would change things, it sounded a bit pious and quite impossible.  But I tried it anyway; I prayed for a fellow artist I didn't know personally, whose success felt, for whatever (no good) reason, like a threat to my own.  Prayed for her to be fruitful and heard and to get better at her work and find more open doors.  I don't know what happened to her through that, but my heart, like the Grinch's, grew 10x bigger.  I found it impossible to ask on her behalf and still resent her.

Doing your thing.

My friend, Aaron Rice, says: "Stay in your lane," and I think that's a brilliant way to say it.  It doesn't mean you can't try new things.   But it means we have to stop looking at what others are doing and get to work.  I really believe we're meant to SHINE in unique, inimitable ways.  The more I take that advice, the more lovely and useful I am.

Giving thanks.

Like prayer, giving thanks has the power to protect us from envy.  Maybe only Mom & Dad care about my music, so I thank God for them.  Give thanks for the coffee shop that opens its platform to the unknown artist.  Thanks for the life story that gives way to song or story.  For the weakness that makes me dependent.  For the older man who tells me how that lyric reached a cobwebbed corner of his heart. I learn to give thanks for my own voice, as unimpressive as it seems to me.

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COMMUNITY

When we moved to North Carolina, I was at a total loss for artistic community, knowing no one and finding few musicians to intersect with.  Art-making can be very isolating, even though music should ultimately be collaborative.  We spend a lot of time in our own heads, and it's easy to feel like the only weirdo in your town (or house).

There are more of us out here than we think.  We have to watch for kindred spirits and create spaces that will draw us together.   A lot of times for me it's meant volunteering myself and my time to creative efforts, however small they may feel.  It's given me the chance to spend time with others who are at least interested in seeing artful things happen, whether they are artists themselves or not.

Some suggestions? You might...

*Volunteer with an arts camp for youth

*Say “yes” to local opportunities in community & church

*Reach out online via email or websites or forums

*Share your work online and let others find YOU

*Share art with often overlooked communities of people

*Participate in conferences for creatives (International Arts Movement)

*Support touring indie artists who come through town. 

*Host a house show, provide a meal and a space for them to rest.

*Join the Nashville Songwriters Association 

*Be willing to travel for opportunities to meet/share/work

*Search the web for like-minded artists & reach out.

*Find artists you respect & ask how you can support them.

*Host a meet-up at a local coffee shop for area songwriters & musicians.

At the end of the day, we need each other.  We really do.  We make each other better.

Hey.

There's no room for jealousy or isolationism.

There IS room for all of us at this party.  Even me.  Even you.

Especially you.

And this last picture?  It has nothing to do with this post except to say maybe we also need to take ourselves a little less seriously now and then. ;)

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To the young writer...

(Photographs in this post were a gift from my young reader/listener/writer friend Abby Ang.  Enjoy Abby's words here.)

*Adding here to my original post, based on an interaction with a lovely young lady I hope to one day meet.

She wrote: At each stage of this journey, it seems the more productive I am...the more I battle the lie that my contributions are worthless. But, I know that is not true...so I keep on keeping on...trusting that God will use me (and my work) in a way that will somehow bring him glory.

I wrote:  When I was your age, I tried not writing for a period of time, on the advice of an older songwriter.  He said, "If you're not sure if this is what you're meant to do, try  NOT doing it.  See if you can. "  :) Clearly, I couldn't stop for long!  And I hope you won't, either...always remember that though there may be many others in that place [songwriters], working toward a similar goal, there is only one you.  No one else has had your particular life experience and seen it all through your set of eyes.  You do have something to add, and if God has gifted you musically/lyrically, you have something to add to the world of art & music.

And a couple of relevant book titles I recommend:

Walking on Water (Madeleine L'Engle - just read it, it's a classic) Linchpin (Seth Godin - secular, inspires the artist to break the rules & be uncompromising) At the Crossroads (Charlie Peacock - deals with history of "Christian music" & examines what it means)

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I’ve recently received several letters from young songwriters. You have something to say, and music is the language you speak, but you are uncertain where to take the work. I understand exactly how you feel, so...

