of us who know and love Nichole Nordeman point to lyrics
like those and say, "See? This is why we keep those two CDs
in the car at all times because a drive isn’t a drive without
Nichole as a musical co-pilot. This is why we tell our friends
you HAVE to listen to these songs... especially this one, or
that, at this particular time in your life, because it will hit
you right where you live right now...
People got that way about Nichole mighty fast. It
seemed like one day she won a songwriting contest in L.A. and the
next she got a record deal and moved to Nashville and then had a
couple of #1 radio hits and then won the Dove Award for GMA
Female Vocalist of the Year in 2001.
OK, so it didn’t happen quite that fast. But there
was that contest, and then it’s true, just a few years later,
she’s touring with Steven Curtis Chapman. Christian
music’s favorite Male and Female Vocalists, on the road, same
stage. Huge arenas. Big Time.
T here are certain assumptions regarding artists of
Nichole Nordeman’s ilk. This poetic piano player with the
insightful lyrics and the clever turn of a musical phrase will
find a good niche and keep it. There’s a core of music fans who
love acoustic singer-songwriter types, so it makes for a steady
career, not flashy. Not Big Time.
Over the course of a scant two albums, barely enough
to launch a career, the former Colorado Springs kid who played
piano in her home church (and sang every Amy Grant song
there was) found herself awash in recognition, much to
everyone’s surprise and delight.
Surprise, delight... and suddenly, much higher
expectations. Introspective singer-songwriters generally don’t
win the big prizes. "It felt wonderful," says Nichole.
"But that raised the bar in a big way, even if no one said
it out loud, and even if I was the one raising it." So, with
a great big Dove Award, great big expectations, and a highly-
anticipated third album, Nichole set about crafting songs for the
new project. No problem, right? Wrong.
"I sat down at the piano and I just couldn’t
write. I had a hundred things to say, a hundred song titles
in my head. I just assumed that because what I really wanted to
write about was God’s goodness and how that goodness is woven
into the everyday moments, that the writing would be easy.
Instead, I would just sit and stare at the keys for months at a
time." At some point, inward thoughts worked their way into
internal rhymes, and deep emotions passed from heart to hands on
suspended fourth chords: line by line, word by word, came songs.
And it did take time. "I wouldn’t even call it
‘writer’s block,’ it was like ‘God-block’. I knew I
just had to take that time and soak up the silence, instead of
resenting it. I had to listen and wait." Her music has been
called "introspective and intelligent," and she refers
to herself rather self-effacingly as a "wrestling
poet." You can read her lyrics, ponder them, without ever
hearing the music.
"I don’t generally write songs that are easy
to sing along with. You’re forced to do the hard work of
listening, which is great, but there are many moments on the
record where I thought, ‘I just want this music to be
accessible enough for someone who’s driving down the road or
sitting by themselves to be able to detach from the lyrics for
once, and to really worship, to sing along, to let go. We had a
lot of discussions about that during the recording
"We" in this case means producer Charlie
Peacock, (his first time at the helm with Nichole) and
returning producer Mark Hammond, who produced her first
two records, Wide-Eyed (1998) and This Mystery (2000).
This patient team no doubt believes the songs were worth the
wait, as Woven & Spun sends Nichole’s artistic
accomplishments wheeling to new levels. And you can tell she
poured everything she had into every note. "I’m very
attached to these songs for that reason, because it was a real
labor of love."
Speaking of love... besides the Dove Award, the
writing, and the touring, there was a wedding. Hers and
Errol’s—the love of her life, her husband, the reason she
left Nashville and moved to Dallas. The two hit it off when
mutual friends in Texas arranged a casual group get together:
"Our friends had been bugging us forever to meet each other.
Eventually they just wore us down. I knew immediately that he was
the one... it took him a little more time." Not much time
though. Six months later they were engaged, and just a year after
meeting, they were married. "It made a lot more sense for me
to relocate to Dallas than for him to come to Nashville, since I
was still traveling so much. Besides, there are some real
benefits to having some distance from the Nashville scene. It
doesn’t always feel like a practical choice, but in other ways
(like plugging into a community of friends that isn’t a part of
Christian music) is good for me, and for us. It helps me separate
my work from my personal life.
As all newlyweds know, marriage
has its challenges, and the life of a touring musician has
particularly odd ones. "I used to say ‘yes’ to
everything that had to do with my career, with not a lot of
forethought or intention. The challenge in discerning God’s
voice fromthe voice of my own ambition has been major growth for
me. I’m saying ‘yes’ and ‘no’ for two people’s lives
now. The concepts of sacrifice and compromise are probably like
Marriage 101 for most people, but it’s taken me awhile to get
it... ." Nichole credits Errol with being "the voice of
reason" in her life, gently challenging her to develop
relationships at home, despite being gone so often.
"He said to me, ‘It can’t be healthy that
most people at our home church probably know your name and might
buy your records, but don’t really know you. Let’s do
something about that... ’ And that’s been so helpful to have
his help in creating some boundaries and examining my
He’s also a great sounding board. "My husband
is a great everyday, Consumer Joe guy. He’s not a musician or a
writer, so when I play him a new song, if he says, ‘What
exactly are you trying to say here?’ I know it needs some
rewriting." The struggle, the ‘God block’, the months
staring at the piano keys—so what has come of it all?
The songs are still intelligent—Nichole can’t
help that. But they’re "lighter," she says, in tone,
because she’s happier than she’s been in a long time. The
theological wrestling continues, but for this season, it’s more
like playing with Daddy on the living room floor.