1. In the interview featured on your website, you described yourself initially as a lukewarm Catholic. What happened in your life to bring you to a deeper spiritual level?
Unfortunately, like so many of God’s children, we don’t come running to him until we are in desperate need. I was living life my way and by my rules and made a complete mess of things. My fiancé “postponed” the wedding indefinitely, I had no job and was looking at having no place to live. My music contacts were dried up or ruined and I had no other skills. I prayed for death, but when I woke up the next morning I had still died inside and decided that since I was still here, though “dead”, that I would live God’s way. Though I knew the basics of the Faith, I still had to learn so much, like “how to live for God,” how to be friends with Him, what does He want? Etc. You can’t love someone you don’t know, so I started reading my Bible (again) from the beginning, but this time didn’t quit. I studied, prayed a lot (the Chaplet of Divine Mercy was important for me at the turn around point), went to regular prayer meetings and never missed Mass. I also got very heavy into all those end times prophecies and the many apparitions of Our Lady. While I don’t follow any of them anymore, they had an important impact on me as I got to finally consider that God was intimately involved in my life. He was very close, not just some big entity “out there” somewhere. He became like a friend. I didn’t want to hurt my true friend ever again.
2. Would you describe your experience as a second conversion, a conscious turning towards Christ? (As a family of former Evangelical protestants who crossed the Tiber in 2005, this question is always of interest to me.)
Yes, because I remember when I was young thinking that being a Christian was the right thing to be. I certainly always believed in God and just flowed in that “direction.” Later, there was a conscious turning towards Christ because there was no flowing anymore. There was a deliberate halting and a painful turning and changing and purging and active pursuit that definitely was “upstream.”
3. You talk about a "death to self" in this renewed commitment to God. What exactly do you mean by this?
Since I had messed up so royally doing things “my way,” I just “quit being me” so to speak. I completely died to my own will and was docile to whatever the Lord had planned for me. I just knew I had to stay close to Him so I could know His direction. I was content to be a secretary and never sing again if that’s what the Lord wanted. I really didn’t care either way about it.
4. How do you write your music? Do ideas come to you throughout the day, or does it work best when you have time to quietly reflect?
Oh, you make songwriting sound so glamorous. Like any other project in the world, it’s only 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. If I’m going to write a song, I have to decide that “now I’m going to write a song.” I have to block off the time first and foremost – a few undisturbed hours. (Lately it’s been on a plane or a long car ride.) I either have an overview of the project I am writing for, or I go looking for an idea. If I’m setting an already written prayer or scripture to music, I start playing with melodies until I’m happy with it and can make the rest work. I always do it in my head first, then I go to the piano to figure out what I’ve been “hearing.” If I get stumped, I leave it and do something else for a while, like a chore or shower, all the while playing with a melody. Once I got something completely unrelated stuck in my head and decided to go with it for the song, taking it in a totally different direction, but hey, I finished it in an hour. I usually finish them quickly, but sometimes they just get stuck forever. I wrote the verse to “You Are Not Alone” six different times before I came up with the final one. As soon as I “wrote” it, I knew that was it, but then I still had to hammer out the words again to make them fit the new melody. I don’t even remember writing the chorus. It just seemed to always be. I had been singing it in the shower for 10 years already. If I’m writing a song out of nothing, I write pages and pages of phrases, ideas, or related scriptures. It’s called a “stream of consciousness.” Then I look for the catchiest phrase and try making a hook out of it. Sometime having to pick another and other times just reworking it over and over until it “sounds right.”
5. Your music is loved by Catholics and Protestants alike. Any thoughts on what gives your songs such crossover appeal?
God is so big. There is so much to love about Him. His love and truth permeate any barrier. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice.” It’s not me at all. God just resonates in the hearts of all believers. I just contribute a melody that draws the listener into the words. One listener told me once, “You sing it the way I feel it.” How cool is that?
6. Your songs set prayers to music. I recently discovered the profound beauty of ancient Catholic hymns. Have you ever considered setting some of the classic Latin hymns to music again--e.g. Hymn at Matins in Passion-tide?
