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Artist Interview

Leigh Nash's Hymns and Sacred Songs

By Melissa Riddle Chalos
Guest Writer
It almost goes without saying. Of course, Leigh Nash grew up singing in church, but it wasn’t like you might think. She wasn’t the golden haired angel singing the solo in the Christmas pageant or the powerhouse vocalist in the junior high choir. She was the girl in the pew on Wednesday nights, sitting between her Sunday school teaching mother and her church librarian grandmother, listening to her grandmother’s sweet voice, just beginning to discover her own.

“I remember wishing that I could hear myself,” Leigh says. “I thought, ‘These people need to stop singing so maybe God could hear me a little better.’ Even as shy as I was, I had the desire to be heard.”

For Leigh, the church was a calm, safe nest in a not-so-calm childhood, a place she witnessed real passion for God, where she encountered the music that first calmed and lifted her spirits.

Set for a November 15th release on Kingsway Music, Hymns & Sacred Songs—the first of three worship projects in the works—marks Leigh Nash’s rediscovery of the sacred songs that stirred her imagination, long before her career ever took a turn toward stardom.

Who knew that a shy young girl in New Braunfels, Texas, would grow up to become the unforgettable, Dove Award-winning, Grammy-nominated voice that breathed life into such massive pop hits as “Kiss Me,” “There She Goes”, and “Breathe Your Name.” As lead vocalist for Sixpence None the Richer, a group she started with friend Matt Slocum in high school, Leigh’s voice has taken her to stages all over the world. When the band went on hiatus in 2004, Leigh released her first solo records, Blue on Blue, and a Christmas album, Wishing For This, both in 2006. She collaborated with ambient dance band, Delerium, on Fauxliage in 2007. In 2008, Nash and Slocum reunited as Sixpence None the Richer to record Dawn of Grace, and are set to release Lost in Transition in early 2012. Since then, Leigh has contributed to projects by Amy Grant, Jars of Clay, Matthew West, and others.

Her professional successes notwithstanding, life has offered up its share of personal challenges in recent years: the joyful arrival of her son, Henry, a painful divorce, and the death of her father. And in the midst of all of it, Leigh has discovered the reality of God’s grace and comfort firsthand.

“God has blessed us all so much, and we have shown each other so much grace because we have been shown so much grace,” Leigh explains. “Before all this, I always felt a little self-conscious singing in church, a little awkward trying to sing the melodies. I think a big part of me didn’t feel worthy to be a conduit for such sacred hymns and songs, but now, because of what I have been through, I see it differently. To discover that songs written hundreds of years ago are still so inspiring and relevant to my life, that grace is most real when you need it most, I honestly felt every word on this record.”

Produced by John Hartley (Rebecca St. James, Matt Redman), Hymns & Sacred Songs features 12 stunning arrangements of beloved, ancient classics of the faith, including “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us (Blessed Jesus) ”, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, “Blessed Redeemer”, and “Be Still My Soul”, as well as modern classics “Power of the Cross” and “Song of Moses”.

Collaborating with veteran composer/arranger Chris Eaton (best known for penning “Breath of Heaven”), Leigh wrote new melodies for two hymns on the project, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”, which dates back to 1758, and Fanny Crosby’s lesser-known “Oh Heart Bereaved and Lonely”. 

O watch and wait with patience and question all you will
His arms of love and mercy are round about thee still

“What a great thing this is to be able to infuse those old beautiful sacred words with newness, with new melodies,” Leigh says. “The original melodies were very simple but not always easy to sing. For me, these melodies make the words jump up off the page, which makes the words even more meaningful and clear.”

Leigh also penned simple, acoustic arrangements for “Come Ye Thankful People Come”, and “Out of My Bondage”, which date back to 1844 and 1887 respectively, both perfect for her lilting voice.

Out of the depths of ruin untold / Into the peace of thy sheltering fold
Ever thy glorious face to behold / Jesus I come to thee

“[‘Out of My Bondage’] may well be my favorite on the record,” Leigh says. “The words are just so beautiful. It is a song of encouragement, with almost a slow dirge-like movement, but the words are meant for the sad and lonely, saying, ‘Don’t be discouraged; let God hold you through this.’ We all need to hear that at some point in our lives.”

Recording Hymns & Sacred Songs, Leigh says, was one of the most natural processes she’s experienced in her career.

“I wasn’t sure I could do these songs justice, but the players were simply amazing,” she says. “They really took their time to build their tracks, and it really felt organic and very much felt like second skin. And it was such a shock to, for the first time in my life, find myself elevated, off my feet, dancing, and just moved by the music. That had never happened before.”

The result is a collection of classics that modern music lovers will embrace wholeheartedly—those who relish modern worship, as well as those who feel disconnected from it. Young and old alike will be drawn in by Leigh’s joyful interpretation of these sacred songs and be lifted by their hopeful message.

“This record is such a calming, encouraging one, I have literally worn it out already,” says Leigh, “and not to hear myself, but because the message here just means so much to me.

Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine

“I’ve struggled with anxiety, at times more than others,” Leigh adds, “but this whole record is like my Mom, very comforting and calming. My fans have always said that my voice lifts them up and calms them down when they need it, and that has meant more to me than I could ever say. So many people are discouraged right now. My hope is that these sweet melodies will inspire people to take heart.”

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