christmas

NEW MUSIC + Thoughtful Gifts For Songwriters

Well, friends, the time really got away from me this fall! While it's not quite as wintry here in Nashville as in this lovely photo, it's getting a bit brisk for the thin-skinned (me) and Christmas is a mere 15 days away! 

Somehow between tour's end and now, I failed to post about the two most recent songs released through Tune Tribe! These two happen to be a couple of my favorites this year, so I don't want to leave them out. 

ALSO, since it's December and you just might need gift ideas for a special music-maker in your life, I have some great suggestions for you at the end.


DOWN DOWN LOW

It was campaign season here in the States, and like most everybody, my ears were so tired of the ugliness. Many of us had to be intentional about taking a break from social media because it can become so unhealthy to feed on the strife. It was a challenge to me, too, because I want to know how to be a good listener and share my thoughts in a loving and open way.

So on the first leg of the Three Birds Tour, while I drove from Atlanta to Nashville alone, I kept the radio off and started thumping on the steering wheel and singing this melody a capella. A totally new approach for me, as I typically have to be at the piano to write.

The accompanying artwork by Mandy Rogers Horton is appropriately titled "Noisily Day and Night."

Here's a preview of Down Down Low:


THIS DECEMBER

The last new song of 2016 is "This December" which I also did not start at the piano. I wrote this chorus on the ukulele with my oldest son in mind, but also so many others who are asking lots of great questions about faith and tradition. It has a hint of Christmas and winter, but I like to think you could listen to it year-round and not be offended. :)

This piece of Mandy's is titled - also aptly - "Something I Cannot Name."


TUNE TRIBE + TRIBE SONGS

Digital Downloads - If you're new around here and are interested in getting these and the rest of the year's song demos digitally, you can subscribe HERE ($10) & we'll send you a link to stream/download (wav + mp3) at your leisure. You'll get 11 songs now plus one more next month and the opportunity to vote for the ones you think I should include in my next full-production album. Would love to have you join in!

Physical CD - Order a copy of Tribe Songs, my home-brewed album of all these new song demos I've recorded with Jess Ray this year. I'll send you a hand-labeled audio CD with 11 previously unreleased songs. Click HERE to get your copy of Tribe Songs ($12).


THOUGHTFUL GIFTS FOR SONGWRITERS

INSTRUMENTS or ACCESSORIES

A new or different instrument, other than their primary one...New strings...Travel case...Cables...Boom stand...Guitar stand...Yeti Pro USB Microphone (I love mine!) for home recording/worktapes...Quality headphones...Portable PA...Soundboard...Performance mics...

JOURNAL + GOOD PEN

Everyone has their preferences. In recent years, I've used basic marble composition books. My most treasured one was a small-sized soft leather journal with a string that wraps around it. Small enough to not be intimidating, lovely enough to be inspiring.

BOOKS

Here are a few of my favorite creativity-themed books:

  • Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art by Madeleine L'Engle
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
  • Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon
  • Show Your Work by Austin Kleon
  • A Million Little Ways by Emily P. Freeman
  • Songwriters on Songwriting by Paul Zollo
  • Writing Better Lyrics by Pat Pattison (supposed to be great, though I haven't yet read it)
  • Tribes by Seth Godin
  • Linchpin by Seth Godin

I also recommend books of poetry and great fiction, both great food for the soul and inspiration for songwriting!

SUBSCRIPTION to American Songwriter magazine. This is truly a great gift for any music-maker. I only wish I had time to read every issue cover to cover!

CONCERT TICKETS - There's almost nothing more helpful to a musical artist than to actually go see live performances. If cost were not an issue, most of us would be attending a lot more of these events & would be better for it.

Don't just look for the big productions, though. Those are a lot of fun, but your typical working artist needs real inspiration and ideas that can come from enjoying a great performance at a more intimate venue. It's so helpful to be up close and learn how to share music in an effective way without the big machine & lights. 

I also recommend giving tickets to theater productions and arthouse movies. Most of us will spend the money to see a mainstream film that's gotten great reviews. Fewer people take a "risk" on indie films, but those can be the most provocative and interesting. Read reviews & get two tickets so you can go together and discuss after!

