On Friday October 27, 2006
at Gospel Music Association Canada’s Awards two of the most popular people
on the Canadian music scene took to the stage. Seated at the piano singing
backup vocals was the incredibly talented Greg Sczebel. The lady at the
front of the stage singing lead and strumming her acoustic guitar was Carolyn
Arends, perhaps the most popular singer of Christian lyrics that this country
has ever produced.
Recently Arends released
her ninth CD Pollyanna’s Attic and it may be her best album to date.
The alto voiced singer from Surrey British Columbia on Canada’s west coast
has magically blended up tempo tunes with bold lyrics. The woman who perennially
puts the cheery smile on the face of Christian music, this time out confronts
issues that the Christian community needs to question and come to grips
The recipient of two Dove
Awards, numerous Covenant Awards (Canada’s equivalent of the Dove) and
a fan favorite throughout the United States and Canada Arends still in
her thirties now has the stature to ask big questions and do it with a
smile and charm.
Roy Salmond, who may very
well be Canada’s best producer, said, “For me, Pollyanna’s Attic
represents a new level of creativity for Carolyn Arends. A little less
sunny in disposition, it’s punchy and still incisive lyrics are complimented
by her most stripped down and direct instrumentation to date. After all
her albums, that she can still beguile and entice with her song craft is
a testament to her enduring artistry.” Salmond has produced some of Arends’
past CDs and acted as Associate Producer and Engineer for Pollyanna’s
Attic. The album was produced at his Whitewater Productions studio.
“Just Pretending” the first
track on the CD thematically represents the direction Arends took with
this record. “I think the first song is first for a reason. That
song is having fun with the tremendous effort that some of us put into
appearing that we have it all together. Sometimes I just think about the
effort that goes into that and keeping things somewhat polished and together.
If we took that energy and put it into other things I think we would be
amazed at what we could accomplish. That song is a nudge and a wink about
‘let’s get real.’ I know when I take my mask off and I am most real is
the time when the most amazing things can happen in my life. God can do
the most with me (at those times),” said the songstress.
It is that approach to songwriting
and ministry that led Sara Groves to comment, “I can always trust that
Carolyn Arends is going to bring the full weight of her experiences to
her songs, and that makes me anticipate any of her new music.”
Arends explained how the
project began to take shape, “January first of this year I couldn’t sleep
for some reason and started thinking about all of the songs that had gotten
away from all my other projects. They were a little more issue oriented,
grappling with more shadowy things. Most of my stuff has a lot of light
sunshine in it. I thought, ‘What would happen if I put all of these songs
on one album and just kind of gave myself permission to explore this kind
Arends made the point that
the issue oriented songs are balanced with her optimistic perspective and
faith. “I am so absolutely drenched in the hope that we have because of
faith in Jesus. That was the starting point for this record,” she said.
You can hear the smile in
Arends’ words as she said, “This record is darker but hope certainly gets
the last word. The guys who wrote the songs (Arends wrote or co-wrote all
but two songs) are just gut level honest about the problem with evil. (They
are honest) about their own questions and the things that the wrestle with.
That honesty makes their affirmation of who God is much more powerful when
they get to, ‘I praise you and I will praise you forever.’ It is not a
praise of denial, it is a praise of, ‘There are things that I don’t understand
and there are things that I grapple with but You are God and I do trust.”
It is with that sensitivity
that Arends collaborated with Connie Harrington to write the words to “What
In The World.” The song wonders aloud about the violence that has so permeated
our society. It poses the same question as the Apostle Paul: why do we
often do what we don’t want to do.
Arends said, “You wake up
and hear sirens in your neighborhood and you wonder who’s hurting. You
offer up a prayer and your mind maybe goes to, ‘What’s going on with the
world anyway?’ Even some things that have been in the news this week, I
found myself once again going, ‘What? What is going on with humanity that
this kind of evil can enter into the world and certain things can happen?”
The songwriter captured
a moment from her own life in “What In The World.” “The second verse
goes into a tiny exchange between my husband and me. I just used a careless
word sending him out the door and saw that little flicker of (being) wounded
on his face. It was like, ‘Wait a minute what in the world is up with me?’
I am realizing that doing what we don’t want to do is coming from the same
place (as other forms of evil) and grappling with it,” she said.