I thought I’d jot some thoughts here to speak to you, and any others who also wonder.

It’s strange to suddenly find oneself in a sort of “older sister” role.  Odd to find that in the midst of all your own uncertainties and your own quest to understand how to really create something good, the “little sisters/brothers” knock on your door hoping you have the secrets.

And honestly, I can talk about words and writing all night, but business…not my favorite topic.

Strategy hasn’t played a part in any opportunities I’ve had before now.  And while I'm trying to be smart about things, I don’t tend to do things the way you’re supposed to do them in the “industry.”

So here, dear young writer, are my only words for you tonight:

What’s it all about for you? You have to find that answer…who are you writing for, and why?

Do you need to make a living from your writing?

If you do, you can do some googling and get tips on where to begin.  They’ll tell you, rightly, to first really make sure you’ve got what it takes, skill-wise.  It’s not an easy thing to get your songs cut by established artists, so your songs are going to have to be not good, but GREAT (and that’s defined by the market/genre you’re writing for).  And you’ll find tips on what to do and what not to do…don’t send in unsolicited material, don’t pay anyone to “publish” your stuff, don’t write 5-minute songs for pitch, start co-writing, etc….But lots of people write about that side of things, so I will not.

But, if you don’t have to make your living from your writing, then why bind yourself to that set of rules? You have all the freedom in the world to create something new.

Why not

stretch yourself, and your listeners…

Pay attention & deconstruct the music you love

find out what makes it work,

Be honest in your writing

write fearlessly,

use fresh, strong language…

Refuse to write what has already been written.

Take enough time to write each song the way it needs to be written,

(like a mother should heed the differences between her kids)

and rewrite,

but call it “finished” when it is.

(Gentle side note:  There is no divine inspiration behind any song in the way there was with Scripture, so let’s not say anymore that God gave us this or that song…it’s too often an excuse to not consider revising.:))

Be brave and put it out there...if singing isn't your strong suit, find someone else to deliver the music so that it can really be heard for what it is meant to be.  Start where you are...don't try to play it for industry people before you play it for "real people" in your own community, besides Mom and Dad.

Get old-fashioned in your thinking.  Consider the traveling musicians pre-record label.  Bring a song as you would bring a gift to small gatherings.  Post a song for free online and let people respond.

Write what is TRUE, and learn to WRITE IT WELL, and there will be people who want to listen.

And when they listen, and they get it, those are the people to listen to.  They’ll tell you what rings.

Not everything has to be heavy or serious.  We need to dance and laugh out loud as much as we need to cry.

Maybe the worst mistake we make is to define “success” by the numbers of people who know our name or our work.  Of course, we want witnesses to the work.  Of course, it feels good to be understood and validated.

But if we believe our work is made legitimate by being popular, we have bought a LIE.  I was no less valuable as a teenager because I was invisible and unpopular, but I believed that.

It’s a false story.  When we swallow it and live in that context, we have jumped tracks.

Real art has OFTEN been unpopular and Jesus Christ is not popular and we are not here to be popular but to be human. The gospel wasn’t pretty but it’s beautiful.  Because it’s true.

That’s the story we need to live and breathe and WRITE.

These are the things I have to constantly remind myself.  Because I like to be liked.

I know this isn’t what you’re looking for.  You’re afraid there won’t be a place for you in the world of art, that you'll live and die and no one will care about your songs. You want someone to give you 3 steps, or 7 tips.  But honestly.  I have no idea what work you were put on the planet to accomplish…I just think that the career path is not the point, and money is not the point, and fame is definitely not the point.  But creating something really good and pleasing to the Creator is.

Google those other articles and do those smart things.  But let those things support the art, and not the other way around.

I hope we cross paths one day, and that my soul is awakened by some bit of music you deliver into the world.  :)

With love and hope!

christa

Making the EP: Part Uno

As you may remember, I was in Nashville again a couple of weeks ago, this time to lay down the vocal tracks for the 7-song EP I've been working on.  These months have been so full, I actually didn't even have all the music together when I arrived, nor did I feel super solid about the songs I did have.  As I am not a speedy songwriter, but a linger-over-it-for-days-or-weeks kind of writer, I really was just trusting that God would bring the music in time.  And He did (no, I don't say God writes the songs, but He definitely inspires the good ones).  I've never done it this way, but I have to say the two songs that were written that week just might be my favorites on the album. Anyway, here are some of the highlights of the first day or two.  More installments in the coming days.  :) (You'll have to double-click the link, bc embedding isn't working today!)