HOST A HOUSE SHOW

If your writer is ready to share their work publicly, you could plan a concert in your own home and invite your neighbors, co-workers and family. Being a host is always a gift to yourself as much as anyone else. It takes a bit of planning and effort, but it's so worthwhile. You don't have to have a lot of space or a fancy house. Just space for some friends to gather & listen - everyone will thank you!

SCHOLARSHIP TO A SONGWRITING RETREAT OR MASTERPIECE PROJECT

Retreats - There are always songwriting workshops and retreats available & I speak from experience when I say it can be just the thing an aspiring songwriter needs to take the next step and grow. I am co-hosting one such retreat with my friend & collaborator Nicole Witt in East Nashville January 6-8, 2017 (one spot left), but with a little googling you'll be able to find one nearby, maybe even hosted by one of your favorite writers! (Link to our retreat: "Artist And" Songwriting Retreat)

Masterpiece Project - Masterpiece is a creative arts camp for high schoolers in southern Kentucky. I facilitate songwriting workshops there one week each summer and cannot speak highly enough of this experience. It's exactly what I wish I'd had when I was 16.

Escape to the LakeThis non-profit organization is all about promoting "gourmet" faith-based music, and their annual 4-day music festival is unlike anything else. The biggest difference is that it's small, no green rooms, no smoke and mirrors. Your songwriter will get to sit at the lunch table with the performing artists and writers, talk around the campfire, play at an open mic, and attend panel discussions. AND the festival is usually prefaced by a 2-day songwriting bootcamp! This is a fantastic opportunity, another one I would have loved to have had early on.

DEMO RECORDING SESSION

Help your writer get a song professionally recorded. Cost can range from $200-1500. Find some local producers, listen to their work online and make sure you like what they do, and consider the purpose of the demo before determining your budget so you don't over-spend. This can be an exhilarating experience for a new writer and would be a fantastic gift!

MUSIC

I know Spotify and Apple Music are the go-to, but here's the thing. They pay us next to nothing. The reality is musicians NEED to be paid for their work in order to keep creating it. Encourage your artist to pay for the music he/she loves most by giving an iTunes gift card. Or give a vinyl copy of a favorite album to your younger listeners. Physical CDs for the car. And maybe give music that has stood the test of time, something a young writer can learn from and enjoy.

TIME

If your creative person is married to you or has children, the best gift you could give them is TIME & SPACE. Take the kids for a whole day or one night a week and let her write in peace! Or surprise him with a room or space set up just for his composing. Simple, free, and oh so meaningful!

PROFESSIONAL PHOTOS

We all need them, and the good ones are usually expensive. Help arrange and pay for their next session with someone who specializes in artist photography!

WEBSITE DESIGN

You can build your own, but some of us could use a little help taking it up a notch. Or maybe your friend doesn't have a domain yet and you could buy the domain in their name so it's ready when they are!

ONLINE MENTORING SESSIONS

I - and other writers I know - love to encourage up-and-coming songwriters. We don't have all the answers and are still growing ourselves, but we have learned a few things along the way, and it's really a pleasure to share what we have. When I host a session, I like to hear some music and give feedback and then discuss anything the other writer has questions about. It's really great (and rare) to get one-on-one attention from someone just a few steps further up the road. Email for more info: taylor@christawellsmusic.com

Through a group we've started called ARTIST AND, my friend Nicole Witt and I also periodically host online gatherings of about 8 people at a time to discuss particular themes related to artmaking. Join the Facebook community ARTIST AND to stay in the loop!

So I think that's a wrap (heh heh) on gift ideas! Have something you'd add to the list? Please leave suggestions in the Comments section.

Love to you and yours as we wait & prepare for the glorious coming, now just a couple of weeks away!

christa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Luminaries

Image I see the glow, the flames of a thousand candles, at an hour when few pay attention.

We saw the sun go down too early, as it does these days, but were quick to rush out with matches light up the streets bag by bag, votive by votive.

A reminder:

There is light that won’t be eclipsed, no matter how thick the reality of night. Small fires burn all over that together add up to: Something Substantial.

Something Worth Noting.

Something Worth Being Afraid Of. (If your name is Night or Darkness or Diminish or…Can't-Be)

Also noteworthy:

We gathered early to make preparations, when we could have ridiculed the very notion of a dwindling day.

