Morning Breaks for Steven Curtis Chapman and Family
As Steven Curtis Chapman has explored the joys and challenges of faith and family over the last two decades, his fans have followed the milestones in his life through the songs he’s written.
His latest venture, re:creation, which released August 9 on Sparrow Records, has in some ways taken Chapman’s career full circle – yet the project feels like a new beginning.
The 14-song collection includes five new tunes, a stunning cover of the 1931 hymn that was a ’70s pop hit for Cat Stevens, “Morning Has Broken,” and eight of Chapman’s best-loved hits, artfully re-recorded to represent where he is in his journey today.
Referencing the tragic death of his five-year-old daughter Maria in 2008, Chapman tells gmc: “My music has always been intricately woven into my life and my family. In the last three years, music has been a way for me to wrestle with what’s going on in life.” Don't miss Chapman's new music video, "Do Everything," weekdays at 9 am et on gmc's Uplifting Pop.
In the wake of the tragedy, he and his wife, Mary Beth, have struggled with their own grief as they’ve comforted their other five children – Emily, Caleb, Will Franklin, Shaohannah and Stevey Joy.
New Life, New Beginnings
“As a family, we really felt like this year was the turning point for us,” Chapman says. “Mary Beth’s analogy [is that] she really felt like we’ve begun to take the first steps out of the dark forest that we’ve been in after losing our daughter. With that, there really has been a sense of recreating. We feel like we’re learning and living this new normal. A part of you is missing that you know isn’t going to come back until we see her again, but we’re beginning to learn to live with that and not feel like we’re leaving her behind. As we recreate, we’re celebrating her life and her memory. This is what we need to do because we have our five children here still with us and now our grandchild on the way.”
Yes, it’s hard to believe, but the perpetually boyish Chapman will become a grandfather in November when his eldest daughter Emily and her husband, Tanner, become parents. The couple is studying in Ireland and broke the news when they were home in Nashville for Easter.
“Emily really wanted Easter Sunday lunch at home with everybody there, so we were all gathered around the table and Emily had pulled Shaohannah aside,” Steven recalls as he relives the big announcement. “Emily said ‘I want you to help me make a very special announcement. I’m going to have a baby and I want you to tell everybody. Why don’t you ask to pray for the food before our Easter lunch and in your prayer you can say ‘and thank you for Emily’s baby,’ or something like that.
“So she is praying this prayer and she gets to the end and says, ‘Thank you. Emily just told me she’s pregnant. Amen!’ Mary Beth started to scream and my eyes just filled with tears. I just started crying. I didn’t expect that. It was just overwhelming. What a beautiful gift for our family, a new beginning just when we needed it. God gives us this to celebrate.”
The baby, a girl, is due November 14, and Steven and Mary Beth plan to go to Ireland for the arrival. In the meantime, they are having fun shopping for baby clothes, including a shirt that says “My Grandpa Rocks.”
“I had to get one of those shirts,” Chapman says laughing. “Mary Beth found one that says, ‘My Grandma Is A Living Legend.’ Every day something shows up at my house, a FedEx or UPS truck. Internet shopping is definitely going to break me because my wife keeps finding things and saying ‘Oh, baby has to have this!’ or ‘Oh, baby has to have that!’”
Recreating Songs Past
When not shopping for baby clothes, Chapman has also been busy with the launch of his 17th album.
“Three years ago when Maria Sue went to heaven, all of my songs took on a much, much deeper meaning,” Chapman says. “I found myself singing these songs with a different passion and purpose. I wanted to re-invent them in a way that really represents what they mean to me now.”
Fans will hear classic songs such as “The Great Adventure,” “More to This Life,” “Heaven in the Real World,” “Live Out Loud” and “Speechless.”
He admits it was challenging to reinvent his previous hits. “After I got into it, more than once I thought, ‘Okay, this seemed like a good idea at the time, but I’m not sure if it is now.’ I feel like it would be a lot safer to do an album full of new songs than to try to retell these stories when they’ve been told to people so many times. That is a dangerous thing. I don’t know if people are going to hear them and say ‘I want to hear the old version because that’s what I’m attached to.’”
Chapman worked with writer/producer Brent Milligan, who co-produced his 2009 album, Beauty Will Rise, which was written when he was wrestling with enormous grief.
“Beauty Will Rise will always be the hardest record emotionally that I ever had to write, even though it was so important for me,” he reveals. “But re:creation was probably the hardest record artistically. When I think of ‘Speechless’ now it’s that sense of knowing God’s love in the deepest, darkest places and not having the words to explain it. It feels different to me now.
