Thursday, December 13, 2007


My early years of performing included some affirmation from music critics, people in the business, and even Larry Norman, a seminal Christian rocker who pioneered the field of Christian rock recording and performing.

Larry had done a show at Geneva College for which I opened, and he tried to sign me to a 5-year deal that night. And I had a brief relationship with Bob McKenzie, a gospel music power broker in Nashville, who helped me sign my songs away to his publishing company, and then presided over the 3-hour recording session of my second album, "James Ward: Himself." More about Bob later.

Other positive feedback came from Hans Rookmaaker, the Dutch art critic. Rookmaaker had been a part of the Schaeffer Conferences of the early 70s at Covenant College, and later wrote me a note. He refers to the McKenzie recording.

"Dear friends,

Just a note to say thank you for the fine record. I already 'had' it, i.e. on tape, after a copy of Graham Birthwistle. In fact, I don't have mine anymore, as my daughter (who studies musicology) has taken it with her. Anyhow, it is listened to, we think particularly fine the piano.

You got to make songs (as Schubert etc. did) on good texts--poems by classics like Cowper, Coleridge, Christian poets today, etc. That would be a new venture. Doesn't matter...if the critic writes that influences of Afro-American music are discernable.
I also bought book when at Philly. Sorry we did not meet at that conference.
Thank you again,
in the Lord

H Rookmaaker

This is profoundly meaningful to me. Dr. Rookmaaker wrote several books on the subject of art and Christianity, and one of them was entitled Art Needs no Justification. This book gave me courage to be a self-employed musician in 1973 when we were just getting started. The book described a society where artists and musicians would be doing their craft without pretense, and yet also making a living. It gave me a vision for my life as a musician, and it gave me a point of reference for the years of diverse experiences to come. Rookmaaker was a major source of affirmation for me, and he was an art critic!

During the years 1975-1978, I discovered that other musicians valued my opinion and respected what I had done. I joined a band which moved to the Pittsburgh area and we rehearsed for originals and cover tunes for concerts and dances. This was my first encounter with fellow musicians of my skill level as we worked on and performed pop music.

Although the drummer was stylistically at variance with the kind of songs I did, he challenged me to grow in my keyboard skills and gave me jazz books and albums to study. One time we were in Boston for a gig, and my bandmates urged me to take a lesson with a bop pianist there. It cost me $50 hard earned dollars, but it gave me a regimen for the next 15 years of performing and striving to improve. It included rootless voicings in 2 positions for all keys, based on the standard "Autumn Leaves."

One of the other musicians was quite enamoured of my talent, raw or otherwise. He had originally joined the band because I was going to lead it and he and his wife were classically educated music educators.

It was one thing to have members of a concert audience affirm me, but this was a musician with experience playing and teaching. He made expansive pronouncements about my ability to communicate and especially my lyric writing.

I was almost embarrassed by his compliments, partly because I perceived him as needing my chops for his own livelihood, and therefore feared that he was flattering me. I later realized that he and his wife were sincerely responding to the spiritual and aesthetic content of my early songs, and out of their insight they were desiring to be a part of this experiment.
I will always treasure the Rookmaaker letter, and I will always value the encouragement of these my musical colleagues when I was 26. I was getting more than my share of positive feedback from critics, industry people, and fellow musicians. I was getting a lot of approval, but I was doing what I thought I should be doing.

1 comment:

bmjohnston23 said...

I have been searching and searching for the lyrics to your song Morning Sun. Finally I find them, and you. I learned this song at a religious retreat in Pittsburgh back in 1979 or 1980. I cannot get the tune out of my head, it's so uplifting! I only remembered the 1st verse, and the chorus. I hope to teach it to my pre-school class, now that I have found the lyrics. Thank you for a beautiful song!

About Me

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I am a person who is perceived as youthful, although I am in my late 50s. I play and sing music, and it tends to keep me in the culture, like a lot of young people do. I am a "high I" on the DISC Behavioral Test, which means I'm optimistic, enthusiastic, a team player, and I motivate others toward goals. I don't like exercise, but I have a high metabolism, so I don't tend to be overweight at this time in my life! I have recently been doing moderate exercise and physical therapy for a shoulder condition.