None who came cared that there was:

A. Zero pragmatic reason to spend our hours this way. B. One hundred percent chance our hard work would be in the trash soon after dawn.

We did it for beauty’s sake and we did it for ours.

For the sake of fighting back in some warm, small way against the inky blanket of night, and standing outside to pay attention.

Because we know in our bones we are alive for just this kind of moment.

Aren’t we?

So let the wind come, Along with the clean-up crew.

I will fan this flame and see it glow in a place untouchable Until I reach a place made only-- and entirely-- of Light.

The Risk of Birth, Christmas, 1973

Last week, my friend gave me a book of poetry by the late Madeleine L'Engle.  She knows I'm a fan of Madeleine, that one of my favorite books, Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, came from Ms. L'Engle.  So she gave me this book, which was one of several recently gifted to her, all of which were personally signed by the author.  This one says:

for Gretchen - joy in all weather - Madeleine L'Engle.

Tonight, eve of Christmas Eve, I offer you these words from page 47 of The Weather of the Heart.  May your celebrating be only at a beginning tomorrow, and may each of us risk loving in this coming year.

 

The Risk of Birth, Christmas, 1973

This is no time for a child to be born,

With the earth betrayed by war & hate

And a comet slashing the sky to warn

That time runs out &  the sun burns late.

 

That was no time for a child to be born,

In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;

Honour & truth were trampled by scorn--

Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

 

When is the time for love to be born?

The inn is full on the planet earth,

And by the comet the sky is torn--

Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Yes, Samuel, miracles do still happen...

*Several weeks ago, when the 5-year-old whispered up to me during the worship service: Why don't miracles happen NOW?...I thought of the modern-day healings and visions I've read about, but I knew he meant: Why can't I see a miracle?

Tonight I heard a pastor speak about God found in places we don't think to look.  A manger?  On the outskirts of town? Or...back a few pages to the days of David...a transient tent for the ark of the covenant?  I think seeing Him in unexpected places is miraculous.  I think the Maker reaching down into the Story...seeing us, wanting us...that's miraculous, marvelous.  Yes, Samuel, miracles DO still happen.  So here I repost a past reflection on miracles of Light we witness here in the dark, against all odds...with added artwork from someone I admire very much.  A Joyful Christmas Celebration to You and Yours this week of the Glorious, Miraculous Birth.*

When something life-giving falls from us who are riddled with want...a word of kindness or sympathy...an inconvenient act of generosity...isn't it a miracle?

If something touched by our trembling fingers grows gold and winged, soars ... finds entrance to another human soul...isn't it a miracle?

When a child looks you in your tired eyes and reaches a small hand, adoring...

Isn't it...miraculous?

When a friend hears the pained confession,

and stays...

When we find ourselves swept off our seats in laughter, even though...

Is it not the most welcome kind of miracle?

When work comes along, finally...

When the work is completed...

When an improbable friendship is born...

When we find a fragile opening to forgiveness...

When something lost is found...

something broken healed...

something caged released...

When one creature carries and nurtures another in the caverns of its own body...

When the crocus smiles from snowy earth

and strangers share a meal...

When brothers and sisters pave new ways...

When suffering sweeps over and still we see light and truth and love and hope...

When the artist creates...

When the creator loves...

When the lover saves...

And the savior lives!

may we be moved to see the marvels of things in motion here...

the miraculous, gorgeous possibilities which rise from the ashes of "reality"

providing what is needed for Life.

A related listen:  Sara Groves - Miracle

*GIFT IDEA...Beautiful new book of calligraphic art released by Timothy Botts!

far-from-home Christmas...

I’ll admit I wondered.

Can it be Christmas if there is no bread pudding?  Will we feel the awesome joy & delight & anticipation if we have few decorations and no family and neighbor-friends.  If we don’t attend a Christmas Eve candlelight service? If I have no piano?

Without parties and shopping and glowing fireplace, will the “coming” be glorious?

When we decided to arrive in Costa Rica before Christmas, I was up for the adventure, but definitely uncertain what it would mean for the kids and for me as far as our emotions related to this great season of celebration.

