To Cologne, With Music

A common complaint among aspiring musicians is that record companies control everything, including artists’ creativity.

To hear Catholic singer-songwriter Kara Klein tell it, you might think she ascribes similar behavior to the Holy Spirit — but she's not complaining.

“The honest truth is, I'm not a good songwriter at all when I try to do it on my own,” the 19-year-old admits. “I'm really grateful when the Holy Spirit inspires me.”

Case in point: “Beautiful Still,” a song that has touched many in the wake of the Terri Schiavo tragedy. Klein was waiting for the metro at rush-hour in Washington, D.C., when, she says, the song came to her. She wrote it in her notebook as quickly as possible as she rode the subway home.

Klein was not aware that Terri's feeding tube had been removed that very day; nor did the connection with the dying woman occur to her until her mom pointed it out. She had only just decided to return home for Easter that weekend, which allowed her to arrange and record the song with her studio manager before returning to school. The song was sent to EWTN, where a video was prepared and scheduled to first air on the same day Terri died.

Klein was humbled and amazed by the confluence of events that brought about “Beautiful Still: Terri's Song,” and by the overwhelmingly positive response to it. The melancholic, piano-driven ballad, which showcases her dulcet tones and impressive range, has now been released on CD to raise money for the Terri Schindler-Schiavo Foundation.

Such moments of sudden musical inspiration are nothing new to Klein, however. She speaks of God “giving” a song to her, often when she is praying or journaling.

“The best way I can describe it is that it's like hearing a song on the radio for the first time,” she says. “I hear the music in my head, and I usually finish writing it within five minutes.”

Klein, who grew up with six siblings just outside New Orleans, credits her mother's conversion with inspiring her own love for the Catholic faith.

As for music, she started singing and performing at the age of 8, getting involved in theater, choirs and cantoring for school Masses. She also started writing songs. The first specifically Christian song she wrote was for a youth festival in eighth grade, marking the beginning of her “musical collaboration” with the Holy Spirit.

Another pivotal point for Klein was attending a United Nations session on the rights of the child in 2002. She was appalled at the measures advocated by various world leaders.

“The experience had a profound effect on my life,” she recalls. “It was then that I decided, ‘I'm going to devote the rest of my life to fighting for life.'” Klein has spoken or sung at several pro-life events, and donates $1 from every album sold to the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life organization.

With that kind of focus on the real-world concerns of our time, it's not surprising that Klein feels particularly called to minister to youth. With the Catholic music industry still in its fledgling stages, she sees that there is a great need for young Catholic speakers, singers and role models to promote the culture of life.

In order to dedicate herself more fully to this cause, Klein decided to leave The Catholic University of America in Washington upon completion of her freshman year. She hopes to continue with her degree in philosophy via distance learning, but she'll spend the upcoming year traveling, speaking and singing.

She will also complete her second album, “Home in His Love,” which she describes as “a combination of love songs to God and love songs to us from God.” Currently in the process of whittling down the track list, she is very excited about the project. “Most of the songs from my first album, “A Touch of Your Grace,” are from when I was 16,” she says. “I think I've matured in the last three years.”

Like her first record, the follow-up effort will be produced independently and distributed via her website and some Catholic distributors.

Later this summer, on the heels of her performance at the Steubenville South youth conference, Klein will sing at World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany.

“One event has led to another, and now I have a pretty busy summer,” she says. She plans to sing at high schools and churches, and hopes to sing at more conferences and retreats.

At her shows, Klein intertwines music with message — sharing her thoughts on the personal meanings of the songs, how God has worked through her, how she has grown in love with Christ. “My hope is that when people listen to my music, they come out experiencing a little bit more of God's love.”

Klein says she has no idea what the future will bring; while acting on her immediate goals, she waits to see where God will lead her in the long run. She admits that leaving Catholic University to concentrate on her music ministry has been frightening.

“It wasn't my plan at all,” she says. “But I don't think God ever gives us a task that he doesn't also provide a desire for, if we let him.”

So, far from being subservient to a large record corporation, Kara Klein sees herself in a far more exciting and enviable position — being a “pawn of God.”

“I can honestly say that I don't have any control over what I write, or what happens, or what God does,” she says. “All I can do is open myself and totally try to be an instrument.”

Iain Bernhoft writes from Spokane, Washington.

Do Not Be Afraid

words and music by Kara Klein

You are walking on a narrow road

To a place which few have found.

It's steep and long, and your pace is slow.

Uncertainty lies all around.

Do not be afraid.

I've been there before.

I am holding you in my hands

Here forevermore.

I know your thoughts, Your fears and dreams.

I've felt your doubts, Your suffering.

Do not be afraid.

I've been there before.

I am holding you in my hands

Here forevermore.