Singer/songwriter/violinist Jean Watson has just released her Celtic-infused holiday project, Christmas...Not The Way It Seems. Grammy Award-nominated producer Billy Smiley was invited to produce the 11-song collection of angelic and classic Christmas favorites, along with enlisting the talents of legendary Gospel Music Hall of Famer and guitar virtuoso Phil Keaggy. The songs range from traditional carols to less familiar festive odes to the original title cut "Not the Way It Seems," being written by Watson herself. We are so honored to be able to catch up with Jean Watson for this exclusive's Hallels' interview.
Hallels: Jean, I was just listening to your Christmas album before this interview. I was just lost in the beauty of the gorgeous orchestra sounds and you lovely voice. Why did you decide to do a Christmas album?
I love Christmas music and have wanted to do a new Christmas CD for a long time. It was not on my radar for 2014, however, until I began talking to producer Billy Smiley. Billy shared my passion for the music and helped me brainstorm a way to make it happen financially. As soon as we started creating the new arrangements together, I knew this was something special! The whole project came together so beautifully that we knew it was the Lord who was making this happen. I love doing Christmas music because almost everyone can enjoy it and perhaps hear about God's love in a way they had not understood before.
Hallels: Also, you got to work with Phil Keaggy on the opening song "Do You Hear What I Hear." How did you get to work with Phil? What was it like working with him?
That is a great story! 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.
Hallels: Why did you choose to record two versions of "Do You Hear What I Hear"?
The original thought was to have a full band along with Phil Keaggy. Then we heard the beautiful soundscape that Phil created just with guitar, and we knew that was a masterpiece in and of itself. So we did two versions, and I love them both. The band brings lots of joy and energy to the music, and the acoustic version has a more intimate feel to it.
Hallels: Besides covering the traditional carols, you have also include an original which is the title cut "Not the Way It Seems." For our readers who may not have heard it, tell us what is this song about? What inspired you to write this song?
Great question. As I was writing the song, I thought about the irony of the Christmas story. A star was shining down on the Light of the world. A manger held the Bread of life. Shepherds followed the Shepherd, and kings knelt before the King of Kings. I think the Christmas story is showing us that God's love is not the way it seems. God came to Earth in the most lowly of places, with manure all around. Perhaps God delights in bringing His love into those dark, messy places. My prayer is that people will hear the song-and the entire CD--and be inspired to think of Christmas in a different way this year. Nobody has to have it all together - everything perfect- to have more of God in his life. When we call upon God, His glory can be born in us just the way we are.
Hallels: I love the diversity of the songs. You have also included the less familiar "Lo How a Rose" and "Pat a Pan" to the more traditional "O Holy Night" and "Angels We Have Heard on High," how did you choose your songs? Was it a challenge to narrow down the choice of songs?
Yes, it was a challenge to choose the songs, because there is so much great Christmas music. I tend to love the more obscure, medieval carols...that's why I chose 'Pat A Pan', 'Coventry Carol', and 'Lo How A Rose'. Billy Smiley encouraged me to do a few that people know and love. So, we did some of each!
Hallels: Speaking of Christmas, what does Christmas mean to you?
Christmas holds a special place in my heart because my ministry really was born at Christmastime back in 2002. My kids and I had gone through divorce, and it was a hard time for us. I was struggling with depression and hopelessness at that time, and my landlord came one night and brought us a beautiful Christmas tree. As he walked into the house, he heard a recording of Christmas carols I had made as a gift for a friend. He was deeply touched by the sound of my voice and sat on the couch and cried! He looked up and said, "I don't know what you are doing with your life, but that is what you are supposed to be doing!" He allowed me to keep my rent money and told me to give it to a recording studio and make a CD. That money and his words gave me the courage to record. I went on to make six more CD's and travel around the world telling people that no one's life is too far from redemption. So Christmas reminds me that sometimes God's love appears in the times and places we least expect!
Hallels: For our readers who would love to purchase your new Christmas album or/and find out more about you, where can they go?
My website has lots of information about my life, ministry, and music. I also love to stay connected with people on Facebook! People can hear the music and purchase it right on my website, or through many online stores like ITunes, Amazon, and Christianbook.com.. The new Christmas CD will also be for sale in Lifeway Christian Stores this year.
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