Last night we were invited to attend a special Christmas worship service at a small church in Cartago, a city about 20 minutes from where we are staying.  Our new friends, Tony and Anna Grace, graciously drove out of their way to transport us and watched over us the whole night.

They meet in a large, windowed room on the corner of a city block and when we arrived, the folding chairs were quickly filling with people, the tables with dishes of yellow rice & chicken & black beans, and the air with recorded music as the worship team got situated on the stage.

We sat toward the back and waited eagerly.  It’s a very strange experience to be enveloped in words and conversation and music and yet be completely unable to understand any of it.  To be wholly dependent on the kindness and ability of others to translate or attempt your language.

(We haven’t run into many fluent English speakers, which is very good and challenging for us!)

The team of musicians, men and women with shakers and electric keyboard and guitars, led a medley of Christmas songs, almost all familiar tunes, from Silent Night to Grown-Up Christmas List and we listened and swayed and joined an occasional line of harmony.

When the pastor, a tall and gracious gentleman who had come out to greet us at the street, stood to preach, I was all ears, straining hard to understand some little bit.

What I recognized and understood were not the sentences he spoke, but the power of the gospel in his voice.

The Name. Jesus… Jesus… Jesus.  Regalo…

And I listened to the singing and the preaching and thought:

These are His people, too.  I have family here.  And some day there will be no language barrier between us.  One day the only thing that really matters will be the only thing.

Long ago God crossed invisible borders and entered our country speaking a new language called Hope and Rescue, made this language accessible to every human in every land through the power of His Spirit.

It was a glorious coming, and will always be so, whatever country we inhabit and regardless of décor or tradition.

It doesn’t need to be contrived or conjured because it really, truly, actually IS.

There is no fear that Christmas won’t find us when we are far from home (as we all are), because Christmas is not a feeling but a Person, and He found us years ago.

May your last week of waiting be full with the joy and gladness of being found, wherever you are...

love,

christa

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. ;)


What can we give to the King?

A couple of years ago I read Noel Piper's beautiful little book titled Treasuring God in Our Traditions, in which she offers insight into the ways we celebrate holidays and other occasions throughout the year. Inspires us to pause and consider why this tradition and not that...

One practice we've adopted in our home since then (which is probably my modified version of hers) is to hang "shepherd's pouches" on the mantle during the days/weeks of Advent.  In place of stockings, these simple but shimmering cloth gift bags (Target!) are used by each child to collect his or her "gifts for the King."  

We first talk about our desire to give gifts of love to those we care about - on birthdays, especially.  But...

How do we give to an invisible being?  

Then we read Jesus' words: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

So.  This is how we give to the King.  We love and care for others.  Tangibly and intangibly.  Sacrifice. Service.

Yes.  This is how.

So this way of loving at this time of the year begins with the children considering together and choosing a person or a group to which they'll donate coins and dollars earned.  Maybe a local shelter that feeds & clothes bodies and souls. The adoption agency which brought our son home to us.  

This year, a catalog from Samaritan's Purse arrived, and the kids have enthusiastically turned its pages (helpful in its plentiful supply of photographs which accompany giving options!), choosing individually what they'd like to give.  

$35    One month of meals, lodging, healthcare & education for an orphaned child

$75    Basic necessities, shelter, counseling for a child rescued from abuse

$10    Treated mosquito net to cover a child's bed

$14     A dozen chicks to provide eggs for a hungry family

$18    Contribute toward a portable water purification unit for a community

$40    10 New Testament Bibles 

...so many more...medical care, training and education, food, water...(shocking how much can be accomplished with so little - less than one restaurant meal here)

It's not about this particular organization, or this particular tradition - there are many beautiful ways to share.

But - cultivating a spirit of self-sacrifice is hard for us anyway - harder still for children during this season and in this consumeristic culture, who are marketed to constantly.  We've found that even the visual reminder of the shepherd's pouch being in view, front and center, during these weeks helps us to maintain focus.  

But, as I heard someone say a few days ago: In our practice of social justice, we must not forget the Source.  The reason.

And so...imperfectly, we remind ourselves that the magnificent event we celebrate on December 25 began with Someone's fierce and determined desire to love a faraway people.  

Sacrifice.  

Service.  

Celebration!