Hey Samara, if you had to introduce yourself using only 5 words, what would they be?
Midwesterner, loves music and family
Tell us a little bit about your testimony and how you became a Christian.
I am grateful to have come from a long line of faithful Christians, and my parents continued that example for us. During my growing up, we still went to church, Sunday school, night church and Thursday night church, so I would say that I was surrounded by a loving community at a healthy church from the beginning. I prayed my initial saving prayer in our kitchen with my mom around the age of 5 or 6 and was baptized. Obviously that’s only ever the beginning of a faith journey, but I still view that as when I began to turn to God first when I had questions or struggles.
When did you know you wanted to be a singer?
For me, wanting to be a singer predates my conscious memories; I’ve never not wanted to be a singer. My mom plays piano and from the time I was tiny, she would play and I would sing through books of music, hymns, whatever we had. But growing up in a small, rural community, even a community that loved and valued music, the only jobs in music are for teachers. Most of our churches didn’t even have worship pastors – all the music was volunteer. MySpace was barely a thing. So I credit my parents and church and community with fostering a place for those gifts to be developed and used to bless the body from a super young age. I grew up thinking that my desires to sing were just something everyone had. It wasn’t until I was a junior in high school at a vocal competition that I had a judge who connected with my mom and insisted that I be in lessons and pursue something more that I thought there was a realistic future there. She connected me with my first voice teacher, who was an hour away and who got me through the college audition process in classical voice.
What is your mission with your music?
To use music to comfort people in their trouble with the same comfort that I have received from God. (2 Corinthians 1:4) I truly believe that God created music as a gift to help us express not only joy and worship but also sorrow and loss and pain and that it’s an invaluable tool for living well at every point on our journey.
Who are your musical influences?
Tough to list only a few. I am classically trained, so a lot of my approach to music starts there. My parents loved all kinds of music, so we loved and listened to everything from the Beatles to Shirley Horn to Cats growing up and still do. I think anyone that grew up on Disney in the 90s has to say Alan Menken. I know every Amy Grant Christmas album by heart, and I still love Dave Matthews Band. I tend to be most inspired most by strong technical vocals though – Celine Dion, CeCe Winans, Diana Krall, Mariah Carey, Renee Fleming, Katharine McPhee…too many to list. For songwriting, Krissy Nordhoff. Take your pick!
I know you faced a difficult time dealing with a lot of loss in your life a couple of years ago. Losing 8 people in two years must have been really hard to process! How did God and your faith help you through that difficult period? And did God use songwriting to help you process some things?
I noted above that I have always wanted to be a singer, but I have not always wanted to be a writer. Especially in classical music, performance and composition are viewed as separate disciplines, even though I obviously had some theory and composition requirements in undergrad, but God has specifically used these losses in my life to turn me into a writer as well.
My dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer when I was in college, and passed away the same year I graduated. The grief during the time was so difficult for me that I started struggling to perform. I could still sing in groups, but I started to shake so severely that being a performer was no longer an option for me. After several years, I was able to work through that with the help of some great coaches, but at the time, I lost my dad and all of my dreams at once.
Praying through that season, I felt led to go to law school, thinking maybe I could work for a label and still be involved in music. It was there that in a small group bible study we did, I felt God leading me to start writing songs to process and mark what he had brought me through in the healing process.
God purified a lot of idols in my life during that period and has opened a lot of different doors since then, but seven years after my dad passed and seven years ago from current, we lost my grandfather, my cousin and his wife and their three children (one of whom was only a couple of months old) in a car crash, and a dear friend to an overdose. The next year we lost my grandmother. The grief and the weight of that season still ripples through our family today. For me, my church community, worship, counseling, and just reading the word of God regularly over these years has been the lifeline for me. Especially the word. All of it. Straight through. Over and over has been a huge part of strengthening me during that journey through the valley and still to this day. I wouldn’t be here feeling largely comforted and built up and healed without God’s word and the work that he does through it and the family of believers and worship.
My prayer and journaling and mediation from that season then ultimately turned into songs. My first album, Prisoner of Hope, was written out of that journey from pain to peace to praise to purpose, and there are elements on the album that specifically nod to those losses.
What’s your favourite aspect of songwriting?
I tend to be a concept writer, so I love it when the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. When you have an idea for a topic you want to address and the various sections of the song come together in the structure, it’s so satisfying. I also find that singing your own songs is a really special form of worship. Whether they are written and recorded or spontaneous.
What does your songwriting process look like?
Like I said I tend to be a concept writer, so I am inspired either by a connection I notice between verses in scripture, a book I’m reading, or by the journey through and out of pain, for example, and I work to write songs to express that. My next project that I’m writing is actually a word I’ve had as a concept idea for an album since my early 20s, but it hasn’t been the time to write yet. I think this year is the year though! Once I have the lyrics, I usually already have a melody in mind at least for the chorus (all those years of training), and then I can set a basic chord progression from that based on my classical experience. I rely heavily on my producers and other musicians to bring their skills to bear to build out the track, as I only occasionally will have specific instrumental melodic inspiration, but I’m very involved in the review and decision-making process there. I grew up playing violin and saxophone and am a competent piano player, but those are not my primary musical skills.
