The Bible. It’s the foundation of our faith, filled with amazing tales of bravery and betrayal, romance and redemption. These age-old stories teach us valuable lessons about the God we serve and the way He wants us to live, but how well do we really know them?
Award-winning authors Randy Frazee and Max Lucado, who himself has more than 100 million products in print, wanted to make them more accessible and encourage further engagement of the Bible so they partnered with Zondervan to create The Story, which contains 31 chapters (stories) from the Bible told as one seamless story from beginning to end. Additionally, Randy and Max penned new books built around these 31 key stories from the Bible providing further insight into the characters. With these resources as a foundation, Dove Award-winning artist Nichole Nordeman and Dove Award-winning producer Bernie Herms teamed up to give those same timeless stories a modern musical voice. This new two-disc project entitled (Music Inspired By) The Story, is the brainchild of successful artist manager Norman Miller, and features a who’s who of Christian artists, who collectively have sold nearly 75 million albums. With everyone from Amy Grant, Brandon Heath, Mac Powell, and Chris Tomlin to Francesca Battistelli, Bart Millard, Natalie Grant, and Mandisa taking part, (Music Inspired By) The Story features 18 songs and 24 artists in all.
It’s the first we’ve heard from Nordeman in a while. She made the decision to set aside touring and recording when she became a mom in order to be more present in her children’s lives, but this project was one she knew she couldn’t pass up. Fortunately, after an initial vision-casting session with Lucado, Frazee, Miller and Herms in 2010, Nordeman was able to do her research and writing at home in Oklahoma without leaving her kids. Herms was based in Nashville and had his own family demands, composing music to match Nordeman’s lyrics around the schedule of his twin daughters and the birth of his third child with wife Natalie Grant. Thanks to modern technology, the two were able to complete the songwriting for (Music Inspired By )The Story without ever being in the same city, let alone the same room.
Still, Nordeman’s natural tendency to hole away by herself and write lent itself to this particular project. “It was great for me to just immerse myself in these characters,” Nordeman says, “getting to peel back the layers and, like an archaeologist, sort of dig around a little bit.” Herms agrees, saying, “Most of the time, 90 percent of co-writing is being in the same room and playing off their momentum, but I really think that Nichole was trying to do a character extraction, and by the time she sent me something they were already these pieces of literature.”
Those literary-quality lyrics have another unique characteristic, they’re all written in the first person. So often, when we look at stories from the Bible, the view is from the outside peering in. But from the beginning, the plan for the songs of The Story was to get inside each character’s head for several minutes.
“I think one of the goals was to be able to listen to these songs and feel more connected to these people that walked before us and learned lessons that we’re still learning,” Nordeman says. “There’s such a tendency to turn them into superheroes and have these big, takeaway, moral-of-the-story moments. For me it was all about the humanity. These were broken people who were desperate and needed God. They were just like us. I really believe that, and I think we forget.”
Herms’ then had the huge task of taking Nordeman’s carefully-crafted lyrics and composing songs that fit not just the words and the stories they represented, but the distinctly different artists who would later bring the songs to life. Fortunately, Herms says, “God smiled on our process.” That grace — and Herms’ immense composing talents – allowed him to create music that brilliantly showcases the diverse gifts of each of the two dozen artists who participated.
You don’t need to have music experience to know that’s no small feat, but Herms gives much of the creativity to the Creator. “He’s a creative God. He’s already the author of creativity, and He allowed me to work with some of my greatest heroes on this record. I’ve gotta pinch myself.”
While honored to be involved, neither Herms nor Nordeman were prepared for how all-consuming the project would become. “There wasn’t really room in my brain for anything else,” says Herms, who also tackled production duties alongside the legendary Brown Bannister. “I think that there are sort of unique moments that we’re afforded in life when you’re being offered something amazing. You know it’s going to extract a price,” he says, “but I felt like I couldn’t pass it up even though it would be such a mammoth task.”
Nordeman found herself connecting in a different way. “I was unaware of how it would affect me to dust off some of these old stories that I had relegated to Sunday school and instead look in the mirror and see myself in them,” she admits. “I thought it would be a project, but I became completely emotionally involved with them.”
Nordeman admits that initially she was so totally overwhelmed by the scope of the project that she didn’t know where to start. Finally, somebody said, “just start.” She did, and the songs poured out with “MARY (Be Born In Me)” as the album’s first written song. Still, she all but gushes about the honor of writing for some of her musical heroes, saying, “To sit with the fact that Steven Curtis Chapman or Amy Grant is singing a song you’ve written, it’s a pretty staggering realization.”
The songwriting process alone was grueling because everyone felt the pressure to stay true to the original text and get it just right. Nordeman wrote five full versions of “MARY MAGDALENE (Alive)” that didn’t make it on the record before arriving at the one that worked. The bridge for this song about Mary Magdalene was completed while on a family trip to Disney World, with Nordeman retreating to her hotel bathroom to write while her children napped.
