|

Co-creating an EP with God and community

Toronto songwriter Ruth Chan is set to release her first EP: ‘May we learn to be both Christian and human.’

What does community look like for creatives in the church? We asked Ruth Chan, a Toronto singer-songwriter musician and artist. Chan’s artist name is “Heather is Growing,” and she is releasing her first EP, Heather is Growing on April 28th. Christian Courier talked to Chan about her songwriting journey ahead of the EP release. 

Chan: I began writing the four songs for the “Heather is Growing” EP about two and a half years ago during a period where life became quite difficult and painful. I moved an astronomical amount. I watched loved ones suffer. I watched strangers suffer. I waited and God grew increasingly silent in my waiting. I began the humbling work of restoring a fractured relationship. I saw another relationship fracture. My greatest pains were not the circumstances themselves, but the existential weight that came with them. Did God care? Was God involved or did he abandon me to free will? How long would he wrestle with me before it no longer felt purposeful? Before it felt unkind? 

The EP documents my journey emerging from this season. The songs ask the difficult questions that we face after we have suffered. Who is this God I have now come to know in my suffering? Will I accept who he reveals himself to be? Can I let things go unanswered? Can I love God again? These songs are my honest wrestling of faith with a God who wounded me and our ongoing process of reconciliation, of learning to fall in love again.

Heather is Growing at a Youth Conference in Burnaby, 2021.

CC: Where does your name ‘Heather is Growing’ come from?

In my last year at Redeemer University, I wrote a classical piano composition called Heather is Growing, and the name has remained with me since. Heather is my middle name. I initially chose to use Heather to create a degree of separation. If I released music under Heather, perhaps it would be easier — less vulnerable — than if I were to release music under my first name, Ruth. Although the degree of separation to avoid vulnerability is no longer my goal, the separation has helped in other ways. I’ve found that using my middle name somehow gives me permission to look at myself more objectively, almost in the third person. It helps me to step back, have compassion on myself, to see my story with greater perspective. It humanises myself to me. 

The initial Heather is Growing piano composition mirrors the rising and falling action of a child learning to walk and the delight of her discovery. This reminder of how good and pure it is to grow continues to guide my creative work. The image of heather growing also serves as a reminder that just as flowers are both tender and resilient, so growth is not the hardening of a heart, but the strengthening of a heart to remain grateful and vulnerable in all things.

What does songwriting look like for you?

Songwriting has been a part of my life since I can remember, and it’s been a way for me to process and understand more of life, myself and God. Sometimes I produce music completely on my own, and sometimes I work in partnership with others. For this EP, my engineer and I ran the recording sessions together, bouncing ideas off of one another. I leave a lot of the tech parts of the process, such as mixing and mastering, to other people. I used to try to do those parts on my own, but I’ve realised that that is not something I’m wired to do. So I oversee, I contend with the music, and I hold on to the vision of a song until it becomes reality.

As with many artists, some days I get in my head. Some days I think my music is amazing, and other days I think it’s mediocre. As I continue to journey and mature as an artist, the highs and lows have steadied more, and I have learned to trust myself and the work I feel called to do. 

These days, the biggest challenge is balancing it all. I’ve been traveling back and forth between Toronto and Vancouver for a few years now, and I work with music communities in both cities. Last year I flew eight times, and this year looks like it might be shaping up to be the same! Thankfully, I’m blessed to work in music as my regular day job. I also work on the side as a freelance artist and photographer. Releasing an EP on top of these jobs has required a lot of time and perseverance. I’m still trying to figure out the balance, but I’m slowly finding my way. 

The creative process is very exciting for me. I’ve loved working with fellow creatives and friends, seeing the artistic expressions they bring to the project. I’ve also found a lot of joy in expressing my non-music creative side, in graphic design, writing and photography. 

Heather is Growing artist picture.

What does community look like for you, as a creative? 

For me, as a creative, community looks like vulnerable co-creation. Let’s take music for an example. Together, we practice vulnerability in the very act of singing. I had a voice instructor who once said, “You can’t lie when you sing. You can’t hide. If people are in painful seasons, you can hear it in their voice. If they’re on top of the world, you can hear it.” If it’s true that we can’t hide behind our false selves when we sing, then to sing is to ask to be received just as we are. And to hear another singing is to be given the invitation to love, to listen and to receive. When we sing and practice this vulnerable giving and receiving, we co-create a beautiful offering to God: a song we have all made, together.

As a church and as individuals, vulnerable co-creation often begins with knowing that we are all the beloved of Christ. In him there is freedom. He knows our truest selves — the self that even we do not know. He has seen us, received us and given himself to us. By honouring the beloved in ourselves and in others, we create community. 

As a church and as individuals, vulnerable co-creation often begins with knowing that we are all the beloved of Christ.

Who is your audience, and what do you hope happens as they listen to your music?

I hope my songs resonate with the evangelical church as well as those who are outside the Christian faith. For evangelical Christians, I hope my music encourages them to embrace the fullness of journeying with Christ – even the uncomfortable parts of the journey. We live in a time when distractions are readily available. We can sidestep the complex questions of faith with a simple tap on our phones. It can be hard to create silence, to face ourselves, to have the courage to give voice to our doubts and fears. I hope that these songs create a safe place to do those things. So often we get confused in the pursuit of joy, healing and perfection, and our Christianity stifles our humanity. May we learn to be both Christian and human. 

For those outside the faith, I hope to lend a deeper perspective about what it means to love Christ. My desire is that they would also see that to walk beside Christ is to become fully human. That there is something true here, something relevant, something whole. I suppose my hope is to make the Gospel relevant to those who do not follow Christ, and also to those who do follow him.

You can find Ruth Chan’s music online and follow Heather is Growing on Instagram @heatherisgrowing.

Author

  • Maaike VanderMeer

    Maaike first appeared in CC's pages as a teenage writer from Ontario. Fast forward almost a decade later (and relocate to a land-based fish farm in southern British Columbia), and Maaike stepped in as CC's assistant editor for a year in 2021. Now she serves as Art and Development Manager. She is intrigued by the symbiotic relationship between hope-oriented journalism and the arts, and the place it has in CC's pages. Her degree is in Intercultural Service and World Arts and she creates original watercolours and graphics for CC (proving that work can be fun). You can follow more of Maaike's visual experiments on Instagram @maai_abrokentulip

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *