Christian singer, songwriter
Carolyn Arends reflects on life and her Christian faith through music and books, winning Dove and Vibe awards for her music over the years. As her career has expanded, her music has grown in depth and popularity, expressing the changes in her life and acceptance of her faith. She began composing songs for her mother and for school when she was just eight years old. "I started writing songs and just never stopped," she said in an interview for Peermusic.
Born Carolyn Bernice Jonat in 1968 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Arends' natural talent was evident from the beginning. "My mom claims as soon as I could talk I would sing myself to sleep. It wouldn't make sense, but it would rhyme," Arends told Christian Music Online. She was raised a Baptist, and described herself as a "marginally functional person who was raised in a shockingly functional home," for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Her family encouraged her to pursue music as a profession, but the shy and introverted Arends didn't think that was a path she could follow. She decided to be a doctor, and attended college at Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia, on a biochemical scholarship. Within a year, she knew that biology, chemistry, and formaldehyde were not for her, so she switched her major to psychology, with minors in English and music. Then she met Mark Arends, who helped her refocus her career. The two fell in love and were married.
During her senior year at the university, Arends attended a Christian artist's seminar, where she distributed some of the demos that she had recorded in her church basement. Benson Music Publishing took an interest in her, and signed the just-graduated Arends to a publishing contract at age 21. "At that time, I didn't think I had artist aspirations," she admitted to Peermusic. "I just wanted to write for other people. I thought I was too shy to record any of my own songs."
Arends worked at Benson for three years and began to earn attention for the songs she wrote for other Christian artists, including Dove Award winner "Love Will," sung by Michael James. During her time at Benson, Arends became confident in her own abilities as an artist and realized that she wanted to perform and record her own music. She signed a contract with Reunion Records.
In 1995 Arends released her own album, I Can Hear You, on which she either wrote or cowrote all eleven songs. The album, which landed on the top contemporary Christian albums chart in 1996, also featured her good friend Rich Mullins on the hammered dulcimer and included the song "Seize the Day," which urges people to make the most of what God has given them. "It's a song that conveys something that's really important to me," she recalled for the Food for the Hungry website. "Those of us who do believe in the hope of an eternity with God should be the lights to our culture. We should be the ones showing the world what it really means to seize the day. When we do things that count to God, we really have seized the day for eternity." Arends was nominated for a Dove Award as New Artist of the Year in 1996.
Arends's music, which is Christian but not preachy, draws on spirituality as a comfort. "I think [my writing] is hopeful, but at the same time, real," she told Peermusic. "It's not trying to camouflage the human condition, but it's looking for the good stuff in the midst of it all." Her listeners seem to agree: Arends's second album, Feel Free, was even more successful than her first, once again making the top contemporary Christian albums chart. The first cut is a catchy tune entitled "Do What You Do," which Arends says was inspired by the Dr. Seuss book Oh, The Places You'll Go. That same year, she received the Dove Award for International Artist of the Year.
In 1998 two almost-simultaneous events turned Arends's world upside down. Joy and tragedy blended together when the death of her good friend and fellow musician Rich Mullins in a car accident coincided with the birth of her first child, Benjamin. These events affected Arends profoundly, giving her music a new depth. The following year she released This Much I Understand, an album that illustrated the broader perspective she'd acquired. At her publicist's request, she also wrote an open letter to her fans about the album, describing the perceptions that Mullin's death and her son's birth had given her. Her writing not only struck a chord with listeners, but gave her a way for her to work through her own feelings. The positive response encouraged Arends to expand on her thoughts in a book, Living the Questions: Making Sense of the Mess and Mystery of Life, published in 2000. Publishers Weekly called it a refreshing book, "in which the musician embraces the fact that her world and her God do not always make sense."
Arends' 2001 album Travelers won a 2002 Canadian Gospel Music Association Covenant Award for Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year for "Dance Like No One's Watching." She was also named the Songwriter of the Year at the 2002 West Coast Music Awards and Female Vocalist of the Year at both the 2002 and 2003 Vibe Awards. Continuing to express her abilities as a singer, songwriter, and author, in 2002 Arends released a double project: a book and album, both titled We've Been Waiting for You: The Parenthood Project, which tells the stories of the joys and fears and mysteries of parenthood.
For the Record . . .
Born Carolyn Bernice Jonat in 1968 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada; married Mark Arends; children: Benjamin and Bethany. Education: Graduated from Trinity Western University, Langley, British Columbia.
Signed as a writer with Benson Music Publishing; signed with Reunion Records as a recording artist; released I Can Hear You, 1995; released Feel Free, 1997; released This Much I Understand, 1999; wrote book
Living the Questions: Making Sense of the Mess and Mystery of Life, 2000; released Seize the Day and Other Stories, 2000; released Travelers, 2001; released book and music combination We've Been Waiting for You: The Parenthood Project, 2002.
Awards: Gospel Music Association Dove Award, Country Song of the Year (co-written with Michael James and
Connie Harrington) for "Love Will," 1995; Dove Award, International Artist of the Year, 1997; Canadian Gospel Music Association Covenant Award, Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year, 2002; Vibe Award, Female Vocalist of the Year, 2002, 2003; West Coast Music Award, Songwriter of the Year, 2002; Vibe Award, Inspirational Album of the Year, 2003.
Addresses: Booking— The Benjamin Artist Agency, P.O. Box 92348, Nashville, TN 37209, phone: (615) 354-0566, fax: (615) 352-2027. Management— Van Liere Wilcox Management, P.O. Box 646, Franklin, TN 37065, fax: (615) 523-1465. Office— Running Errands Music, P.O. Box 92348, Nashville, TN 37209. Web-site— Carolyn Arends Official Website: http://www.carolynarends.com.
Arends lives in Surrey, British Columbia, with her husband, Mark, a high school counselor and coach, and their two children, Benjamin and Bethany. She tours year-round and continues to record. "All of my albums are portraits of the different seasons of my life," she said on the Food for the Hungry website. "I get to work with different paints and brushes, so each record takes on a character of it's own that's reflective of the creative evolution in me, and whatever I'm seeing and feeling at the moment in time."
I Can Hear You, Reunion, 1995.
Feel Free, Jive, 1997.
This Much I Understand, Reunion, 1999.
Seize the Day and Other Stories, Reunion, 2000.
Travelers, Signpost, 2001.
We've Been Waiting for You: The Parenthood Project, Sign-post, 2002.
Living the Questions: Making Sense of the Mess and Mystery of Life, Harvest House, 2000.
We've Been Waiting for You: The Parenthood Project, J. Countryman, 2002.
Publishers Weekly, June 12, 2000, p. 67.
Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), February 8, 1997, p. 7B.
"Carolyn Arends," Christian Music Online, http://www.cmo.com/carends/icanhear/bio.html (September 26, 2003).
"Carolyn Arends," Food for the Hungry, http://www.fh.com/artists/arends.shtml (September 26, 2003).
"Carolyn Arends," Peermusic, http://www.peermusic.com/artistpage/Carolyn_Arends.html (September 26, 2003).
Carolyn Arends Official Website, http://www.carolynarends.com (September 26, 2003).
Additional information provided by Carolyn Arends.