No, I’m a “pop” singer. While I can sing and write any style of music, just because I can, doesn’t mean I should. It’s best to stick to one style and not confuse my audience as to what they can expect from the next album. There are plenty of people doing classics and Latin and they do it very well. Personally, I love that kind of music and when I go to Mass, that’s what I want to hear. I even sing them to myself or as lullabies to my children. I also don’t want to go the contemporary Christian route either for the same reasons. There are far fewer people doing contemporary Catholic music well. I feel there is a need there and I’m filling the void.
7. How does God speak to you though your music?
That depends entirely on the song. If it’s scripture based, singing it allows for more time to internalize it, like a meditation. The words are alive and God is present and speaking through it right in the moment, drawing you closer. It’s easier to fly by it when you’re just reading it. Perhaps that’s why St. Augustine said, “He who sings prays twice.”
Another aspect to the question could be “my doing music in general,” which mirrors by own spiritual life. It’s never good enough. My soul is not perfect either. I have to keep trying to improve both and sometimes have to just let go and let God accept what I am and have to give, trusting that when offered in love and submission, it/I will be acceptable and can even be useful in my/it’s imperfect state in His omnipotent hand. God writes straight with crooked lines. He does it all. I’m just the pencil.
8. What does redemptive suffering mean to you?
Offering every aspect of my life, especially the difficult times, in union with the sufferings of Christ offered to the Father in atonement for the sins of all mankind. St. Paul says, to “take joy in your sufferings, for in them we make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His body, the Church.” It’s the greatest gift God can give us. We resemble His Son in this and the Father sits up and takes notice. It’s very hard, but very cool to be another Christ. Lord, grant us the grace…
9. What's the biggest problem with Catholic music today?
My pastor once asked that I read the book “Why Catholics Can’t Sing.” I wasn’t interested because I was very turned off by the title, but he insisted. The book was right on the reason. Music in Catholic churches today have strayed so far from the traditional hymns which have the same “verse” melody sung over and over, making it very easy for the average person in the pew to learn and participate in. The current melodies are abrupt, dissonant, meandering and require a music degree to be able to sing, sight read, or play the piano. For the most part, they leave no invitation to enter in to try to master the melody. It’s a workout and a relief when it’s over. To make matters worse, most churches will not pay people with the necessary skills to make this difficult music, or ANY music for that matter in many cases, listenable. If no one with the ability steps forward to donate their time, then the whole congregation is made to suffer. If professionals are hired, they are usually the only ones who can sing/play the music, turning what is supposed to be congregational singing into a solo performance. Our family drives 40 minutes in each direction to attend Mass where the music is played by professionals who don’t perform but lead. There are no solos, just a schola, chant, and traditional hymns that all know and love to sing loudly.
10. It seems that in letting your dream for music go in favor of devoting your time to your new family, God gave the dream back to you in a way you couldn't have imagined before. Would you say this is this true?
Absolutely. I had quit music and had no desire to ever sing again. My father-in-law insisted that I do something and my husband encouraged me as well. I didn’t even go looking for inspiration. I feel I was commissioned to do what I do now. Even pushed – by friends, priests and even Our Lady, but that’s another story.
11. As a fellow Pacific Northwesterner, what unique challenges do you see as prevalent for believers in the soggy Northwest?
Well, I’m from the East Coast. For the most part, everyone either goes to Church there or they did when they were little. There are so many old and beautiful churches and shrines and places of pilgrimage. It seems like God chases you there. In the NW, there is far less tradition. More rebellion, liberalism, unbelief, even more witchcraft. I once heard a girl proclaim herself to a group as a pagan. There is much more open opposition to Christianity here. You have to be quick on your feet with an answer for the Faith, because you’ll be challenged straight out. Conversely, there is an attitude of indifference. Live and let be, so what, nothing matters anyway. You’re a Christian, that’s nice, I’m a pagan, nice to meet you. Then again, my experience here is very limited. I live under a rock most of the time, staying mostly at home, homeschooling my four kids.
12. What can you tell us about your latest project?
I just finished a CD of the Stations of the Cross. I wrote a song for each of the 14 stations. It’s called “The Way of the Cross.” It’s very powerful. It makes you cry, fills you with joy and just draws you so much closer to Jesus, causing you to feel most definitely the depth of His love for you personally. I offer a free download of the first song/station on my website www.DonnaCoriGibson.com At concerts, there will be videos showing behind me to enhance all the stations.