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Love Them With Your Music

Veteran singer-songwriter Carolyn Arends offers advice to Music students

by Bryce Perry, SAMC Media + Communication student

It was a grey and gloomy, goose-infested February 8th at TWU. But the atmosphere inside Instrumental Music Hall was bright and cheerful. As the SAMC event was ready to begin, Music majors filed into the hall for an entertaining and enlightening evening.  They welcomed Carolyn Arends, award-winning musician and TWU alumna, who was to perform a few songs and tell her story as a musician and songwriter.

Equipped with an acoustic guitar, Arends started by going back sixteen years to perform the uplifting single “Seize the Day” from her first album I Can Hear You.

Carolyn Arends performs on her guitar for SAMC studentsLater, the veteran songwriter, who has released more than ten albums, traded the guitar for a piano to perform “Reaching.” While the brave audience staved off a waterfall of tears, this beautifully soulful piece stirred memories of growing up and closer with God.

The final song, “Who You Are,” brought audience members closer together while showcasing their own vocal talents.  For this engaging singalong, students were instructed to turn to a fellow singer and harmoniously remind each other: “This is who you are.” 

Yet, while these songs were audible treats for all, Arends offered more to SAMC's aspiring musicians and songwriters. In between songs, the mother of two spoke of her musical journey and her time at TWU. It was surprising to hear that Arends, who appeared very comfortable and at ease, once struggled greatly with performing.

“I lived my whole life in self-consciousness because I was shy,” she said. “Self-consciousness was the enemy of love for me as a musician.”

One day she prayed for God to let performing be about more than how well she sings or plays. “It’s all about that connection,” she said. “The more personal something is, the more universal it is…[and] from that day on I loved to play music for people.”

While stage fright is a common enemy of all performers, it’s not just about how talented you are. “Don’t impress them with your music,” Arends said. “Love them with your music. Every time you find yourself playing music for people, you are called to be there.”

Students listened sincerely to these words of wisdom, but did not stay silent for long as the floor opened for questions—many about the process of songwriting.

When asked if she preferred writing alone or with others, Arends said, “At heart I am kind of a lone wolf. Most of my co-writing is in pairs and has been very productive, but more than two is pretty tricky unless you get a special chemistry.”

These days, writing has been challenging. “Life is so different now because I have children,” she said. “I try to be doing things all the time that feed the muse. Usually there has to be a big deadline for me to prioritize things and sometimes it just shows up out of the blue.”

For those times when inspiration strikes at random, Arends suggests writers need to be ready with their “radar.” She admits she would tune out when a pastor would say a great line. “I wrote a lot of songs in church,” she laughed. But what makes a great line? “You need some lyrical phrase that will pull people in that kind of sums up that song’s vision and then everything else in the song should be [drawn] to that lyrical hook.”

With this last piece of sage advice, the student musicians left the hall wiser and better prepared for career success. But some of Arends’ words seem to echo beyond the realm of music.

In our lives, we hope to experience love—whether it be from a spouse, parent, friend, or even stranger. When we are self-conscious, we can be blocked from showing love to others. Carolyn Arends believes our focus should not be on how others perceive us, but on how we can love others: “Don’t impress them,” she said. “Bless them.”

Author: Bryce Perry, SAMC Media + Communication student

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