Jason Gray: An Escape from GMA

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From the Proprietor:

I just stumbled on this post from Jason Gray’s website. In it he talks a little about Gospel Music Association week (GMA), a yearly convention in Nashville that has plenty to gripe about and plenty to be glad for too.

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Tuesday of GMA was a great day.  It was filled with more good conversations and interviews, but with some great little detours, the best of which was mid-day when Andrew Peterson asked if I was done with my interviews, and if so if I’d be interested in sneaking out for a quick visit to the Frist, Nashville’s prestigious art museum.  We both had to be back by 5
for a Centricity showcase we were both slated to play for, but with an hour and half to kill, we went on a quick little field trip

The Frist is only a few blocks away from the Renaissance hotel where GMA week is held.  A brisk walk and 10 minutes later we stepped out of Nashville and into another world.  One of the exhibits was from the Cleveland museum of art featuring relics from the Byzantine era and Christian art from the Antique Period, ca. 200 – 400.  We were looking at works of art and utility from nearly 2000 years ago – sculptures, vessels made for carrying water, coins and artifacts of the church, mosaics, and books made before the printing press, with elegant lettering and illustrations individually painted by hand with gold and tempura paints.

It was breathtaking, to put it mildly.  The books especially moved me – the great care and detail that went into every page, to make it beautiful and singular.  The advent of the printing press with all its virtues has had at least one detrimental effect: it has made books common.

But every piece in the exhibit that we looked at spoke of a time when artisanship and artistry were more than commodities and valued over pragmatic usefulness.  Care was taken to make things beautiful and lasting.  It was a stark contrast to the world I had just left, which can often feel transitory, ethereal and fleeting, where your worth is determined by how hot your song is on the charts or if you’re wearing the right kind of scarf (GMA 2009 was the year of the fedora and the scarf – I’m not knocking it, just making an observation).  Separated by only a few blocks, the contrast between the two worlds was startling.  I thought of how I wished it could be mandatory for everyone at GMA week to come and take a little walk through this historical exhibit, looking at art that has stood the test of time and let it call to something timeless in us.

At some point, it seems that one of the engines that started driving Christian music was justifying its existence as music for youth groups, an alternative to secular music with all it’s sex, drugs, and celebration of every kind of hedonism.  And while I get why it’s good and useful for us to provide young people with positive alternatives, it does seem like there’s room to aim a little higher than only making music that imitates secular music but inserts wholesome lyrics. Jesus deserves our best, and I wish our market could be more supportive of great art made to the glory of God and is more about worship than it is about what is useful or what is marketable.  But greatness – like truth, is hard to market and often, Christian music – in order to survive – has been reduced to imitating the latest trends in its bid to be a safe alternative.

Because of this, sometimes Christian music can have a flavor of the day quality to it.  Pop music is notorious for how disposable it is, but Christian pop music is even worse and hasn’t produced much in the way of great and enduring artists like Sting, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Billy Joel, Etc.  Christian Music’s brightest lights burn out quickly and there are very few cases of longevity in an environment that caters to youthful consumerism.  I think you can feel this especially at GMA week where everyone’s radar’s are trying to pick up on who’s going to be the new hot thing this year.

To step out of this environment into the Byzantine world and experience Christian works of art that 2000 years after their creation still take your breath away and speak of the Glory and Mystery of God was quite inspiring – and convicting.  It also provided a blessed perspective.

Andrew and I lingered a little too long and had to huff it back to the Centricity suite to get there in time for the showcase we were playing for.  As media and radio people gathered, I was first in the line up.  Again, it was literally unplugged and I belted out an acoustic version of “More Like Falling In Love” followed by the confessional and humorous (I hope!)“That’s How I Ended Up Here” (a portion of which ended up on the Acoustic Storytime record, but will appear in it’s entirety on the new record.).  Though the latter goes for a few laughs, it’s really a song about self-imposed isolation as we find fault in everyone we meet as a way of keeping everyone at a safe distance:

“Building a wall so no one can bother me
Living my life in isolation
Opening up to only those close to me
Nobody’s close to me, what have I done

You see I really want to be known
But I’m not quite as strong as the fear
That you won’t understand
The fool that I am
And that’s how I ended up here…”

I talked briefly about my own isolation and the ways I’ve effectively shut people out of my life, and it became more of an honest moment than I intended.  Next in the line up was High Valley, followed by Matt Papa, Lanae Hale, and then Andrew Peterson.  Andrew shared the story of hearing his father share the gospel for years as the pastor of his church before, as a 12 year old, he unexpectedly walked down the aisle and said the prayer.  He then talked about the intervening years of rebellion and what brought him back.  A quick summary here won’t do it justice, but trust me when I say that it was beautiful and that there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as he sang “The Good Confession.”

Poor Jason Germain of Downhere was up next and, undone by Peterson’s song, introduced their first song through tears.  Jason shared his own moving story of all the years and steps in the journey that had brought them to this place, before singing “Here I Am”, just he and Marc Martel on acoustic guitars.  His tears were a moving benediction as they closed the evening.

For all the negative things I have said about the state of popular Christian music, I can’t say enough how proud I am of my Centrictiy family and the artists I get to work with.  It was a short and sweet set of music with great heart and depth, and I felt affirmed – even after being reprimanded by the beautiful art I’d taken in earlier at the Frist.

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


5 Comments

  1. ginger

    well said, jason. i would love to have been the proverbial fly on the wall at that session. and the words to the song above…well, they are moving, to say the least. thank you for sharing your talent once again.

  2. Rob Dunbar

    Wow. . . Wish I’d been there. Thanks for sharing the moments with us. Even second-hand, they’re refreshing.

  3. Paulh

    Beautiful Jason.
    As an outsider; just a layman-music-lover, I have to say you have hit the Christian Music industry nail on the head. I am thankful that yourself, Andrew, Jill & Andy and so many others here (and close by) care about the music they make more than billboard chart rankings. The richness of some artists’ music that I am discovering through the RR and SPA is like a breathe of fresh air amid the smog of the corporate pop factory.
    Thank you for caring to go deeper. To stand the test of time.

  4. Brad Richardson

    Thanks Jason. As we’ve been navigating the waters of what’s become known as Contemporary Christian Music I’ve been anguished over the state of things. Music belongs to God and I’ve not seen any excuse for us as Christian Artists to not be at the forefront of creativity, producing real and enduring work. We had AP out to our church months back and it was a blessing (and I mean a real spiritual blessing) to see him minister, to see his art in action. I still wonder that so many can see the problem with CCM, yet as an industry we seem so powerless to change.

  5. amy

    the frist sounds wonderful. and the contrast with the music industry was very interesting. it sounds like that night ended meaningfully and beautifully. thanks for sharing!

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