National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Into God’s Rooms With a Decorated Artist

BY IAIN BERNHOFT

Register Correspondent

July 23 - August 5, 2006 Issue | Posted 7/23/06 at 9:00 AM

 

Last year, the United Catholic Music and Video Association awarded Sarah Hart four Unity Awards for her latest disc, Into These Rooms: song of the year, songwriter of the year, pop/contemporary album of the year and producer of the year.

The Nashville resident keeps a busy schedule performing and giving workshops across the country. And that’s when she’s not tending to her husband and their two young daughters.

Hart is also a founding member of Daughters of God, a performing group of Catholic musicians with a focus on women’s ministry.

You not only make great music, but you studied it as well.

I got a degree in music theory and composition from Ohio State University. It focused on 20th-century classical composition, of a rather abstract, technical kind — sort of [John] Cage crossed with [Aaron] Copland.

That seems to be a long way from Nashville, musically speaking.

I moved to Nashville the day after I graduated, because I knew that I liked Christian music and wanted to be involved in it. The move was precipitated by lots of prayer, but I packed up the U-Haul and moved cold turkey with no idea of what I was going to do.

It seems to have worked out well.

My “big break” was at a National Catholic Youth Conference, where I ran into the publishing director of Oregon Catholic Press, who asked me to write a record with them. Also, I don’t think I’d have the work I have were it not for Spirit & Song (online at spiritandsong.com).

You’ve written and released a good deal of music on your own, most recently the Into These Rooms album. But you also write liturgical music?

I’ve written quite a bit for Oregon Catholic Press and Spirit & Song. I find writing liturgical music to be very challenging. As a genre, it’s very finite; it has to have a certain spirit and presence about it, yet it has no specific formula. I have to really, really think about a song when I know it’s going to be used for liturgy. But my non-liturgical songs all somehow relate to things spiritual or Godly.

I believe that, if you’re a Christian, you can’t help everything you make pointing toward God.

What’s your primary focus?

My focus changes every month. I’m not kidding. This month, I’ve been writing songs for the young, and I feel myself getting into a liturgical curve right now. But two months ago I was doing only secular stuff, with a bit of a country sound.

What goes into the songwriting process for you, in terms of sources of inspiration and material?

I try to read a good bit of poetry, and I especially love Sylvia Plath. She was so depressed and bleak, but unafraid of being unflinchingly and brutally honest, which is really important. If I need to write a song on a specific scriptural theme, I’ll often turn to “The Message,” which is a very “street-language” translation of the Bible that’s been really fruitful for me in my reading of Scripture.

I don’t find myself running out of ideas, but I do find myself forgetting ideas.

How do you carve out space for songwriting while raising two young daughters and traveling extensively?

Lately, I’ve found the best place for me to write lyrics is on an airplane. I have no control over anything, so I pull out a book and write. Three of the songs from Into These Rooms were written on airplanes.

Sometimes I’ll write late at night after everyone’s gone to bed. But I’d rather raise children than write a song.

Is your focus in songwriting primarily on the lyrics?

For me, the focus is words — which is funny, seeing as I majored in entirely wordless composition. But I think the written word is an endless source of beauty. I really want my lyrics to be able to stand on their own, to need no legs from music.

I see music as being the earrings and makeup of the words.

Regarding “unflinching honesty”: Do you think there is a place for that in Christian music?

I think there needs to be. I think anyone who says a walk with the Lord is only total joy is lying. There are countless examples of saints and disciples who had a really rough go of it.

There is definitely a place for music that encourages and expresses joy, but I think there’s also a place for songs that admit to feeling sad or unsure of God’s will.

In your own songwriting, is this something you consciously strive for?

Yes, always. When you’re honest in writing, more folks can relate to you, because many of them have been there, too. It isn’t always simple to bare yourself, but when you’re willing to be emptied, God gets through.

What do you see as the primary purpose of your songs?

Here’s the deal. A specific purpose for my songs doesn’t even cross my mind. If you stand five people in front of a Van Gogh, they’ll all have a different vision or perception.

I just write whatever I feel God would have me write, and let it be the experience of the listener. My motive to write is because I can’t help it.

What about the motivation to succeed? You’ve obviously had a good deal of success, which doesn’t come easily.

What I really care about is the art, the song and God. I’m grateful that people like my music; that’s why I keep on performing and publishing. Self-promotion has to be done to get your music heard, but I have to rely on God because I don’t have time to do it.

Changing diapers is a higher priority than finding 10,000 fans on MySpace.com. That said, I do have to do a lot of work in terms of ministry — letting parishes know what kind of missions I do.

What kind of ministry do you do?

I do a lot of diocesan youth ministry, which involves having fun and telling stories in various workshops. I also run a women’s retreat that is my favorite thing in the world, called Daughters of God. It’s a walk through the Bible with different women of Scripture, and the day ends with Mass.

I started the project with a group of women, and we recorded an album together. I wrote a workshop and study based on the record, in addition to the concerts we do as a group. There isn’t much specifically for women in the Church sometimes, so I think it fills a need.

What’s in the cards for the immediate future?

We’re really working right now to build the Daughters of God ministry, to place it in as many parishes as possible. We want to be about the business of encouraging women in their faith, meeting their needs where they are.

But, ultimately, my hope is to till the soil and be faithful to go wherever God commands.

Iain Bernhoft writes from

Spokane, Washington.

Information

Sarah Hart Music

sarahhartmusic.com