Christa Wells: Making the EP, Part Uno

what it means to be "Held"

(This was originally a "page" on my former blog...since I don't yet have a place for it in this new blog format, I thought I'd share it again as a "post.") I'm sure I have it documented somewhere, maybe on a piece of notebook paper, but I can't recall it.  I do know it was several years ago--several years before Natalie Grant released it--when I first heard the stories which prompted the lyrics that became the song called "Held."  Because I am still being asked the background of that song, how it came to be, I thought perhaps I should write a little something about it.

I could talk all day about the three women whose lives I so greatly admire, who so inspired me and continue to mentor me in one way or another.  But for now, I'll briefly introduce each one and tell you how they participated (unknowingly) in this song.

Patti

Patti had been a widow for less than five years when we first met.  And she was only about 4o-years-old.  With three young daughters.  My first encounter with Patti's family was when I heard her then 10-year-old daughter sing...wow.  Her raw talent and beauty were stunning.  We soon met her other two daughters who were equally remarkable and we thought: How is she doing this??  Patti had only had a year to prepare for her husband's death.  And her husband, by the way, was young, tall, handsome, strong, athletic, intelligent, devoted and successful.  How does this happen?  Toby and I fell in love with Patti's family instantly...here was a woman who had lost her HUSBAND, the FATHER of her very young children and she was still LIVING.  She was transparent in her grief and questions and struggles and she was determined in her faith.  She shared her heart and her story with us over dinner, coffee, in the swimming pool...I particularly remember her talking about the idea of us "giving" everything over to God, except for some unspoken "sacred" parts of our life.  We mean to say: "Of course, you won't ask this of me."

Vaneetha

Vaneetha was already a survivor before the tragic death of her baby boy.  She had contracted polio as a baby and spent her childhood in hospitals around the world.  She continues to live with the effects of the disease, but when I met her she was (and still is) a beautiful, vibrant wife, mother, friend, leader.  A handful of months after we met, but before we became real friends, her infant son, Paul David, died from a heart defect that had been treated at birth.  Paul was doing remarkably well and had just been celebrated at a church-wide baby shower, when he died unexpectedly in the night.  The first verse of "Held" refers to Vaneetha and her son, Paul.  She has always spoken to me about how knowing sorrow has allowed her to also know joy...and about the strange reality of feeling God's presence most keenly in the moments of deepest grief.

Sherry

Sherry is my mother-in-law.  She had mentioned her daughter Erica to me at different times, but I remember one conversation in particular when she talked about Erica's birth and death in detail.  She spoke through tears about the pain of carrying a child to term and then having to let her go without even getting to take her home from the hospital.  She told me about the still, small voice that spoke to her in the delivery room, saying: You have to choose how you will carry this loss after this moment.  You can choose bitterness.  Or you can choose to let me wrap you up in peace that can't be explained and that will lead to hope.  You can choose to trust that you are not alone, and that everything you suffer here will someday be redeemed.

This conversation with Sherry eventually helped write the third verse.

Other words from these women became the second verse, taught me that no person of faith since the beginning of time has ever lived without suffering.  In fact, they said, those who are students of Jesus have been promised that we certainly should expect pain and suffering in this life.

BUT.

But.  In the middle of that heartache.  At every lonely, dark, lost moment...the Truth.

That in those moments, even then, especially then...we are held, held up, held together, by the the One who has walked here and knows the pain, and who also holds all of time, every story, my story, your story, the Greatest Story in his hands.

Every word was chosen with loving care, because I didn't write this song for a market, or a record label, but for those three women.  I wrote it and recorded it with my old 8-track and made a cassette copy for each of them.  Before I even had a publisher.