Your latest song is called Let It Be (Mary’s Song). How long did it take you to write this song?
This one actually came pretty quickly. I had the pre-chorus “Like a flower opens to the sun…” just thinking about what it would be like to hear a specific word like that directly from God’s messenger and the rest of the song grew around that.
What’s the story behind Let It Be (Mary’s Song)?
I was writing some songs out of the Christmas story, and kept thinking about how much of Mary’s life happens outside of the birth of Jesus that we celebrate at Christmas. We meet her close to a year before probably, and she’s there at the foot of the cross. And I just couldn’t get that out of my head. I was especially impacted by the thought of her at the cross, watching her son die, as I remembered losing my cousins and my friend, none of whom made it to their 30s, and being with their mothers at their funerals. So I had wrapped up several Christmas songs, and this sort of fell out of that meditation but to me stood on its own. It sort of parallels for me the response of David in the Old Testament, when God tells him that one of his descendants will sit on the throne forever.
Has writing Let It Be spoken to you or impacted your own life in some way?
Let It Be I think is a personal expression for me of how God is faithful but things don’t always look like we anticipated. That this amazing promise of a Messiah came with a cross. For me on a smaller scale, I always wanted to be a singer, and while I have never been visited by an angel, I’ve always felt God’s calling over that in my life to be a part of what he’s doing. But that journey has come (like all of our journeys) with a lot of unexpected seasons of difficulty and darkness. This song is my own reminder of how God sees us and goes before us to turn our dark places into joy, and I hope that it will continue to be an anthem for me in the future.
You say you think Let It Be is “the perfect song to build your faith leading up to Easter.” What about Let It Be do you feel helps it do that?
Let It Be reminds you to put yourself in the larger context of faith and the history of what God has done through the generations like Mary does at the end of the Magnificat. She remembers that this is the fulfilment of what God has promised for her people. For us on this side of the cross, no matter what we face, we look back to what was accomplished for us by Jesus on the cross in order to look forward in hope for whatever circumstances we are facing immediately and towards the ultimate hope of our eternal redemption and reward. And the longer we live, the more specifically we can look back on how God has worked directly in our own lives to build our faith for the future.
Speaking of Easter, what have you given up for Lent? And how’s it going so far?!
Alcohol (can I say that?), which is going fine, although I do miss a good cocktail with my Friday night dinner. Then as a discipline I am trying to implement a strict policy of no social media or news before I’m done with my bible reading for the day. My current rhythm is to listen through on the Bible app, which can sometimes mean I’m finishing it before bed at night or while I’m cleaning the kitchen after dinner or in the car, but I really want to have that focus set as a matter of priority each morning. That’s probably going 75% but is something that I plan to keep as a natural rhythm long term because I find it to be so helpful in connecting with God and finding that peace before being bombarded each day.
What’s next for you? Are there any more songs in the pipeline?
At least one more release coming this year at Christmas, which is already finished and ready to go (yea!). We are hoping to get in the studio this summer for a little bit more than that, but that is somewhat dependent on tour schedules for the team that I work with and how much time we have to fit it in. So glad touring is back, but it does leave less time for the studio! Then, as I noted above, I’m writing my next project now for recording next year most likely. Stay tuned!
And a couple of quick fire questions to get to know you better…
What’s your favourite pizza topping? And does pineapple belong on pizza?
Sausage and green peppers. Absolutely not. I won’t even let my husband put his pizza in the same box as mine if it has pineapple on it to prevent cross-contamination.
What’s your favourite Bible verse?
Hard call when you say favourite. One verse that I hold very dear as something that I want to be true of me and as a reminder of who God is, is below. But there’s so much of the human condition, so much inspiration, it’s impossible to pick only one verse as a favourite.
Jeremiah 9:24 but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.
What’s your favourite thing to do when you’re not busy writing songs?
Hang out with my English Bulldog, Hattie
If you could select any song as a personal theme song that played every time you walked into a room, which song would you choose and why?
I think I’d go up beat if its going to follow me around forever – Pharrell – Happy. Feels like it would be a party every time!
What’s your favorite dad joke?
What did the sushi say to the bee? Wassa Bee?
Lastly, how can the JesusWired readers be praying for you over the coming months?
We have been hoping to add to our family for a while now, so we are praying to see God’s provision and timing there.
Bonus question: Our splash page recently showed an EPIC shot of you at a keyboard with your dress and music flying everywhere. Who deserves the credit for that picture and how long did it take to make it?
Ksenia and team at Ksenia Pro Photography! It took multiple people and a couple of hours to get all of the various composite shots, but it was SO worth it for the result.