For all her success (15
top ten radio singles) Arends has never compromised the most important
aspect of her life; her seventeen year marriage to husband Mark or her
children Benjamin (8 years old) and Bethany (5 years old). The couple met
when Arends was seventeen years old and a student at Trinity Western University.
“Mark is sort of the hidden
editor in everything that I do. On a real nuts and bolts level my marriage
has a huge impact upon my music because Mark is the first guy I deliver
a song to. He is also the guy who will take his life in his hands to say,
‘It’s alright except for that one line in the second verse,’ knowing how
frustrated I will get because he is always right. Creatively he is my first
sounding board. Of course the things that we go through together always
trickle down into the songs,” she said.
Arends gives credit to Mark
for being one of her earliest supporters. While they were still dating
and at school she said, “Early on a lot of it was about how he helped me.
It was about him seeing me in terms of my potential and really believing
in me. I had parents who had done that for me but it’s different when it’s
not your mom and dad particularly when it relates to what I ended up doing
for a career. He just really believed in me right from the get go and really
gave me confidence. He helped me to expand my vision. Spiritually he has
helped me each of these seventeen years to expand my vision of who God
“I met Mark when I was seventeen.
We have grown up together and he is the biggest influence in my life in
terms of how I see the world, how I understand who God is and who I want
to be. It is kind of hard to catalogue all the ways that he has helped
me to grow,” she said.
“Anyone who has followed
my career for very long knows that the kids are a big part of my songs
both in really obvious ways and in songs about parenthood. Even on this
album (it comes through). My kids aren’t little anymore, they are eight
and five. What am I going to tell them about the world or what am I telling
them about this world? How are Mark and I are modeling what it is to be
a follower of Jesus here in this time and this place? That requires some
effort and some thought. My family is in every note that I sing,” she said.
Arends, who is now a highly
successful independent artist, parted ways amiably with Reunion Records
a number of years ago so she could spend more time with her family. “We
try to cap my touring at two weekends a month, so I am gone every other
weekend. There are lots of things they (her children) like about having
a mom who is a singer,” she said. For instance, she notes the kids think
it is pretty cool when someone else is playing mom’s music.
“They are understandably
not thrilled that I have to go away every second week. We have talked about
the fact it is a job (and she says thoughtfully) but that it is something
that I was made to do and something that God seems to use. I think they
really get that most of the time. They pray for me and they check in at
half time by phone to see how it is going. I hope it is not naïve
of me to say that so far they feel like they are a part of it and that
it is important. For the most part I think that they see it as a pretty
positive thing,” said Arends.
Parenthood has been a continuing
theme for Arends during her pregnancy with Benjamin and since. “It started
out with a music project also called We’ve Been Waiting For You subtitled
the Parenthood Project. As a songwriter I work through what was going on
in my life and tried to understand it as well as celebrate it,” she said.
“When Mark and I were expecting Ben our first (child) I just started writing
a lot of songs about parenthood. I would sneak them onto my regular records.
Eventually I had so many of these songs I thought I just need to do a whole
project about the adventure that is parenthood,” she recalled.
The CD Parenthood Project
evolved into Arends’ second book sharing the same title as the record.
The book is filled with prose, short stories and anecdotes. “All the hormones
were flowing accordingly so it was really a natural thing to write and
a lot of fun. It’s cool because it has been out a few years now and I still
get emails frequently from a mom who has received it as a shower present
or dedication present right after she has had her child. It is really fun
to hear how that little book is making its way into people’s lives.” said
As I speak to artists across
North America often I find that the same ones who were attracted to the
music of the late Rich Mullins have also followed Arends’ career. During
her early days in the music industry Arends spent a great deal of time
with Mullins. He appeared on her debut CD and Arends accompanied him on
a tour that visited fifty-three cities in ten weeks.
She said of Mullins, “He
was just this guy doing what he loved to do and chasing after God. In so
many ways I hope that his influence can still be seen in what I am trying
to do. I am trying to do it in the same spirit that he did it in.”
If I may have the final
word on behalf of your fans, it does show and it is very evident. It is
also why you have been able to accomplish what so few Canadians artists
in either the general market or Christian music have and that is remain
living in Canada and establish yourself as a fan favorite on both sides
of the border.
By Joe Montague, exclusive
Joe Montague is an internationally
published journalist / photographer. His ministry is dedicated to the memory
of his late son Kent David Montague who went to heaven at the age of 18.
All copyright and distribution rights remain the property of Joe Montague.