Steven Curtis Chapman will make a rare visit to this area with a concert at 7 p.m. Sunday in Liberty Church, Shrewsbury, as part of his Songs and Stories tour with Christian songwriters Andrew Peterson and Josh Wilson.
With a happy family, a life anchored in faith, and a musical career as one of the country’s leading singer/songwriters of contemporary Christian music, Steven Curtis Chapman could well have felt blessed as 2008 dawned.
But there’s been a profound period of reflection and “recreation” in the interim.
“For a kid from Padukah, Kentucky, I’ve been really blessed to share my music with exponentially more people than I ever thought I would,” Chapman, 48, said during a telephone interview last month. Now based in the Nashville area, the multi-Grammy award-winner will be making something of a rare visit to this area with a concert at 7 p.m. Sunday in Liberty Church, Shrewsbury, as part of his “Songs and Stories” tour with fellow musical travelers and Christian songwriters Andrew Peterson and Josh Wilson.
The three will sit in a circle, and, as the title of the show suggests, share songs, stories, and play lots of musical instruments. The tour is being described as a “songwriter’s night experience rarely seen out of Nashville.”
Among other things close to Nashville is Chapman’s family. He is married to Mary Beth Chapman, and the couple have three biological children and also three children adopted from China.
On May 21, 2008, 5-year-old Maria Sue Chunxi Chapman died in a tragic accident, run over in the driveway of the family home by a car being driven by Chapman’s son Will Franklin Chapman.
“When our little girl went to heaven, you kind of put life on pause,” Chapman said.
One immediate response had been the album “Beauty Will Rise” (2009), with songs that were related to the grieving process. Despite that, more time to process and think (and pray) was needed.
“There was a time I had to go back and re-evaluate. It’s an earthquake that shakes the foundations of your faith and the core of your soul,” Chapman said.
He huddled with his family. He said he wanted to see “as we emerge from the rubble of that earthquake, am I going to stand in front of people with integrity? Can I still sing the songs with integrity?” There was a prayer, “God I really want to know you.”
By his own account, in 2011 the family started to “see the sunrise.”
“I’m really thankful to say I’m more certain that these things are true and that God is who he says he is,” Chapman said of his faith in the interview. “By the grace of God my family and I are still walking forward.”
His latest album is “re:creation” with six new songs but also some revisiting of previous hits with re-imagined approaches and new recordings. “I felt like this was an opportunity for me to tell people that my family and I really do feel like God is recreating some things in us,” Chapman said.
“Not that we’re ever over anything. We’re still grieving and will still be asking questions. But my songs have taken on a new meaning for me. It (the tragedy) hasn’t negated anything I wrote or said.”
The album is quite cheerful in tone. Chapman has always had a catchy pop musical style, and “re:creation” is no exception.
There’s no mistaking the message of the lyrics, however. The opening song, “Do Everything,” has a refrain that includes “Do everything you do to the glory of the/One who made you.” Such themes are articulated in more or less every number. The penultimate track on the album is a rendering with his recently married son Caleb Chapman of the famous hymn “Morning Has Broken.”
As has been typical in Chapman’s career, in less than 24 hours of its release in August, “re:creation” became the top selling Christian album on the iTunes Christian chart while also landing at No. 3 on the Christian/Gospel overall Soundscan chart and was the 43rd top selling album in America, according to Billboard’s Top 200
There has always been a message in Chapman’s music, going all the way back to Paducah.
He said he started writing songs when he was around 15 and 16. “And they were songs about my faith.” The son of a guitar teacher father, Chapman said he had loved music since he was 6. The first song he tried to master, perhaps ironically given his future career trajectory, was “Folsom Prison Blues” by Johnny Cash. When Chapman was 8 years old, he followed some other family members who were feeling strongly called to the Christian faith, he said. Thereafter, musically speaking, “What I was drawn to was the music of faith.”
Next year will be the 25th anniversary of the release of his first album, “First Hand.” His 1992 album “The Great Adventure” was marketed to a mainstream audience as well as a Christian audience with some success (and two Grammys), although there was no dilution of the Chapman message.
Chapman came to the DCU Center in Worcester in 1997 and delivered a performance that demonstrated plenty of well-absorbed musical influences. However, there were also a number of pauses to talk about himself and his basic beliefs.
Asked if he has ever felt pressure from record labels or other groups to not be so overtly Christian (so as to perhaps sell more albums), Chapman acknowledged “There were some suggestions. They were all very subtle. My response was always, it’s the old adage — ‘You’re dancing with the one that brought you … ’
“I don’t feel that every song has to say something about Jesus, but I’m gonna be honest.”
Can someone who isn’t a Christian enjoy his shows?
“I think so. I’ve had people tell me I’ve communicated that way,” he said.
“I think it’s because it is about my journey as a human. The human experience.”