Any songwriter worth his stripes would admit that a “Best Of” collection is a downright scary proposition. To go back in time, to revisit the emotional landscape laid bare in dozens and dozens of songs, to line all your musical children up, from the scrawniest to the strongest to the most entertaining, and single them out as better than the rest is a heart-wrenching, seemingly impossible task. And there’s a certain amount of disbelief that comes with the distance. Wow…was that really me at that moment? Yes. Yes, it was.
For Nichole Nordeman, after 10 years, 9 Dove Awards—including two for “Female Vocalist of the Year”—rifling through the collection of songs she’s written since even before her 1998 signing with Sparrow Records was akin to rediscovering the pages of an old journal, many years removed from today.
“Looking back,” Nichole says, “it seems there was this little window of time about ten years ago where suddenly the singer/songwriter just became incredibly accepted and welcomed with all of our struggles and questions. It was like a hand full of us—me, Chris Rice, Jennifer Knapp, Ginny Owens and several others—just showed up one day with music about our messy lives. And for whatever reason it seemed as though people were ready to embrace that kind of honesty. And so there was just a real opportunity, I think, to get to wrestle out loud with my salvation and with what God was teaching me in all of my questions and the angst that came with that.”
Stories, questions, mysteries, doubts, weakness, courage, sorrows, revelation and truth—haunting melodies, gorgeous hooks and Nichole Nordeman’s lilting voice—this is the substance, the introspection and intelligence more than a decade in the making. This is the Recollection of a young woman working out her own salvation with fear and trembling. And somehow along the way, we’ve all become braver, stronger, and freer for having heard them.
The first singles, from 1998’s album Wide Eyed, ‘To Know You’ and ‘Who You Are’ broke new, honest ground in Christian radio, striking a vulnerable chord with listeners nationwide. Both songs were written while Nichole Nordeman was working as a waitress in Los Angeles, long before a record deal was even a remote possibility in her mind.
“I was in a place where I was struggling to reconcile some things that I knew about the Lord with some things that were happening in my life. I was having some trouble lining them up,” Nichole recalls. “‘To Know You’ came out of this really personal moment in my little one bedroom apartment in LA, behind my cheap little keyboard. It was written, like so many of my songs, as kind of a journal entry. I felt like going back and looking at some of the people that walked with Christ—Thomas and Nicodemus. They were so open with their confessions about their doubt. Thomas said, ‘Prove it’ and Nicodemus said, ‘Explain it.’ And Jesus didn’t hesitate to. So as Christians, I feel as though we sometimes miss out on those raw and honest moments and ‘To Know You’ was really born out of that freedom I felt to really come to God and say, ‘I need some help with these issues in my life.’”
Like summer vacation photos and keepsake memorabilia, songs reveal growth and change in the life of the songwriter. Holy, written in 2002 and appearing on Nichole Nordeman’s third record, Woven and Spun, struck a chord with Christian music fans unlike any song she’d penned before. “Every artist has a song that they measure time by,” Nichole says. “For me ‘Holy’ was that song. Many were suddenly referring to my music as either ‘pre-Holy’ or ‘post-Holy.’ Certainly up until that song, most of my writing had been pretty introspective. … When it was time to write for the third project, I discovered this wonderful thing as a songwriter that I hadn’t experienced yet, and that was to write something that was more universal, that would speak to everyone’s experience. It came from a personal place, but I knew even in writing it that a lot of people would connect with it on a much broader scale and be able to sing that as an anthem along with me. So that was a really great moment to step back and see that this songwriting thing just doesn’t have to be about me it can have some arms out there.”
Another song with infinitely wide arms is ‘Legacy.’ “The very word ‘legacy’ felt so tombstone-ish and heavy—almost overwhelming,” Nichole Nordeman recalls. “It’s the word we use when people are gone. But I really wanted to shine the light on how people, who are alive and well are investing and making a difference in the here and now.”
The songs on Recollection: The Best Of Nichole Nordeman have found a special place in listeners’ hearts, but perhaps none has had more impact than ‘Every Season', a song written about a friend's wedding day that all too soon was followed by the groom’s memorial service.
“It was so overwhelming to have these two really heavy life moments, one overflowing with joy and one unbelievably wrought with grief and to somehow still be able to believe…to really believe that God is not God only in a summer season. That God is not God only when our life is good. And it was so much more of a challenge to say to God, ‘You are still here and You are still in charge and You are still full of goodness and mercy’ in the middle of winter. ‘Every Season’ was my way of saying ‘I’m not going to let Gods’ sovereignty be ruled by my emotions or circumstances or I’ll be all over the map for the rest of my life,” she explains.
For anyone who has ever struggled to openly share the hope of Jesus with a friend, Nichole Nordeman offers “What If,” from 2005’s Brave. “I wrote “What If” for a friend of mine who isn’t a Christian,” she explains. “I think it’s so important to have people in our lives who don’t speak our same faith language. And to dialogue about that without feeling the pressure to say the right thing, to point to the right book or to argue someone into the kingdom of God. At the end of the day, it has to be about love.”
But of all the incredible compositions she’s written over the years, if you ask Nichole Nordeman to name the one that means the most to her, the answer might be surprising. She’ll take you all the way back to the beginning to ‘River God,’ a profoundly simple yet poetic picture of our relationship with God.
“I love ‘River God’ because it was such a simple song that really spoke to where I was at the time. Maybe that’s because it was sort of my first baby from that first record, or because the song is about learning to be patient and content in the process of becoming who God wants me to be, but I always go back to that song and remind myself what it’s like to be that little stone in a river. One that only becomes smooth after years and years of water rushing over it. Only then are the rough edges of our lives smoothed out. I think ‘River God’ is probably the life song for me.”
Coming from a songwriter as prolific as Nichole Nordeman, that is certainly no small statement. She’s more than willing to revisit, to recall, the life experiences that have brought these songs to life, but the impact of those songs—of her gift and calling—she’ll entrust to her Creator.
“To really think about God placing a calling on your life in any form…not just music,” she says, “comes with a genuine sense of unworthiness. And I know how ‘aw shucks’ that must sound. But, it really is true. When you watch music change someone’s life, when a song or a even just a certain line in a song helps them turn a corner that they couldn’t have turned otherwise, those are goose bump moments, because it is just absolute evidence that I am such a small part of God making that happen…that I just happened to be at the right place with the right song and God chose me for whatever reason in that moment to say what He wanted to say to someone. I liken it to somebody dropping a stone in the middle of a lake. The stone itself sinks to the bottom. But the rings it makes get bigger and bigger and bigger until they hit the shore. And, it’s the person on that shore who says, ‘Oh…thank you!’ I feel very much like that stone a lot…the initial splash that creates the wave…and then watching God move them to the right shores.”
Listen to Nichole Nordeman Here
|Wide Eyed||1998||Star Song Communications|
|This Mystery||2000||Sparrow Records|
|Woven & Spun||2002||Sparrow Records|
|Live at the Door||2003||Sparrow Records|
|Double Take - Nichole Nordeman||2007||Sparrow Records|
|Recollection: The Best of Nichole Nordeman||2007||Sparrow Records|
|Greatest Hits||2008||Sparrow Records|
|The Ultimate Collection||2009||Sparrow Records|