What has become of "Held" has meant a whole lot to me.  It has meant something to many people--maybe to you and your story.  And it has meant a great deal to Patti, Vaneetha, and Sherry--to see their stories used to minister to so many others is an affirmation that John, Paul David, and Erica lived and died for at least this purpose...there is so much we can't see or fathom.  But at least this one beautiful, healing thing exists because of them and is part of their legacies.

More of what matters...

Yesterday I shared a brand-spanking new song with our church body, Christ Our Hope.  It's called "Everything Moves But You"--I had written about the elusive quality of our dreams and all the things we want more of.  Later in the afternoon, I drove to Durham and had the extreme pleasure of making music with Wade Baynham and Dale Baker for the Emmaus Way worship service.  We sang about love.  

And we sang about the deep Love of Jesus.  

By day's end, I was exhausted and...exhilarated.  It is an enormous privilege to be given opportunities to collaborate and create and share artistically.

About 16 months ago, I was walking on a beach in Jupiter, Florida, thinking about the music I was preparing to share with a precious body of Jesus-followers there.  

I walked alone by the waves and prayed.  And somewhere inside that 20 minutes, I felt a distinct compulsion (for lack of a better word) to record the songs I'd been writing during the previous months. I'd been considering the possibility, but only tentatively.  I was reluctant to ask that kind of sacrifice from my family without any plan or an outside group backing the project.

So.

I addressed God directly, and said, "Well, you're gonna have to tell Toby."  :)

The next afternoon, in the Ft. Lauderdale airport, Toby brought up the idea and said something to the effect of: Yes.  You have to do this.

I had no idea what I would do with the project when it was finished.  (I had done next to nothing with the Rogers/Wells Project in 2006.)  I'd been very comfortably songwriting and not performing (except on occasion) for quite some time.  But I had a sense of God assuring me that I really didn't need to know what was next; I just needed to do this thing.  

That is what "trust" means, afterall?

Well, that was 16 months ago.  The past year since we finished recording "Frame the Clouds" has been an adventure, and I've been forced out of most of my comfort zones, which is, of course, a great way to grow as a human being. ha-- It has stretched me and delighted me, and I believe this is true:


I'm being given more of what matters and must work to cut away that which doesn't.  


More...


More knowledge of my own strengths and weaknesses.  

    More clarity on where I belong, where my songs resonate.

    Newfound comfort in my own skin...with my voice as a singer and writer.

More willingness to risk failure.  More willingness to risk "success."  

    Greater interest in other people and their stories...More gratitude for my family and friends. 

More excitement about music itself and its God-given capacity to provoke change.

    More peace with my own unconventional relationship with the music business.  

    More pleasure in working as an independent artist.

More Awe of God.

    Heightened awareness of inequities on earth and of my own undeserved abundance.



 

And Less...


I'm sorting, as I'm sure you are, constantly through my inner "mess."  Cutting out the damaged...and the damaging.  Following the questions and uncertainties.  Realizing bad habits, mixed motives, spiritual idols.  Waste.

Isn't that great??

It's important work, this sorting business, and to know I'm not the only one at it really brings me some kind of joy.  

I imagine us sitting on an old front porch after dark.  Warm summer air, stars hung high, and we're shucking corn and singing about our weariness, crying and laughing over the the days behind and the prospect of tomorrow.  Isn't that something?

More community.  More Truth.  More Christ.  

The only thing we can pursue that will. not. move.  

A Thousand Things

The greatest thing about making music and giving it away is the opportunity to form connections with other human beings with whom I would otherwise probably never cross paths.  Sometimes it's brief and passing, sometimes only long-distance via email, but other times I have the privilege of seeing a face and hearing a life story, or part of one...being invited into sacred spaces of grief or triumph, fear and hope. When someone stays in touch, it's really delightful.  

A few months ago, I met such a person, and I just love knowing her and witnessing (long-distance) how Creator God is carrying and sustaining her through some seriously rough circumstances.  I'm so very grateful for her openness, honesty, vulnerability and childlike faith...

You inspire me, Allison.