“‘The Great Adventure’ was really a challenge because… in its original country rock version, in a way, it’s this moment in musical history, certainly for my career,” he says. “Now I was like, ‘How do I do it and capture this adventure that I still believe this journey has been?’ I didn’t know we were going to go through all this as a family and when I sing that line ‘We’ll go over mountains so high, we’ll go through valleys so low,’ there’s some new understanding to that. So how do I make it feel still very engaging and very epic, but feel like what the adventure feels to me now? I hopefully captured that. So to me, it feels like volume one and I could do this for years.”
re:creation also includes five new songs: “Do Everything,” (watch the brand-new music video in Uplifting Pop on gmc, weekdays at 9 am et) “Long Way Home,” “All That’s Left,” and “Meant to Be,” which was done for the Veggie Tales movie that came out last Christmas.
“All That’s Left” was inspired by Caleb Chapman’s remarks at Maria’s memorial service.
“He said something that was so simple, but yet it’s so profound: ‘I see it so clearly right now... All that matters is relationship. All the stuff that we worry about, all the stuff that we stress over, all that is forgotten in this moment. It’s all about the time that we spent together, the relationships that we have and the love that we have for each other and the love that God has for us. It all comes down to love’ and I just thought, ‘it’s so true.’”
Chapman wanted Caleb to sing on a track and felt “Morning Has Broken” was the perfect song. “It’s really a celebration of what I believe is a new morning for us as a family,” says Chapman.
Following in their father’s footsteps, Chapman’s sons have embarked on a new beginning of their own: touring together in a group they call Caleb.
“They aren’t going to be touring with me this fall, which I’m very sad about, but what that really means is they are at a place where they have to start doing their own things because they are getting those opportunities.”
Building a New Future
As the family moves forward in this new season, their living space is also changing. They will donate doors and windows from their home to Habitat for Humanity, and will build a new house on their property.
“It’s where Emily got married and it’s where we have so many memories of kids learning to ride bikes and Caleb crashing through a fence on a four-wheeler and all those things,” he says. “It’s where Maria played and we have so many wonderful memories. It’s where she skinny-dipped in the pool almost every day because she loved to be naked, but it’s also where a tragic accident happened. We really wrestled a lot with that. We don’t want to leave the property. We feel like we want to stay there. It feels like holy ground, but we need some things to change, to recreate where we live. We walk in those same doors and those places that have become really hard places for us. It took a while for the clouds to part enough for us to realize that it is not only okay for us to do some radical things to our home, but I think it’s probably about the most spiritual thing we could do.”
As Chapman and his family move on to the next chapter, he speaks of how thankful he is for the prayers, love and support they’ve been given the past few years, and he wants people to know he’s grateful, and that God is faithful and life goes on.
“We had to wait for that morning to break,” he says. “I feel like that’s what has begun to happen for us. I do have that sense that God is calling to us saying, ‘Come on! I want you to come out into the new day and I’m going to bring you into that. You’re not leaving Maria behind. You’re not leaving anything behind. She’s ahead of you.’
I think that’s been the hard thing for me, feeling afraid to go forward because I feel like if I move forward I’m leaving Maria, my memories of Maria, and God has really done some neat things to show that she’s in our future. She’s ahead of us and I’m starting to take those steps. It’s really been hard, but it’s really, really good.”
Copyright 2011, www.watchgmctv.com. For permission to repost or reprint, click here.
About the Writer
Deborah Evans Price has covered Christian/Gospel music for Billboard magazine since 1994. She also contributes regularly to CountryWeekly, CMA Close Up, Devo’Zine, Christian Single, HomeLife, BMI Music World, and other publications.
A Nashville resident since 1983, Deborah has held editorial posts at Radio & Records, Country News, American Songwriter and Billboard. Amy Grant, Trace Adkins, Brad Paisley, Charlie Daniels, 3 Doors Down, Third Day, Don Henley, Bon Jovi, Chris Rice, Sandra Bullock, Mercy Me, Alan Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Carrie Underwood and Steven Curtis Chapman are among her many interviews. Additionally, she's a sought-after music industry analyst who has been interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, TNN, The Today Show, and ABC PrimeTime Live, among other outlets.
Deborah is a member of the Gospel Music Association's board of directors and a graduate of Leadership Music. She resides south of Nashville with her husband, Gary, and son Trey.
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