Writing, says singer-songwriter Nichole Nordeman, is a process wrapped up in uncertainty and insecurity. “Sometimes I can’t see the forest for the trees and it takes a long time or distance to see if I like it. The payoff is meeting people who’ve been changed or moved by my music and the power of God. A line might speak to them when they need it. I feel grateful to be a small part of this thing called music.”
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Nordeman has undeniably touched many with her music, which earned her a Dove award as the Gospel Music Assn. Female Vocalist of the year in 2001. “The Dove Awards were a really overwhelming night,” she says. “I felt affirmed by my peers. It’s hard to know what to do with awards philosophically, but I finally realized it’s a pat on the back and encouragement. It doesn’t alter my ministry, but it’s a great feeling to be encouraged.”
Nordeman says she has always been creative. “I was always a creative child, writing poetry, stories and journals. In college, I took my love of music and decided to try marrying that with my love of writing in general. I defined my voice as a writer and enjoyed it. It’s cathartic to find a piano and sit for hours and experiment. I’ve primarily written Christian music, songs about my faith. It’s hard to write out of the blue. I’m inspired by friendship or events, and my music is 90% faith-centered.
“I’ve never read any books about it, or taken workshops on, writing. I worry about the danger of “writing as a craft.’ Many seem to feel stuck because of worrying about a hook or bridge. I think that’s important in later editing. I encourage new writers to try inspiration, to pick up a pen and paper and writer about anything. The honing of the craft can come later.”
Nordeman, whose publisher is Ariose Music (ASCAP, administered by EMI Christian Music Publishing), is quick to credit others’ talents. “I love words, and the places where I get stuck are more musical than lyrical. I’m grateful to work with all the producers and A&R people on my creative team. There has to be an element of trust for the songs, to be objective and to point out the weak spots and where it needs rewriting. With deadlines on projects, I tend to write with projects on the horizon, though I write for fun occasionally. My goal is to write year round and not get in a panic of writing for a record. Usually the time to start writing is when a record is finished. I have a red X on my calendar. Inspiration usually won’t be scheduled, though.
On a sabbatical because of the late summer birth of son Charlie Thomas Igram, Nordeman is looking forward to “time off to write without immediate deadlines, to write just for the love of writing. So many of us get on a schedule and forget when we got up at two in the morning to write because we loved it. Without touring and projects looming during my time off, I’ll see how my writing will change. It was liberating knowing that that time was coming because I’ve worked really hard for the past six years, not slowing down too much. Now I can reconnect spiritually and emotionally, taking a breather from packing suitcases and jumping into a plane or tour bus. I’m excited to see how this experience will play out in different songs.”
The singer’s favorite of her songs is “Every Season” because “It speaks to the consistency of how present God is in our lives despite the seasons we go through. It’s a reminder that God is the God of all seasons and that we can depend on that, regardless of the climate of our lives. Many years ago I was a church pianist and played for a lot of weddings. I played at a friend’s wedding and, a few years later, was asked to play at the same friend’s memorial service after she died of cancer. God is a God of weddings and funerals. We can’t let circumstances indicate how present God is in our lives.”
“I feel the church at large and Christian music sometimes have been guilty of creating music that didn’t feel authentic and real – writing, performing and setting standards that people can’t identify with. I feel grateful to be part of the writers who are encouraged to tell the truth about their experiences and to keep the focus on God.”
Though Nordeman mainly records her own songs, she does sometimes record tunes done by other singers. “It’s sort of a guilty pleasure and sometimes a real eye-opener. It’s easy to interpret your own song because you know where it came from. When I cover other people’s songs, I end up with a new appreciation for artists who don’t write and who have the pressure of communicating the emotions of a song someone else has written.”
Her latest album, Live at the Door, was recorded in Dallas, where she and her husband, Errol Ingram, and son Charlie live. “The audience was comprised of family, friends and local fans who weren’t jaded. Doing it in Dallas felt relaxed. It was fun to take previous recordings and strip them down to find more organic arrangements of songs.”
Though she may be singing lullabies to a special audience of one right now, Nichole wants readers to know that “I’m a normal, real person with real struggles, joys, peaks and valleys, and it’s all wrapped up in music. Shared experiences are my only agenda, and I hope that will be encouraging to somebody else.”