Michigan based Worship Leader, powerful communicator, author, violinist, vocalist and mother Jean Watson releases her stunning violin feature track 'Carol of the Bells' just in time for the Holiday Season. Louder Than The Music chatted with Jean to hear the inspirational story behind her music career, and her plans for a new album.
For those who haven't heard of you before, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in making music?
I started playing the violin when I was seven and ended up going to college to study classical music. I always pictured myself playing in a big city symphony someday! But life didn't go quite the way I planned. I got married, had four kids and travelled around the country for my husband's career. During those years, I focused on marriage and family, and music took a back seat in my life.
Eventually, I ended up in Michigan, far from friends and family, and my marriage ended in divorce. At that point, the children and I were living at poverty level, and I became deeply depressed. At that low point in my life, I saw my Bible and flipped it open to Psalm 116:4 which says, "O God, save me!"
I prayed that prayer, and almost immediately the phone rang. The man who was calling asked if my name was "Jean Watson" and if I played the violin. He said he had heard my name mentioned in a restaurant the night before and was trying to find me. He was the concertmaster of the local symphony, and he wanted to hear me play! That audition led to a paid position playing in an orchestra - just like I dreamed as a child.
That Christmas, my landlord was bringing us a Christmas tree and heard a recording of carols I had made for a friend. He was moved by the sound of my voice, gave me my rent money back, and told me he thought I should be recording! So I made a CD and gave it away to anyone who would listen. Soon, I was being invited to sing in churches and coffeehouses. My faith was growing, and God was healing my heart.
I went on to make several more CD's, and eventually my music was heard in Europe. I started touring in the UK and Ireland, singing in churches, prisons, coffeehouses, and street corners. As I performed I shared the message of how God was changing my life! My music and message resonated especially in Ireland, and about ten years ago, I was invited to do a radio show on United Christian Broadcasting Ireland which I still present weekly.
I have been blessed to record with some of the finest musicians in the industry including Michael W. Smith, Russ Taff, David Meece, Matthew Ward, and producer Billy Smiley. Today, I still travel and perform in the US and all over the world, and I am a partner artist with Prison Fellowship International. (and I still play in the symphony when I have time 🙂)
Tell us about your single 'Carol of the Bells' and what the inspiration behind it was?
I have always loved the song "Carol of the Bells" and wanted to create a special arrangement for the violin that would be exciting and dramatic. This song took a lot of work, but I love how it turned out! The fun part was creating a video for the song in Northern Ireland. We actually filmed the video in September so the videographer created a "Christmassy" look by filming in the woods at night with what he called "fairy lights". I think it is spectacular!
What do you think the key ingredients are for the perfect Christmas song?
For me, Christmas is about Jesus. I have a hard time straying from that thought! When I write Christmas music, it is always with the intent to invite the listener to experience the wonder of God's love in a fresh and deeper way. For me, great Christmas music has to move the heart!
Some people argue that Christmas has become far too commercial these days, what are your thoughts?
Yes, I agree with that. I guess it is human nature to focus on gifts and "stuff" rather than the Giver of the gift. It's a fight to keep my focus on the Lord and not the celebration itself, but I'm working on it!
I understand you're planning to release a new album next year, what more can you tell us about that?
The title of the new album is "Close to Home". The songs were written and collected largely during the time when my ministy was shut down due to Covid. The songs are a reflection of the vulnerability I felt during that time and also the new level of closeness I discovered with the Lord. It is moving!
Stylistically, it is similar to my previous two releases - worshipful with hints of celtic styling but never boring. I am absolutely thrilled with this new music and can't wait to share it with the world!
What message would you like people to take from your music?
Hope. When we invite God into our mess, he can alway create beauty.
If you could work with any songwriter, who would it be and why?
I have worked with some great ones, but I guess a bucket-list collaborator would be Fernando Ortega. Are you reading this, Fernando? 🙂
How would you define success in your career as an artist?
Success for me would be having as many people as possible encounter the presence and love of God through my music and story.
What is your favorite album of all time?
What a great question!!! So hard to nail it down to just one. I love music of so many different genres and have many favorites, but I would have to say Michael W. Smith's first "Worship" album literally changed my life.
A close second would be my Christmas album "For Unto Us". I can listen to it all year long and never tire of it!
What does the next year hold for you?
I am excited about next year. The new album will be released, of course, in the spring. I also hope to finish my second book entitled, "Joy Is a Verb" which has been in the works for several years now.
I sure hope to travel internationally again. It's time to get back to Ireland and other nations! In between all these adventures I look forward to lots of time with family and with my horse "Lacey" who keeps me sane in the midst of the craziness.