"A Thousand Things" was a still, waiting seed in my heart for quite some time before it finally took shape, thanks to the testimonies of Angie Smith and Beth Edwards.  The way things touch, interact, connect, spread and affect each other, and we have no idea of it all on this side of heaven...

It's since become a very special song to me, and increasingly, to others as well.  

Allison asked for a li'l homemade recording of it, so here it is, in all its low-tech splendor.  

  

"Just Music"

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I didn’t really think about music as “art” when I was a kid.  I didn’t think of myself as an “artist”when I began melody-making or lyric sketching.  It was just . . .music.  It was…a body part, like an eye or a foot.  Something you don’t consider parting with .  “Artists” were people with paintbrushes and sketchpads at the park.

I made music because I felt I must, but not because I expected it to be important to anyone else.

A couple of years ago, I was scheduled to write with another songwriter in Nashville…a writer who has won awards and had many more “cuts” than I have…and I was very uncomfortable from the start.   It was apparent to me after the first five minutes that we probably weren’t going to “click” or find the common plain of understanding to draw from.  More honestly, I wasn’t going to be able to write anything in that room.  After 30 minutes of watching him strum his guitar and sing, as he leaned casually back in his desk chair, I apologized for not having any ideas (bad or good), at which he grinned and said:

 “Hey man—it’s just music!”

He thought this would relax me, I guess, but I sort of felt like I’d been punched in the mental jaw.  Just music?  Seriously?  Wow.  If it’s “just music,” what have I been wasting my time (my family's time) on? If my work is merely something entertaining, to be tossed into existence without much concern or trepidation, then what can it be worth??? 

Just music.

Just a painting.

Just dance.

Just a film.

Just art.

I’ve just finished Seth Godin’s brand new book, Linchpin.   He sent it to me (and 3,000 others) to read and write about. I loved it and will definitely be writing an offical review.

But the essence of this book is that you and I can choose to be artists. 

How?

By loving what we do and actively, creatively and generously sharing it with others.  It is not only the songwriters and painters and dancers who add something unique and valuable to the world. 

It is also the Royal Carribbean cruise attendants who bent over backwards to serve and please my friend and I last week. 

It’s the electrician whose visit I will never forget because he had enough passion for wiring to light up a whole neighborhood. 

It's the nanny who doesn't merely "watch" the children, but plans excursions and creates learning experiences with them, because she truly loves her work and sees its value.

It’s my mother who has spent a lifetime making an art of hugging and loving on people just because she can.   

It’s the blogger who notices the metaphors of life and writes them into life-breathing prose, for free. (not referencing myself, but many of you!)

It’s the financial advisor who actually cares about his clients and takes the extra time to hear their stories and is willing to lose money in order to protect their interests.

It’s the 6-year-old boy who creates personalized cards and necklaces and journals from construction paper to gift every visitor to the house.

 

Who can you add to the list?

 

It matters, the unique qualities only you possess. 

It matters that you labor over your work with love and care. 

And it matters that you give it away.

 

It’s not “just” anything.

a new "baby" in the house...

She belonged to someone else. And before that, to that owner's mother, a 12th birthday gift ... in 1926. Through a mutual friend, she came to us, the owner not knowing at the time that I tend to breathe through my fingers. 

 That this relationship I have with keys, however imperfect, has been one of the longest-standing in my life thus far. 

 ...Or that these children were born with music-blood pumping in their veins.

 Piano on side 

Right now there are two of them, my grandparents' upright I played in their Indiana home growing up. And this newly adopted black beauty. 

Siblings from different mothers sharing a room.

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She'll need some extra love to help her sing on pitch.

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It'll take time - at least three tunings and perhaps some replacing of internal organs.

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But we've waited her arrival eagerly...

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And she will be loved here.  :)

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Christmas Bundles (and a message from Sam)!

Stocking stuffer

Humbly submitting the opportunity for you to share the music and the love this Christmas with a bundle of CD/t-shirt and other goodies at my Storenvy shop. If you're interested in a single CD or download, you can do that right here where you are...but if you would like more than that, you can save money by purchasing one of the packages I've posted.  

