Monday, October 2, 2017

Interview with Ginny Owens - Part One

I am an unlikely Ginny Owens fan.

Mine was a classical music family; I didn’t know the difference between R&B and jazz, but I was certain I didn’t like them. So when I first heard Ginny perform back in 2005, two things immediately came to mind: 1) this sounds kind of jazzy, and 2) I kind of like it.

It was a bewildering experience.

I love good lyrics, and Ginny Owens’ are among the best. They drew me in and sustained me while my ears acclimated to her musical style.

Traditionally characterized by soul, jazz, and R&B influences, Ginny has always been versatile. With her newest album, she crosses into pop music, bringing those thoughtful lyrics with her.

Ginny crafts her words with great care, and it shows. In addition to writing songs, Ginny blogs on her website, co-wrote a book with Andrew Greer about the relevance of the Old Testament to our faith and lives, and recently released a 14-day devotional. In each case, her writing is not just good, but insightful.

Anyone who takes such pains in her craft is someone I wanted to speak with about my favorite subject: the intersection of faith and the arts. So I did! Here’s Part One of what she had to say:

For folks who don’t know, how did you get into songwriting?

I started songwriting at age seven or eight – probably because God knew it would take me a long, long time to become decent at it. But I was fervent at first in not pursuing music. I liked writing songs, but I bristled at the stereotype that all blind people have to be musicians.

I really wanted to teach high school music. I wanted to be defined by that. It’s not something every blind person does, and it just felt like it would make me a more legitimate human being. But administrators had a great case – how would I manage a classroom?

Simultaneously, I’d been asked to sing in church. I was heard by this guy who asked me, “Have you thought about doing this for a living?” He introduced me to a publisher who thought I had some writing strengths and took me to all the labels, and was very gentle and gracious.

I’ve since done some teaching, and it’s made me thankful for ending up writing – I’ve gotten the easier deal. I don’t get a lot of sleep, but it’s definitely the easier work.

How do you see your role in the Church as a singer/songwriter?

The challenge and true blessing of what I get to do is I get to be different things to different parts of the body – sometimes I’m going in and leading worship on Sunday morning and helping people praise; some days I’m going into a more complicated situation where there’s grief and disaster, and singing hope and the heart of the people. And some days I get to go in and just sing back to people the things they long for and think about in their relationships with people and with God. So I guess ultimately my role is to sing back to people what their hearts are saying, and help to interpret that for them.

I think part of the role of the artist is to express the collective heart of the people; to interpret our deepest thoughts, our imaginations, our longings – artists get to interpret all those things. They also can give hope and bring perspective, and they get to give the truth of God to the people. Art communicates truth in a way that nothing else can.

What role does songwriting play in your life, on a personal level?

God has always spoken to me through my lyrics, which is kind of a weird thing to say because I never think about that when I’m writing them. I often want to write about an experience, and maybe even seven years later, I’ll look back at a song that He’ll use to wake me up: ‘What are you doing? How did you get here?’ I labor over lyrics for so long, they’re rarely ambiguous, so later when God needs to use them to inspire change in me, they’re right there. I don’t sit around listening to my music but I can’t help but think about the words as I’m singing them.

“If You Want Me To” is a good example. When I wrote it, it was about trying to get a teaching job and ‘ok, how do I trust you?’ He was teaching me that trust is surrender. It’s not, ‘I know what you’re doing here: you’re helping me develop patience.’ Trust just means surrender: ‘I don’t know what’s going on and what’s coming around the corner, but you do.’ I still sing that song.

To be continued in Part Two.

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