"The Peace Mala is a beautiful symbol of the many aspects of the Divine. Its simplicity and elegance suggests a way which goes beyond tolerance towards a celebration of, and a respect for the many paths of faith".
(Beth Nielsen Chapman in an e-mail to Pam Evans on 6th December 2004)
When Beth Nielsen Chapman went looking for an album containing the Latin hymns she remembered from her childhood, she was surprised to find there wasn't one.
That realization led to Hymns, a collection that recreates the majesty and spirituality that once echoed through Catholic cathedrals all over the world.
"I grew up with these Latin songs," the acclaimed singer-songwriter recalls. "When I was a child, this was the songbook for Mass every week and I always loved the mystery and sacred tone of them. I felt it was important to put a collection of these beautiful hymns out into the world. I think the experience of the sound and vibrations of these songs will resonate with people regardless of their spiritual path."
The Catholic Mass is generally no longer sung in Latin. In an effort to modernize, the Church revamped its liturgy in the 1960s, often substituting newly written 'folk' songs of praise for 'Adoramus Te', 'Veni, Veni Emmanuel', 'Dona Nobis Pachem' and the other ancient Latin hymns. Beth Nielsen Chapman believes something was lost then.
"As I began to record this record so many things just fell into place and I started to feel that this was not really about me as an artist doing my renditions of these songs. In fact, when I sang them, I wanted nothing to get in the way of the inherent eloquence of these hymns. I tried to let them speak for themselves, downplaying the character of my voice and singing as purely as possible, almost anonymously."
But her name resonates powerfully with music lovers. Beth Nielsen Chapman was a regular on the Adult-Contemporary popularity charts in the 1990s with such tunes as 'The Moment You Were Mine', 'Walk My Way' and 'I Keep Coming Back to You'. In 2000, she appeared on the soundtrack of the Ashley Judd film Where the Heart Is with 'Shake My Soul', which became yet another A/C hit. In the summer of 2004, her single 'Free' went to No. 1 on the BBC-Radio 2 chart, leading to her third U.K. concert tour of the year. She also has a large following in Japan, Ireland and elsewhere.
Stateside, her CDs Beth Nielsen Chapman (1990), You Hold the Key (1993), Sand and Water (1997), Greatest Hits (1997), Deeper Still (2002) and Look (2004) have earned her wide acclaim and a devoted following. Such stars as Bonnie Raitt, Neil Diamond, Emmylou Harris, Michael McDonald, Bette Midler, Anne Murray, Amy Grant, Keb Mo, Roberta Flack and Brenda Lee have recorded Beth Nielsen Chapman songs. Her co-written, 'This Kiss', as recorded by Faith Hill, won ASCAP's 1999 Song of the Year award and was nominated for a Grammy.
The country music hits 'Happy Girl' (Martina McBride), 'Nothing I Can Do About it Now' (Willie Nelson), 'Strong Enough to Bend' (Tanya Tucker), 'All the Reasons Why' (Highway 101), 'Here We Are' (Alabama), 'Five Minutes' (Lorrie Morgan), 'Almost Home' (Mary Chapin Carpenter) and 'Down on My Knees' (Trisha Yearwood) are all from the Beth Nielsen Chapman songbook. Elton John popularized her ballad 'Sand and Water' during his 1997 world tour.
The soundtracks of such films as 'The Rookie', 'Practical Magic', 'Calendar Girls', 'We Were Soldiers' and 'Message in a Bottle' included her songs. So have the television series 'Dawson's Creek', 'ER', 'Touched by an Angel', 'Providence' and 'Felicity'. 'All I Have' became familiar to millions as the recurring love theme on NBC's 'Days of Our Lives'. She also wrote and performed for the animated television film 'Annabelle's Wish'.
"My success as a songwriter has provided me the opportunity to have a lot of freedom as an artist," she comments. "Because of it, I haven't had the pressure of having to 'make it' on the charts. I've always been really grateful that I can make whatever kind of record I want."
Beth Nielsen Chapman has been on a path rich with many musical influences throughout her life. As an 'Air Force brat', she was brought up on military bases from New England to Germany. Music was her source of stability from a very early age. Adept on guitar and piano, she began performing as a teenager in Montgomery, Alabama. She signed her first song-publishing contract in 1979, then recorded 'Hearing It First' as her debut LP in 1980.
"I never went to college. I forgot. I was going to college, and then I got a gig. Then I got a publishing deal. Then I got married. Then I had a kid. Then one day I looked up and went, 'Oops, I didn't go to college.'"
Husband Ernest Chapman suggested a move from Mobile to Nashville, TN so that she could pursue music with more intensity. She signed a second song-writing contract in 1985 and by the end of the decade was regularly providing hits to others.
Ernest died of cancer in 1994. Beth worked through her grief by creating ever more emotionally profound songs, one of which was 'Sand and Water'. Then she was diagnosed with cancer, herself.
"There is only one song on Hymns that I wrote, 'Hymn to Mary'. I wrote that when I was right in the middle of chemotherapy for breast cancer in 2000. As horrible as I felt, I would make myself go to the piano every day, turn on the tape recorder and plunk around for 10 minutes. Then I'd go back to lying on the couch, moaning. I did it because I had to keep my foot in the water: I was more afraid of losing my ability to write songs than anything. When I got my strength back, I listened to all those days of plunking and clinking. And there was this melody that was very special to me. A month or so later when my body was cleared of the chemotherapy I wrote the words, a prayer that came from the deepest place of reaching to Mary for faith in the midst of feeling abandoned."