I'm excited to be able to send with each of these bundles a copy of the piano score (underway right now-pictured piece is a stand-in for the real thing) for "My Best Remedy." My friend Nat Stine is working on this, so that you can have it to play at your own piano.  

Additionally, the Christmas Cheer package offers your favorite Christa song handwritten by yours truly. Who knows, it may be worth big money one day. :) LOL  

Xmas cheer

Since we'll be sending these packages out personally, orders should be placed by December 7 to ensure Christmas delivery. However, they will be available for purchase all the way up through Christmas Day. The shop address is:

http://www.christawells.storenvy.com

Also note that these packages ARE available at live shows, as well, beginning December 5, so if you're able to attend one of our December concerts, you can save on shipping!

I greatly appreciate each of you for your kindness and support and wish you a Happy Thanksgiving holiday with your family and friends.

And now...I'll send you off with a good laugh at the expense of our infinitely entertaining 3-year-old. Particularly the 30-second mark...He even laughs at himself in this one. ;)


On songwriting...

Writing again the past few days (nights, really)...remembering that sometimes a three-minute song requires days or weeks of loving, painstaking labor...shaping, like wet hands sliding over clay, forming, pressing, turning...

Not always.  There are those glorious, rapturous moments when inspiration swoops swiftly down, blowing through a writer like a sudden wind.  

But not often.  For me, anyway.  I have over the years discovered I differ from many writers in this way:  I am not fast.

People ask, "HOW do you write a song?  I could never..."  

And I always think: "Of course you can write a song.  A child can write a song.  I could teach you in an afternoon.  Maybe not a masterpiece, but yes…a song."

 

Step One. Listen.

Step Two.  Consider.

Step Three.  Create.

Yes, and of course, metaphor, rhyme scheme, melody, chord structure...but all of that can come later.  Write something down!

 

Yet, here I am, twenty plus years of songwriting…still the struggle.  Like Jacob wrestling.  Or a crazy person holed up in a closet humming with a pen and notebook, scribbling and crossing out, scribbling and crossing out.

So this is what it looks like really.  In case you wondered.  Mystery exposed!

 

HOW THIS WRITER DOES IT

First...             A small seed of idea, enthusiasm, followed by…

Second...         A season of solitary brooding, considering, pondering.  Destroying dinners while compulsively connecting potential patterns, figuring perspective, angle and approach.  Then..

Third...             Dabbling at the keys…some few phrases in hand…solid starts that will survive and…others, doomed to be disposed of. 

Fourth...           More dabbling…the making of a melody...probably for the first verse and chorus only.   Said melody will change many times over many hours and days of tinkering…

Five...               As will the chords laid beneath the melody like tumbled marble.  So many options for every syllable…must test each possibility until Special happens.  Then, that syllable gets to sit quietly while the next has his turn on the pottery wheel.  Every line must find Special somehow. 

Six…               Days of pre-occupation, pausing by piano at every opportunity to re-play…burning melody into the memory of every innocent bystander in the house who have all long since grown weary of the precious infant song…

And recording…Garageband…over and over again, every time, so upon hearing playback, writer can attempt greater objectivity (this is a crucial tool, I’ve found)…

Tweaking, embellishing, taking away, shifting melody, meter…

Seven…             Sing new songbaby a capella while stirring spaghetti, driving, waiting for rain…and discover that some lines are already forgettable and others are quite marvelous.  Play with it, re-shape until it holds.

Eight…             Complete lyric and test against melody.  Swap small words that no one else will ever notice but which matter very much to writer.

Nine…             Be brave.  Play new baby for husband.  Take husband at his word and trust that he’s probably right, either way. 

Give it a name.   

Ten…             Send baby out to meet the other kids…Hope he is greeted warmly by people who understand what he’s about.

 

 

 

 

House Concerts

House Concerts: More Fun for Everyone!

What do you mean by “house concert”? 

Simply put, a house concert is just that…a concert at your house!  It can be in your living room or in your backyard or any other space that will hold 50 or more people and have enough space for a keyboard plus three guys (smaller percussion set-up, when room is tight).  If you prefer, we can keep it even simpler than that, with keyboard and percussion or keyboard/guitar.  (My own living room is not large, but with some rearranging I can squeeze in about 35 folding chairs and spillover in the kitchen.)

