As a high school senior, Danielle Rose saw singer Jaci Velasquez perform at the National Catholic Youth Conference and dreamed of one day doing the same.
A senior theology and music major at Notre Dame University, Rose recently recorded her first album “Defining Beauty.” In December, Rose got her wish. She performed before 27,000 youths in Indianapolis. She spoke with Register features correspondent Tim Drake about her music.
Did you grow up in a musical home?
I am the oldest of three children. My brother is a freshman at Gonzaga and my sister is in seventh grade. I was born in Colorado. Growing up, we moved several times. I now live in Duluth, Minn. My father is an ophthalmologist and my mother is a stay-at-home mom.
My mother loves to sing and my father plays guitar and mandolin. Music is somewhere in the genes. My great uncle, Blaz Arnic, was a famous symphony composer from Slovenia. They recently pictured him on a postage stamp.
When I was 5 years old I remember seeing Itzhak Perlman on Sesame Street and I begged my parents for two and a half years for violin lessons. So, I started when I was 7 years old. My father and I would play in various bluegrass contests. I would listen to tapes and teach myself fiddle tunes.
At 14, I started playing guitar. Most of my learning has been self-taught. In high school I started writing and performing original music with a band.
At the age of 17 you spent some time with the Missionaries of Charity in India. What was that like?
Before I was born my parents had been to India when my father had done some training for infectious eye diseases. During their time there they met Meenaxi, a woman who had founded an orphanage and hospital. During high school my mother's sister had adopted a baby from this orphanage, and my childhood dream to visit India was renewed. I offered to go assist Meenaxi during the summer after my junior year.
I went with the intention of helping Meenaxi, but when I got there all of the children had the chicken pox and nothing was working out. Frustrated at being unable to help I spent my time weeping and asking God why he had brought me there. I ended up helping the Missionaries of Charity.
I did my best to help feed children, sing for lepers, and visit the dying, but when my time was over, I felt as if I hadn't done anything. What changed me most was what these people were able to give me.
Although there was astounding poverty and suffering, the people have an incredible joy that we do not have here. When I returned home, a month later, I didn't want to be home. Somehow everything had changed and I looked at everything differently.
A couple of weeks after I returned home, I went to an All State Choir Camp.
I wanted so much to be able to give others my experience of India, but I was unable. At camp, I composed a song about my experience titled “India.” During the talent show, before hundreds of other teens, I played the song. Afterwards, there were all these people who came up to me crying and telling me how the song had opened them up to different things they had experienced.
Something had been moved in their hearts and I knew that it was not me. It was the first time that I had written something that was so much bigger than myself. It was a total gift and I knew that it couldn't possibly be explained.
Tell me how you came up with your stage name?
Before my trip to India I was trying to have absolutely no expectations, but I was praying that I might have the opportunity to meet Mother Teresa and be blessed by her.
During my time with the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa was visiting the Pope. I spent most of my time with about 200 orphaned children. While I could have stayed longer, I didn't feel it was the right thing to do. Before leaving, I left my Bible and some other things to be blessed by Mother Teresa and figured that I might meet her another time.
During my senior year, while having a conversation with someone, I learned that Mother Teresa had died. I'm normally a very joyful person, but when I heard this news I started sobbing. It was like all of the disappointment of not meeting her came back along with the memories of the children and my not being able to be there to love them and hold them. I could not stop crying.
When Meenaxi called she told me, “You have been blessed by Mother Teresa in a very special way.” I had no idea what she was talking about, but hoped that Mother Teresa had blessed my Bible. As it turns out, on Mother Teresa's birthday, just nine days before she died, she took the frosting rose from her birthday cake and gave it to Sister Joyce, saying, “Danielle, the girl who embraced the poorest of the poor and understood them: Give her this rose and tell her to be like this rose — to be pure and beautiful like each petal, and tell her that nothing will ever go wrong in her life.” I have no idea how Mother Teresa knew who I was.
Someone that was bringing an adopted baby to Minnesota brought the frosting rose with them for me. It is the rose that appears on my album.
My middle name is Rose, and my mother's name is Rosie. That's how I chose my stage name. It's both my vocation name and my real name.
How has that affected your music?
When you give someone a rose, it's a pure gift. I pray that my music can be like that — a rose offered to people who are listening, a little thing given out without any expectation.
Regarding the miracle of the rose, all I know is that God knew my heart's desire so clearly that he wanted to give it to me in a way that was more mysterious than any way I could ever imagine.
In this way, I was blessed by Mother Teresa and that has totally changed my life. The sisters taught me about spiritual poverty. There is this poverty of wanting God, but not being aware that this is what is empty inside of us. How can we possibly heal families if we do not have God? My mission with my music is to reach and feed the spiritually poor people of our Church, our nation, and our world.
How did your album come about?
At Notre Dame, I am involved in the Notre Dame Folk Choir. At the end of my freshman year the choir recorded a CD. Through that process I met Gary Daggle and presented him with a very rough tape of 10 songs that I had made in my friend's basement.
That summer, while I was eating dinner with my family, Gary called. I went down to Louisiana to record a demo and before we had even finished it, some folks from World Library Publications called to meet with me about recording a CD.
Do you have any favorite stories of how your music has affected others?
My mom has told me stories of people who have had little miracles happen in their hearts.
For example, a relative of mine had been singing some of my songs at her Church. After singing “Shelter Your Name,” apparently a man that had been very bitter toward the church felt healed of his bitterness.
Oftentimes, after I'm done playing, there will be people who will come up to me crying and sharing about their life. I can see that something has been moved in their heart and that some kind of healing has begun and I realize that that has nothing to do with me. My role is simply to be open with what God can do through these little songs and surrender it all to God. I am just trying to be a joyful messenger of the grace that God has brought to my life. I carry those people and their stories with me.
What do you hope to do after graduation?
My dream is to be a full-time performer, playing for high schools, Marian conferences, retreats and coffeehouses — speaking to people that might never listen to Christian music.
I feel that music is a good way to evangelize. It's such a part of our culture that people let their defenses down when they listen to it. My lyrics open people up to the message and the story. It's a good way to plant a seed. I want to share how God has worked in my life.
Tim Drake writs from St. Cloud, Minnesota.