OLEAN — With a voice that is sometimes whispery, sometimes soaring but always melodic, clear and controlled, Nichole Nordeman can turn a performance before thousands into an intimate experience.
The contemporary Christian artist who has nine Gospel Music Association Dove awards to her credit including two for Female Vocalist of the Year, has performed on Women of Faith stages before filled arenas and in churches across the country. Fans often view her songs as thoughtful conversations.
Nordeman, who released “Every Mile Mattered,” in August, is scheduled to perform at Olean First Baptist on Sunday at 7 p.m. in a very special event coordinated by the OFBC Women’s Ministry program.
“It’s an acoustic event,” said the artist. “Just me and my piano.” She will play and sing some of her own favorites, popular hits and new Christmas songs from the album, “Fragile,” which is scheduled to release on Dec. 1.
“I am absolutely thrilled with this album,” Nordeman said. “It’s really a collection with my favorite sacred songs, a couple of secular, nostalgic ones and three originals. They are songs that just point to the tenderness of the manger and the Christ child. With world events so inflamed and everyone so angry, I just wanted to make a record that could bring people to the manger near the tender, vulnerable, exposed love that came with the baby.”
Nordeman was raised in a Christian home in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Her mother was a minister of music, her dad an elder. “So I was always immersed in the faith community, involved in teen choir and in that place where faith meets music,” she said.
She listened to artists such as Sandi Patty, Amy Grant and Steven Curtis Chapman. While she always loved music and playing the piano, Nordeman was a little surprised when her journey actually led her to becoming an artist. Her plan was to add a master’s degree to her bachelor of science degree in psychology.
“By high school I was dabbling in song-writing, but I treated the songs like journal entries,” she said. “They were songs for myself about faith, relationships and such. I didn’t intend to do it as ministry or a career but when that happened it was really God calling me to it and he pursued me. I had walked right past opening doors.”
She was exploring the music scene while waitressing in Los Angeles when someone at church gave her a form for a song-writing competition.
“I thought it would just be a good way to meet other Christians, but I won!” she said. The judges were record label executives scouting new talent and Nordeman ultimately secured a deal with a label and moved to Nashville.
At first she felt out of place after listening to others in the genre.
“Some of the songs seemed like they were offering easy answers,” she said. “The songs I was writing were more about my questions and internal struggles. For whatever reason, they did connect with people and they began telling me, ‘your songs give me permission in my faith to be in the gray areas.’ This actually gave me confidence to write from exactly who I was.”
One song that has resonated even with people who don’t often listen to contemporary Christian is “What If,” one that explores faith and different perspectives. Nordeman said she was thinking back to her talks with a very interesting, intelligent college friend who was an atheist.
“As much foundation in faith as I had, I had zero skills in how to share it outside that bubble,” she said. Her songs help clarify the conversation. “With this song, I was thinking what if you’re wrong and it’s not about debating and argument. The Gospel is not about logic, it’s about miracles, miraculous love, forgiveness and grace. Others have shared that this song has helped them share Jesus when words fail.” She said Jesus didn’t argue; he loved people first then taught truth.
Other hits include, “Holy,” which garnered her several of those Dove awards; “Legacy,” and “This Mystery.” Her favorite is “River God,” a little song on her first album in the late 1990s, with a metaphor of jagged stones in the river being smoothed in the current demonstrating how God transforms us. “We just have to be so trusting of what God is doing to make us our best,” she said.
Before she records a song, she relies on a core group of friends who serve as sounding boards.
“When it comes to your own work, it’s impossible to be objective,” she said. The primary element that has to be present for her to record is a song that is true and authentic. When she teaches song-writing clinics she tells students a song might be catchy and get others to sing along, but they need to ask themselves some questions.
“In terms of craft, they need to ask: Is it good? Are you going to be really proud of this song? Will you believe in what it’s saying five years from now? Will you play it for your grandkids? And does it mean something to you?”
She admits her own creative bursts typically come with deadlines.
“I wish I was one of those writers compelled to write all the time, but I’m not,” she said. “When I toured with Steven Curtis Chapman I could hear him through the wall, playing his guitar and tweaking lyrics. He’s never not writing.”
These days Nordeman lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she is raising two children, Charlie, 16, who just obtained his driver’s license, and a daughter, Pepper, 11. She confesses that she’s not sure she’s yet found a good life/work balance because things come as feast or famine.
“This is a very busy season, coming from working on my Christmas album, releasing a record and touring for the Christmas shows,” she said. “Some days I think I have the balance handled and other days I want to go back to bed and hide under my pillow. It’s hard to juggle family, life, career. I just have to be compassionate and gracious to myself.”
At the Olean First Baptist performance, Nordeman plans to engage with the audience and tell stories behind the songs. She doesn’t want people leaving thinking, “Oh, she has it all together.”
“I want them to feel permission to be okay right where they are,” she said. “If God is OK with it, why can’t we do that, why can’t we be a little lighter and more honest about the journey? I hope they will be a little braver in telling and living their own truth from right where they are.”
For ticket information call 372-5151. Pre-sale tickets are still available at $30 for artist circle; $25 general admission; $20 seniors 65 and up and students. At the door, prices are $5 more each category. Tickets may also be ordered by email or through PayPal at firstname.lastname@example.org.