Sunday, 18 August 2019

I Interviews

Interview: Jean Watson

With Christmas fast approaching, there are two constants that have become symbolic of the impending season; retailers starting in Fall to rouse premature spending, and holiday music that fills the air just as early. Festive tunes come in a garden variety reminiscent of the bridal mantra, “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.” With the release of Christmas....Not The Way It Seems, a new holiday album by Jean Watson, you can add even more versatility to an annual tradition.

Destined to become a Yuletide classic, Christmas...Not the Way It Seems blends time-honored, beloved carols like "Do You Hear What I Hear," "Angels We Have Heard On High" and "The First Noel," with melodic renditions of less familiar holiday songs like "Pat A Pan," "Coventry Carol" and "Lo How A Rose" and Watson's self-penned Christmas hymn, "Not The Way It Seems." Musically, the album employs rich, emotive orchestration which, when combined with Watson's ethereal yet resilient vocals, is reminiscent of such world music artists as Enya, Maire Brennan, Clannad and Kristen Getty.

It takes a talented and proficient team to produce an album that is so diverse, and Watson recently spoke with me regarding those that collaborated with her on Christmas....Not The Way It Seems. The obvious excitement related to her album is not surprising; who her favored audience is however, may come as a surprise.

MN-Wow! Talk about a versatile Christmas album. From Celtic to contemporary to traditional, you have it covered. What style epitomizes the true Jean Watson Christmas spirit?

JW-I think Christmas music is a genre all its own! It allows us to connect not only with the Christmas story but also with musical styles across the ages. My favorite thing to do is to incorporate the old with the new. The song ‘Pat A Pan’ on my album is a great example. It’s a medieval French carol, and I wanted to preserve the ancientness of it while using twenty-first century musical energy - and I think we succeeded! Its an infectious sound that I can’t get enough of. Musically, I like to be eclectic and incorporate lots of Celtic and world music elements. But I started as a classical violinist, so if you listen carefully, you can almost always hear a classical twist in my music.

MN-I am presuming this project began much earlier than the holiday season, so was it hard to get in the Christmas spirit while recording?

JW-I thought it would be hard to get into the Christmas spirit in March and April, but it really wasn’t. As soon as producer Billy Smiley and I started experimenting with ideas, Christmas just happened! I remember one night we lit some candles, and I recorded O Come O Come Emmanuel to the sound of his guitar. It was such a holy moment, we both got emotional about it. We both knew there was something unique and special about this project!

MN-Phil Keaggy joined you on Do You Hear What I Hear. What was it like working with him? Any moments of intimidation or feeling star struck?

JW-Working with Phil Keaggy was literally a dream come true. We had chosen nine songs and needed one more. I was up late one night and suddenly had an idea…I heard myself singing ‘Do You Hear What I Hear’ in a new way with a ‘Phil Keaggy-ish’ guitar accompaniment. I sat down at the piano and recorded my idea and sent it to the producer. That same night, my husband had a dream that I recorded….you guessed it….’Do You Hear What I Hear’. I never imagined that Phil Keaggy would actually play the song, but Billy Smiley asked, he said ‘yes’, and the result was just incredible….exactly what I heard in my head!! Phil was and is awesome to work with. He is very humble and down-to-earth, and he has made me feel very comfortable.

MN-You have quite an impressive resume yourself; “logging thousands of miles traveling to perform churches, prisons, coffee houses, homeless shelters and concert halls.” Do you prefer the intimacy of a coffee house and homeless shelter or would you rather sing at a concert hall and receive interaction and feedback on a larger scale?

JW-My favorite venue might surprise you…I love to sing and play in prisons! Though I love to entertain people, my purpose in performing is really about using music to open people’s hearts to something deeper. I believe it can touch a soul at a deep place where words can’t go. In the prisons, I have seen the Lord use music to bring healing, hope, and even transformation! I will die someday, and my music won’t go on forever, but if what I do with music has changed a life - even in a small way - then I am happy!

MN-In your travels, what are you seeing regarding spirituality around the world? What are the common spiritual struggles your audience relates to you?

JW-Spiritually, I see several things going on. I always find spiritual hunger in the dark and lowly places. Some of the deepest moments of worship I have ever had have been in red light districts, subways, and city streets. In contrast, some of the dryness moments have been in churches! That is not meant to be a criticism of the church. It is just an observation. The Holy Spirit moves among those whose hearts are humble and know they are nothing. That encourages me because when I feel least qualified is often when He moves most powerfully! In the world, I do see a trend towards humanization…especially in Europe which always makes me sad. But as long as there are people who are searching for God, He will always show up!

MN-Congratulations! I see that you are a newlywed, married to a chaplain in the United States Air Force. Has your husband’s duty overshadowed the honeymoon stage or have you adjusted to the demands that the military places on the family?

JW-I am thrilled to be a military wife! Right now, my husband and I can’t live together because of commitments to military and family, but our separation has caused us to fight hard to stay very connected emotionally and spiritually. I think in some ways we have a stronger relationship because of the distance! Most importantly, my husband and I believe we share the same calling in life. He is extremely supportive of my music and ministry and is sometimes more passionate about it than I am! I am incredibly grateful the Lord brought us together and I believe that He will even use the military to help fulfill the calling that we have in life.

MN-Do you have any projects coming up in 2015 that readers can be looking for?

JW-Yes! I am working on yet another CD which will probably be released in March or April 2015. The music on the new project t has a more ‘vertical’ worship focus than I have done before with some songs reflecting the joy I have in my relationship with God and some songs about where I am in my journey of life. It is a very joyful CD because this is a joyful time in life for me both spiritually and personally. Musically, its moving in a new direction, too….very upbeat and just plain fun!


Artist Bio-

Born into a musical family, Jean Watson's classical training began when she was still a young child. Early on she displayed an affinity for the violin, but as time passed she became equally recognized for her wistful, ethereal vocals. As an adult, Watson set aside her music to focus on her responsibilities as a wife and mother. When her marriage ended in divorce, she found herself in a time of deep depression and hopelessness. At her lowest point, she cried out to God.

A short time later, the landlord of the house where Watson lived with her four children stopped by to bring her family a Christmas tree. As he was setting it up, he overheard some Christmas carols that Jean had recorded.

"'What is that?' he asked. 'That's you? I don't know what you are doing with your life, but THAT is what you're supposed to be doing with your life,' Watson remembers. "He told me to keep my rent money and take it to a recording studio and make a CD.' He had no idea that his generosity was an answer to my prayers."

Her landlord's kind financial gift led to Watson's first CD in 2002 and set her on the path that she continues following today, which has taken her around the world performing music from her six albums, including her latest, Christmas...Not The Way It Seems.

Watson has been honored four times as the Best Female Praise and Worship Artist USA by the U.K. Christian Music Alliance and can be heard worldwide on UCB Radio Ireland where she hosts a daily inspirational radio program, Jean Watson, which she records from her Michigan home studio. She has logged thousands of miles traveling to perform churches, prisons, coffee houses, homeless shelters and concert halls. When she is not on the road, she plays violin in the Kalamazoo, Mich., Symphony.

Watson is a newlywed, having recently married Mark Roberts, a chaplain in the United States Air Force. She has four children, Charlie, Andrew, Grace and Katharine; a daughter-in-law, Emily; and two grandsons, Chase and Aiden. Watson lives in Lawton, Michigan.

For more information on Watson or Christmas...Not The Way It Seems, visit jeanwatson.com or ucbirelandradio.com or like on Facebook at Facebook.com/JeanWatsonMusic.

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