Tony Cummings reports on Minnesota-based singer/songwriter SARA GROVES, about her 'O Holy Night' album and her plans for the future
Sara Groves has had a steady but true ascendancy to the CCM bigtime. Her wistful music and thought-provoking lyrics have found a broad base of album purchasers. Her latest album, though, is a Christmas project. She spoke to website godtube about 'O Holy Night': "We've been in music for 10 years now and I wanted to do it well, not just a side project. I've been collecting songs over the years. I've had my list of favourite songs. It was really joyful to make it. I worked with my road band which I've never recorded with before and we have years of friendship. I feel like our friendship came out on the album so to me it's a very precious album. I told Ben Shive my producer I wanted it to be the embodiment of peace because I love peaceful Christmas albums. There's a lot of Advent on this album, so a lot about family being together. And then one song called 'Toy Packaging' which is about my pet peeve, opening toy packaging on Christmas morning."
As well as "Toy Packaging", there are three other original songs, "It's True", "Peace, Peace" and "To Be With You" on 'O Holy Night'. Groves, who lives with her husband and three children in Minnesota, spoke to Christianity Today about the song "It's True": "It is about having a vast imagination as a child. The only story that's bigger than my ability to grasp is the story of the Christ child, Emmanuel, God with us-and it's a true story! I wanted this song to capture the feel of childhood fairy tales."
Another standout is "To Be With You". Said Sara, "Really, 'To Be With You' is a snapshot of my family at Christmas. To anyone else, I think these images will seem simple, but to our family they are loaded with meaning. My Granny is always with the baby-of-the-year, humming. My Grandad always pulls out toys from his childhood, including a toy train that runs on real steam. And my mother is always baking and making the most amazing food. We always sing the Doxology before dinner, some years with tears and other years with great joy."
So how did Sara go about choosing the other songs and carols? "I was overwhelmed with my choices! There are so many great songs, but I've been making a little list over the years, so that made my work easy when it came down to finalising. I had to do 'Silent Night' and 'O Holy Night' and 'Cradle In Bethlehem'. By the time I was done making my best-of list, there wasn't much room left."
One of the outstanding carols on the set is Sara's beautiful interpretation of "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear". The song is dedicated to Groves' husband's cousin, who came to visit the couple while he was dying of a brain tumour. She played the song for him weeks before he died and said the lyrics took on new meaning as she sang them in front of a dying man - all the talk of weariness but with the hope of peace. The singer told Christian Retailing, "That moment was very precious to us," she said. "He died two weeks after that moment. . .it's hard to put into words what that song means to [our family]."
Another moving memory for Sara was when she sang "O Holy Night" three years ago at an International Justice Mission event. A young girl was there who had recently been freed from child slavery and sex trafficking. As Groves sang, words like "chains shall he break" and "the soul felt its worth" took on new meaning. Even with the album's serious moments, Groves said it was a joy to make and that it almost felt like "a vacation album." She said, "It was a very life-giving experience for me to make this album, and creatively it was a pure joy from the first note to the last edit."
Sara is currently touring the US on the Love Came Down Tour with Jars Of Clay, Leeland and Sixpence None The Richer but she has already started writing for her next "regular" album. "I am keeping myself wide open. I just had a conversation with our label president that helped me get some clarity on this. The last two albums have been very thematic. On 'Add To The Beauty' I was looking at the Kingdom of God and what that means to us now, while on 'Tell Me What You Know' I took that conversation to a more practical level in terms of social justice and God's heart for people. I feel like it is time for me to document my life as a 36-year-old woman. A lot has happened since 'Conversations', so I think it is time to take inventory and write in a more personal way about my life as far as getting older, raising kids and stuff like that."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.