Keep Silent: Jennifer Grassman’s Christmas Vision
By Howie Doyle
That! Texas Magazine
Jennifer Grassman was only eleven years old when her parents gave her an upright piano, but her life story was written on that day. That was just a little over half of her life ago, and Jennifer has spent the second half of her life behind that piano, or other pianos and keyboard, experiencing the joy she found in making music.
What a surprise it must have been to her, and her parents, when she gave voice to her music and it lifted into the air on the wings of her natural talent, her songs honeyed and resonant. Since then she has added six years of piano lessons with an internationally renowned concert pianist – Timothy Hester – and she attended Moores School of Music at the University of Houston as a vocal major. In the process, she acquired the tools and the confidence to follow her artistic vision.
Jennifer is intent on making music. Since the release of her first CD, At the Back of the North Wind, she has played many venues, major and minor. Her music has graced churches, art galleries and coffee houses, and listeners are often surprised by her powerful voice. At times operatic, at other times subtle and nuanced, she applied her craft to original music as well as classical selections, and sings from the heart. The lyrical content of her music is spiritual and refers often to her Christianity, but it is also full of heartstrings and cinema, pith and poetic allusions; it belies a timeless wisdom beyond the years of her generation.
Now, with the release of her second CD, she carries forward a small cadre of believers, and Jennifer has paid her dues for each fan she has. At the head of the pack is her husband, Jason Greenberg, who not only provides encouragement, but musical accompaniment on guitar on both CDs.
With her latest release, Jennifer chose not to aim for the mainstream market with three-minute, radio-friendly selections, but to follow her muse... into the recesses of ancient music, much of which has been forgotten over the millennia.
The new CD, consisting of 14 Christmas carols in classical arrangements is called Keep Silent. Two of the tracks are new songs that she wrote as she communed with the spirits of ancient composers (“John's Song” with its sparing arrangement and profound lyrics, and the gothic, haunting “Can This Be So.’’) The oldest of the selections dates from the 5th century, a part of the Liturgy of St. James which was translated from Latin. The music she chose originated in England, Germany, France, Ukraine, and early America.
Listeners will recognize several familiar, traditional selections from Keep Silent: “Silent Night,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “Carol of the Bells,” “Greensleeves,” and “O Holy Night.” The music production is professional, the arrangements uncluttered and balanced. There are more than a few idiosyncrasies in the mix, including backwards-tracking, repetitive loops, synthesized sounds and vocal effects, but they are used only to add flavor. The chef, music producer Dan Workman of the independent label TLM Productions, handled the ingredients subtly and with expertise. One would expect no less from a producer who has lent his expertise to artists such as ZZ Top, Destiny's Child, and Clay Walker. The recording was done at the storied Sugarhill Recording Studios in Houston, of which Workman is President, a time-honored springboard for artists who are going places.
True, Jennifer's art is music, but her vision for Keep Silent included a specific setting for performing these songs – in historic churches, before congregations eager to share the spirit of Christmas. So she arranged a performance tour that kicks off in early November at St. Paul's United Methodist Church at 5501 Main Street in Houston. From there she travels to Austin, Brenham, Dallas, and other cities. “The churches became a dream come true,” Jennifer commented, explaining that they fulfill her vision for venues that are architecturally and historically impressive, and which are not only resonant acoustically, but resonate spiritually. “I wanted to perform at venues that would create a powerful atmosphere.”
“I didn't want these concerts to be the sort that parents felt like they needed to hire a babysitter in order to attend,” she explained, “or where people on fixed incomes would have to save up forty dollars to get a ticket.” All of her performances on the Keep Silent tour will be played free of charge.
Although artistic success is fickle, it is almost always occasioned by the pairing of a meaningful vision and extraordinary talent. Enter Jennifer Grassman, performing music that glorifies Christ, from an era when the gifts that were celebrated during Christmas were not found under a tree, but in the heart and soul. As she honors history with the performance of this timeless music, one suspects that she will also be writing it.
The Keep Silent Christmas Tour of Texas
Monday, Nov. 5, 7:30 p.m. - Houston
St. Paul’s United Methodist Church
5501 Main Street, Houston, Texas, 77004
Saturday, Nov. 10, 7:30 p.m. - Austin
Central Christian Church
1110 Guadalupe Street, Austin, Texas, 78701
Saturday, Dec. 1, 7:30 p.m. - Austin
University Baptist Church
2130 Guadalupe St, Austin, Texas 78705
Sunday, Dec. 9, 6:30 p.m. – Brenham
St. Mary, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church
701 Church Street, Brenham, Texas 77833
Friday, Dec. 14, 7:30 p.m. – Dallas
101 N. Kentucky Street, McKinney, TX 75069