That afternoon, I attended another of the Artist Teaching Concerts, this one led by the current GMA Dove Awards Female Vocalist of the Year, Natalie Grant. Those of you familiar with Christian music know her well. Those of you who received my Christmas Letter two years ago may remember that the theme of that letter was based on Natalie's song "Held": "This is what is means to be Held, how it feels, when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive. This is what it is to be loved, and to know that the promise was when everything fell, we'd be Held." "Held" was a song that had blessed me tremendously following the death of my mother, so I was really excited about the opportunity to get to hear from Natalie about her career and her entire body of work.
I would not be disappointed.
Natalie spoke candidly about the business side of music - about her longtime struggle to get a record deal, and the exceeding importance of patience and perserverance - which were important messages for me to hear. She spoke passionately about her work as well. Specifically, she shared with us how she has evolved in her craft, from being a singer under the control of her record company to now being a full-blown artist - a singer AND songwriter who calls the shots in her career, and who insists on nothing less that 100% integrity and authenticity in her music. She was simply awesome, and she sets an example in her life and her career that I most certainly aspire to. Especially that authenticity stuff. Let me be real, Lord.
The coolest and most personal part for me, however, was when she opened the session up for questions, and I asked her about the song "Held". I shared with her how much comfort the song had brought me, and asked if she would speak for a moment about the impact of that song, the stories she had heard from people, etc. She replied that she could literally spend all day telling of the song's far-reaching impact, and she did share some pretty gut-wrenching stories that she had heard from people while she was on the road. But the key takeway was this: There are people all over this world who are hurting deeply, and they desperately need music that speaks and ministers to them. This was an invaluable reminder to me. I felt more inspired than ever to write music that truly impacts and changes lives.
Natalie then sang "Held", accompanied only by her husband on the piano, and it was absolutely exquisite. I have many friends who are hurting tremendously right now due to various losses, and I cried through the whole song thinking of all of them. I have personally lived the lyrics of the song "Held", and I prayed that the same would be true for my many wounded friends - that they would truly feel loved and held through their darkest hours. Here's a pic of Natalie singing:
That night's concert included Natalie again, Brian Littrell (former Backstreet Boy who is now a Christian artist), Rush of Fools (a great band of rockers who look like they are 12 and who made me feel really old), and Travis Cottrell, who is Beth Moore's awesome praise and worship leader. After the concert, we got to have a meet and greet with Natalie. She remembered me as I approached the table, saying, "You were the one who asked me about 'Held' today." I was impressed by this, as I was probably the hundredth person she had met that day. I thanked her again, but unfortunately, they were not allowing pictures. So, I sort of just stuck my head in front of her and had someone take the below picture. Now, I know that judging by my shape and form in this photo, it looks as if I just ate Natalie for dinner, but she is actually the blonde with the gold hoop earrings on. (Not a good angle, Werner).
Also following the concert, they announced who had advanced to the semi-finals in the Vocalist contest. I did not advance. But really folks, it was ok. I hate to sound unambitious, but I was not there to compete. I have a lot of growth to do as a songwriter, musician, and performer, and I will compete when ready. There's always next year baby!
Oh! I did get my critique sheets back from the music industry folks who had judged my performance in the Vocalist contest, and was mostly quite pleased with them. One judge said that my voice and style reminded him of Joni Mitchell. Nuh-uh! STOP! I'm not worthy! In general, there were high marks for my voice, and so-so marks for my performance skills. Completely fair. I've got work to do.
Overall, it was SUCH a great day, and I went to bed that night with a tremendous amount of joy and gratitude in my heart.