There are endless good excuses to have a house concert: start with major and minor holidays (and don’t forget your own birthday) or a seasonal shin-dig!  Then again, all of your friends would thank you for spicing up a plain old holiday-less month mid-winter!


Before you get scared and think this sounds way too hard/scary/expensive/newfangled/artsy/fillintheblank. . . read on.

 

You say it will be “more fun for everyone."  Why?

 

·         YOU: Enjoy the music from the comfort of your own home…without noisy talkers, smoke, or other distractions. 

·         YOU: Share the music with your friends in a private &comfortable setting.

·         YOU: Throw a great party and feel good about it later.

·       THEY: Enjoy your lovely home and gracious hospitality.

·         THEY: Get acquainted with new music and meet/support  local musicians (who happen to be saving up for a new recording project!)

·         THEY: Have a sweet date night that didn’t cost them a month’s groceries.

·         WE: Get to do what we love (make music) in an intimate setting without disturbances you might encounter in a public venue or elaborate set-up. 

 

How is it done?

 

A house concert can be done in any number of ways and you can plan it as simply or as creatively as suits you.  It might be dessert & coffee, or a full catered dinner, or a potluck.  Let it be known: you do  not have to have a mansion to host us!  The Wells fam recently hosted a house concert for Jessica Campbell & Kelleigh Bannen (see some footage at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bnX4fMQH3f8 ).   We actually moved out the large chairs and couch and arranged 35 smaller chairs and stools in rows (had to borrow from the neighbors!). 

 We encourage you to be intentional about your invitations and follow up to confirm intentions to attend.   Consider asking people to contribute financially in advance, reserving their seat, which helps you know there will be enough people to hold the concert, but not too many for your space. When it's time for the concert, everyone can gather round and get comfortable.

My friends have never heard of a "house concert" before.  How can I make them comfortable and encourage a listening environment?  

Through some trial and error, we have found the following things helpful:

1.  Make sure your invitations/Evites emphasize that this is a "House Concert" and explain that it's a private concert featuring guest musicians in an intimate setting, etc.  

2.  Also state on your invitation something to this effect: "To support our guest artists, a minimum donation of $10/person ($30/family) is suggested.  All proceeds will go directly to the musicians.  Merchandise will also be available for purchase."

2.  Invite your guests to come an hour or so prior to the start of the concert--and state that on the invite--ie.  "Doors open 7pm/Concert at 8pm."  This way your guests have time to visit and talk and get their coffee and dessert.  

3.  If possible have the food in a very separate space from the music, so that guests who want to revisit the refreshments can do so without disrupting the listening environment.

4.  At the concert start time, dim the lights in all spaces except for on the musicians.  This really helps to give a concert vibe and people instinctively understand to keep noise levels down when the lights are low.  

5.  Introduce your musicians from the "stage" area, to draw your guests' attention.  

 

How much will it cost me?

If you provide food and beverages (often dessert and coffee--or you can ask guests to bring something), you only need to suggest (on your invitation) that your guests contribute a minimum donation of $10 ($30/family) in lieu of a formal ticket price.  

For contact/booking: toby@christawellsmusic.com


How can I ask my guests to pay for the concert?

If you simply include it on your invitations, everyone will know up front and be prepared.  People are used to paying for performances and usually enjoy contributing to good causes, such as local art!  As suggested above, phrasing might look like this: "A minimum donation of $10/person to support our guest musicians is suggested."  Also, let them know if there will be merchandise available for purchase that night and what forms of payment will be accepted.  

You can set out (at the door or by the drinks) a tasteful "tip jar" with a reminder of the minimum donation.   

 

This sounds like a lot of fun.  What do I do first? 

If you are able and interested in hosting a concert for 50+ people in your home, please contact Toby Wells at toby@christawellsmusic.com and we’ll  find a date that works for all of us.  

*The band is able to perform in your home for 50 or more people.  If you would like to host a smaller gathering, we may be able to accommodate with an acoustic singer/songwriter performance.  

 

 

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