Nichole Nordeman Makes Music Inspired by The Story
By Hannah Goodwyn
CBN.com Senior Producer
Known for her songwriting as much as her sweet voice, CCM’s Dove Award-winning darling Nichole Nordeman has been busy putting her talents to use on a new multi-artist project, Music Inspired by The Story. Using the Scripture-based “experience” from authors/pastors Max Lucado and Randy Frazee as a guide, Nordeman penned songs expressing the first-person responses men and women of the Bible must have had as they walked with God.
Along with composer Bernie Herms, Nordeman puts a fresh perspective on these Bible stories through 18 tracks sung by some of the most notable names in Christian music, including Matthew West, Casting Crowns’ Mark Hall, Brandon Heath, MercyMe’s Bart Millard Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, Third Day’s Mac Powel, Natalie Grant, Michael W. Smith, Darlene Zschech, and more.
Recently, Nordeman spoke with CBNmusic.com about writing these Scripture-based songs and how she hopes Music Inspired by The Story will reignite a passion for God’s Word.
What does it mean to you to be involved in a project like this one?
Nordeman: As a writer, it was just an amazing chance to get into the heart of these Bible characters in a deeper way than I ever have. Having grown up in the church and grown up in Christian school, I considered myself to be pretty familiar with these Bible stories and these characters that we covered. I thought I had the Cliff Notes down, the main take-away points.
As I began to dig deeper into their lives and into Scripture, I was really surprised by the things that surfaced for me, the new ways of looking at their stories or a certain part of their humanity. So that, on a purely selfish level, that was just an awesome opportunity as a believer – to get to know these icons of Scripture in a way that had more meaning and depth and felt more relatable to my own life.
What was the easiest song to write?
Nordeman: I don't know if I would use the word “easy,” but I had a lot of fun writing the Esther song ["Born for This"] for Mandisa. We had just come off a time when we had been tackling some pretty heavy songs, Job and the thief on the cross, and just really use these angst-ridden moments in Scripture, and heavy lyrically. It was really a breath of fresh air to get to write the story of Esther and her courage, her bravery, and her just boldness, and the girl power song that lends itself to that. So that was probably an easier lyric. It wasn't super easy, but it had a lighter feel to it.
Which was the most difficult to write?
Nordeman: That one was the song that we wrote for Natalie Grant ["Alive"]. Mary Magdalene is the character and the song was about the resurrection, her coming and discovering the tomb for the first time empty. It was hard for a couple reasons: first, because I unintentionally wrote it last. I didn't have any intention of writing that as the very last lyric. That's just how it worked out.
I was a little bit frustrated with myself that I had saved the most important story of our faith for the time when I was the most exhausted creatively. Also as a lyricist, I was just trying too hard. I was trying to put Mary Magdalene at the tomb and have her say something really insightful or profound or something very introspective, and I wrote maybe six, seven entire songs, lyrics, and kept handing them into Bernie Herms and Brown Bannister [producers on the project].
They were so gentle, but just continued to hand them back to me, and say, “This is a beautiful song, but it's not the moment we're looking for. We just need this moment where she's not thinking too hard about it. She's just breathless, and in awe, and can hardly stand on her feet because she is face to face with her risen Lord. Once I caught that vision, the song really wrote itself. But it was a beating.
You finished it in an unconventional place, correct?
Nordeman: I did. We had been writing and rewriting, writing and rewriting, and I had been back to the drawing board so many times, and the lyric was way overdue. There were string sessions that were waiting on me, and Bernie was trying not to sound panicked, but I'm sure he was. Natalie hadn't cut her vocal yet. Everybody was waiting on me to turn in the right lyric. I wanted to be done before our family went to Disney World for spring break, but I still hadn’t finished the bridge.
So I ended up putting my two-year-old down for a nap in the hotel room, and it was totally dark in there. The only light that I had was in the bathroom. I ended up sitting on the bathroom floor and writing the bridge. Then my husband came back and we switched nap duty. He stayed in the room and I went outside and sat on a lawn chair and called Bernie and tried to finish it out. Those were the unconventional moments of writing that no one ever really knows about.
Not only are you the primary lyricist for Music Inspired by The Story, but you also sing with Amy Grant on one of the tracks. Tell me about that experience.
Nordeman: I don't know how to talk about it without sounding cliché. It was a total dream come true; it really was. Like every other female artist I know, she was so instrumental in shaping my love for music, my love as a writer and my craft. I have just always, always, always admired and been a humongous fan of hers.
A lot of times people don't realize that when you record a duet, very rarely are both artists in the studio at the same time. More often than not, one comes in and does her part, and then the other person comes in and does their part two days later, and then they mix it all together. But we had the wonderful privilege of doing that together. So I got to really be in the studio with her and sing with her; and she's the most lovely person inside and out. She's so full of grace and humility. It was a moment for me for sure.
The visual component is seen on the CD’s companion DVD. Tell me a little bit about that side of the project.
Nordeman: They are just these epic, cinematic videos that were shot all over the world, some of them black-and-white, old footage that was shot by the BBC years and years ago that never really saw the light of day. We've gotten permission to go back in and resurrect that footage for these songs. These videos, they're just really artful, incredibly emotional, visual portrayals of these songs. It’s very hard for me to keep it together when I'm watching a video with the character in front of me singing or living with my lyrics on the screen. It's so powerful and will add a hugely emotional element to the live tour.
Is there one song, one video that just gets you every time?
Nordeman: It's probably the song that Francesca Battistelli sings as the mother of Jesus, as Mary. The song is called “Be Born in Me”. I can never make it through without crying just because her delivery of it is just so gorgeous, and so vulnerable, and honest. And the video just underscores that. It makes me feel that very same way, utterly transports me to what it must have been like to be this terrified teenager facing such immense honor, incredible fear and sacrifice. That's probably my favorite video so far and my favorite song so far.
Has there been any talk about turning this into a stage musical?
Nordeman: No one has talked about that officially. Bernie and I joked about it several times during the process. As we would approach a certain song, a certain way, I’d say, “Man, that is such a live stage-sounding production.” So, I don't know. I don't think anyone has an agenda for that. But, gosh, that would be amazing if it ever morphed into that.
What's your sincerest hope for the project?
Nordeman: As I mentioned earlier, that people would resonate with these characters on a more human level, that we would maybe for a second not see them as these Bible heroes that were unattainable and did these incredible things for God that we could never come close to doing. My hope would be that in looking at the characters and in the stories more closely that we would see the possibilities in our own life, that we would see the flaws and the failures of Moses, and David, and Paul, and all these icons, and then look at our own lives and say, “Man, if that guy can do what he did for God's Kingdom, why in the world would I not make myself available for that greatness as well?” So that would be my first hope, that we would see them with more grace, and humanity.
Secondly, I think any time that we can encourage each other back to the pages of Scripture, that's a great thing. I hope that people read their Bibles in a fresh way and feel excited about looking at these stories again and not bored, for those of us who have grown up in the church. I think there's a big yawn sometimes when we hear the same old sermons, same old stories, same old bullet points. We tend to view Scripture as this static thing, and not as a living, breathing thing that has a lot to teach us when we're ready to be taught. Pointing people back to God's Word is a pretty big hope and I include myself in that.
Hannah Goodwyn serves as the Family and Entertainment producer for CBN.com. For more articles, visit Hannah's bio page.
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