Nordeman also participates on the recording side joining Amy Grant in the studio to tell Ruth and Naomi’s story in the song “RUTH/NAOMI (I’m With You),” the project’s first radio single. Other noteworthy pairings include Matthew West and Leigh Nash on “ADAM/EVE (Good),” Casting Crowns’ Mark Hall and Megan Garrett covering “ABRAHAM/SARAH (Who But You),” Michael W. Smith and Darlene Zschech join together for “SECOND COMING (The Great Day),” Jars Of Clay’s Dan Haseltine and Sanctus Real’s Matt Hammitt portray the Disciples with the track “DISCIPLES (Empty),” and Michael Tait, Group1Crew’s Blanca Callahan, with Lecrae telling the story of Joshua on “JOSHUA (Bring Us Home).” Brandon Heath, Peter Furler, Selah’s Todd Smith, Natalie Grant and Jeremy Camp round out the compilation’s overflowing talent pool. Herms noted, “More than once we were amazed at how a certain artist resonated on a deep personal level with the character they were portraying; more evidence of God’s spirit enabling the best moments to come through us instead of from us.”
Within these songs, we meet a Moses who wasn’t a great leader but still a scared follower:
“I’d like to look in the mirror without hiding my eyes…’cause I’m tongue tied, weak in the knees, must be something You only see…if there’s anything good in me, it must be You…” (lyrics from “MOSES (It Must Be You)”)
We experience the longing that Abraham and Sarah had for God’s promise to be fulfilled:
“I see a star, You see the Milky Way, I see one man counting sand, but You see generations…Who but You would ever choose to dream Your dream in me?” (lyrics from “ABRAHAM/SARAH (Who But You)”)
We hear from David, who was simply a desperate man after God’s own heart: “I know that I’ve crashed and burned, lives have been overturned, but You redeem everything, yeah, even me. At the end of the day, I want to hear people say that my heart looks like Your heart…” (lyrics from “DAVID (Your Heart)”)
We sing along with a scared teenager trembling in the presence of an angel yet understanding the significance of her calling: “Be born in me…trembling heart, somehow I believe that You chose me…I’ll hold You in the beginning, You will hold me in the end, every moment in the middle, make my heart Your Bethlehem…” (lyrics from “MARY (Be Born In Me)”)
One of the most climatic moments on the recording comes from the song “When Love Sees You” in which the voice of Jesus says: “You see the struggle, you see the shame, I see the reason I came…I came for your story, I came for your wounds…to show you what Love sees when I see you…” (lyrics from “JESUS (When Love Sees You)”)
The project spawned a companion DVD with dramatic reenacted footage and the very latest in motion animation, taking the viewer on a stunning visual journey through all 18 songs from (Music Inspired By) The Story CD. Additionally, The Story Tour will launch in December featuring Lucado, Frazee and an all-star musical cast including Steven Curtis Chapman, Francesca Battistelli, Newsboys, Natalie Grant, Selah and Anthem Lights.
Everything surrounding The Story movement is part of an unprecedented partnership between World Vision, Zondervan, EMI Christian Music Group, Provident Label Group, Word Entertainment, Proper Management and CAA. (Music Inspired By) The Story is much more than just music, it’s the Bible brought to life in a very real new way, emotionally raw and brimming with humanity. It’s a chance to re-experience the old familiar stories through the eyes of flawed-but-faithful people who practically jump off the page. It allows the listener to find their story within these songs and characters, understanding God has and still weaves His story of love and redemption with our brokenness, ultimately writing for us a new story of hope and rescue.
CREATION (“I Am”) - Overture
ADAM/EVE (“Good”) - Matthew West & Leigh Nash (Sixpence None The Richer)
ABRAHAM/SARAH (“Who But You”) - Mark Hall & Megan Garrett (Casting Crowns)
JOSEPH (“Bend”) - Brandon Heath
MOSES (“It Must Be You”) - Bart Millard (MercyMe)
JOSHUA (“Bring Us Home”) - Michael Tait, Blanca Callahan (Group1Crew), Lecrae
RUTH/NAOMI (“I'm With You”) - Nichole Nordeman & Amy Grant
DAVID (“Your Heart”) - Chris Tomlin
DANIEL (“No Compromise”) - Peter Furler
ESTHER (“Born For This”) - Mandisa
JOB (“Broken Praise”) - Todd Smith (Selah)
MARY (“Be Born In Me”) - Francesca Battistelli
JESUS (“When Love Sees You”) - Mac Powell (Third Day)
THIEF (“How Love Wins”) - Steven Curtis Chapman
MARY MAGDALENE (“Alive”) - Natalie Grant
DISCIPLES (“Empty”) - Dan Haseltine (Jars of Clay) & Matt Hammitt (Sanctus Real)
PAUL (“Move In Me”) - Jeremy Camp
SECOND COMING (“The Great Day”) - Michael W. Smith & Darlene Zschech