The Middle of God's Will By inSpire with Laura Whidden

Photo: Laura Whidden
We asked Laura Whidden about her songwriting efforts and the impact that music has made on her life.

inSpire - Laura, tell us a little about your past and how you became so passionate about being a singer/songwriter?

Whidden - My daddy was a Pastor, and my momma was a music teacher, so mom taught my brothers and I how to sing, and dad provided the venues (church, camp-meetings, hospital rooms of the sick in our congregations.) I loved singing from the very beginning. When I was 3 years old, my brothers and I sang for 5,000 people at New York Camp Meeting...I had a black eye, and I loved every minute.

I started writing songs when I was 12, and I was exhilarated by the act of creating poetry and melody...and suddenly the song is like a living thing, with the power to move and convict and inspire...amazing.

The whole act of putting on a concert is such a magical, powerful experience. When I'm onstage I feel like I'm at the very center of God's will. I heard a speaker liken this to being at the middle of the "wheel within the wheel" from the prophet's vision. I feel like the whole universe is spinning around me, and I'm in this sphere of utter, profound, alive energy.

I love that electricity that comes from telling my story to an audience and feeling them relate and respond. I tend to be very vulnerable and painfully honest about my life in my songs, so afterwards people want to share their stories with me. This connection is nothing short of divine, like God is drawing me into the lives of the people who need me, and the people who I need to know. There is something about being able to connect with so many people all in one moment...it feels like some sort of sci-fi mind meld...only no fear, only wonder is evoked.

inSpire - When you write a song do you typically write the lyrics first, then the music, or is it the other way around?

Whidden - I usually get a lyrical idea before a musical melody. I would definitely say that lyrics are my stronger medium. So, usually I'll hear a phrase or a story or a text that speaks to me, then I'll mull it over and dream about it in quiet moments. Next I will sit down at the piano and doodle. Then the lyrics and melody kinda come together. I love to co-write with another musician or poet, that really helps ideas flow and solidify. When I think about my all-time favorite songs, they are all lyrically seared into my brain, a fantastic melody is key to greatness, but when I take music in, the melody comes at me almost as an afterthought. Probably my favorite song of all time would be Rich Mullins, "The Color Green" And I quote:

"The wren's have returned and their nesting
In the hollow of that Oak
Where its heart once had been
And it lifts up its arms in blessing
For being born again
The streams are all swollen with winter
Winter unfrozen
And free to run away now

And I'm amazed when I remember
Who it was that built this house
And with the Rocks I cry out"

MMMMMmmmmm those words thrill me to my very core. And yet, the rhythm and soaring melody are so strong and celebratory they carry me away. So basically, I appreciate the power of melody, but I'm quickest to notice the depth of a lyric. So lyrics are usually my starting point.

inSpire - Do you have anything you would like to say to other Adventist artists who may be trying to start their own music ministry?

Whidden - I want to encourage Adventist artists not to give up. Our heritage is rich with lots of hymns and music lessons and private school choirs, yet people are quick to tell us to "get a real job" as a doctor or teacher or foreign missionary. I've finally come to the place where I call music my "REAL JOB." Yes, I make all of my cds with my own limited income and sell them out of cardboard boxes that I keep in my trunk, but the truth is that schools, churches, universities, and charities continue to book me and pay me and pray for me and encourage me, and at the end of the day, I'm able to contribute in a significant way to our household income.

Do I get worried or nervous or self-conscious sometimes? Absolutely. Do I sometimes question my calling to music ministry? Yes. But every time that I've given God permission to let this dream die, He seems to resurrect it stronger than before and open new doors. I can now say that my desire to sing and perform and be on stage is a beautiful gift from God, not just something I made up so I could try and get famous.

If you are worried as an artist that this is your dream, and not God's, give him permission to open and close doors, then move forward until you hear slamming or opening. God will be glad to make his will clear to you.

Back in 1999 I had recorded, mixed and designed my very first album, but I was too scared to actually order the burned, completed discs. The smallest amout of cds I could order would be 500, and I was terrified that my mom would buy one and my grandma would buy another and that for the rest of my life I would be schlepping 498 cds from basement to basement every time we moved. So the project just sat while I toured the US with a group called Youthnet eXtreme. We were at a small, conservative campmeeting in the midwest where our group had been booked to lead in the "Youth" meetings. All through our first program I noticed an unhappy-looking, balding man. He seemed to be frowning through our entire program, his large forearms crossed over his chest in grumpy irritation. After the meeting he asked to talk to me, and I tried to avoid him because I knew he would criticize our "loud, upbeat music" or our lively drama. He finally cornered me and demanded to know how many people had heard me sing. "Um, I don't know, maybe a thousand...maybe a few thousand?" I sputtered.

"Do you have a cd recorded?" He asked in his gruff way?

"No sir," I responded, thinking he was perhaps planning a disc-burning party.

He pointed his thick finger at my nose and said, "Well, you SHOULD have a cd. Do you know how many people could be touched by your music? You have amazing talent, and more people need to hear it, do you understand me???" He was almost yelling. Imagine his surprise when I burst into tears. I realized in that moment that my whole life I had questioned whether my church really wanted or needed me. When in fact, my church and my community need to hear the message God has asked me to share. Don't be afraid to be an artist. When God calls, no one can stop his plans. It's so beautiful to be a musical servant.

inSpire - That's a beautiful story. Truly God is leading you to share the songs he has placed in your heart. I firmly believe that the best songs and hymns are yet to be written. Thank you for speaking from your heart, and thank you for the effort and energy you put into your music.

Visit Laura Whidden online

This interview was conducted by Rich DuBose, Director of Pacific Union Conference Church Support Services and the inSpire project. All rights reserved © 2012 VisitInSpire.org. Click here for content usage information.