With the 2017 Yellow Conference only a few short months away, we wanted you to start getting to know this year’s incredible speakers a bit better! First up is Lisa Gungor, Grammy-nominated musician and artist, mother of two girls, and all around inspiring storyteller.
Tell us the story of starting Gungor, and what sparked you to create music.
LG: It is always a little difficult for me to decipher just where the spark started. I used to sit for hours in this huge overstuffed orange chair and listen to my Dad’s records, immediately lost in music - so that was a definite spark. I remember the day I wrote my first poem - I sat high in the branches of the maple tree in my front yard, my usual spot for daydreaming or pretending. After writing that poem in the tree, I went to the piano I didn’t yet know how to play, and found a melody for it.
That’s how writing songs started for me - it didn’t feel like something I decided to do, more something that found its way to me, like art often does.
There was just something about arranging words in an artful way, carefully crafting each line, that was so intriguing. I would read every line on the insert of a record or CD while it played. Listening to music wasn’t passive, I was always fully engaged. I still remember that first song, but it is definitely one of those that only your Mom would say is great out of total Mom guilt (or blind Mother love) - so it will not be appearing on any albums anytime soon or ever.
A long time later I met my husband, Michael, by an old pay phone at the university we were attending. He was a musician and one grand evening we showed each other all of the songs we had written in a tiny little practice room. I sat at the piano, he sat on the floor. It was never the plan to write music together, we wrote pretty differently - in both theme and composition.
When we first tried to write together it crashed and burned. Crafting a piece of art with another person is a vulnerable thing. Thus, feelings can get hurt oh so easily when co-writing. It requires being un-attached to your ideas a lot. But eventually, we found ourselves writing together in a natural way. Like so many musicians, we both grew up playing music in church, and that is where our music started. Later we began getting invited to play in various venues, so we thought we should probably have an actual band to play with. Everything really took a turn though when we began writing from a deeper place - unafraid of speaking to deep pain or belief.
What times of transition in your life have proved most important to get you where you are now?
LG: The hardest transitional time of my life was 2014 - I had an existential crisis (always fun), and in the middle of that year had a beautiful, squishy baby girl. At her birth we were given a grim diagnosis for her life. She faced two heart surgeries, and we weren’t sure if she would live, or what her life would look like if she did. I never imagined how hard that would be. It’s one of those things you think always happens to someone else, not you.
Honestly, it turned out more beautiful than I thought it could be. I feel pretty lucky to have gone through the transition of thinking I knew what a good life meant, and now knowing what it really means. Yeah, it’s still super hard at times, but what life isn’t?
Without this struggle, I think I would have a thin philosophy on life - a dreamed up one instead of a flesh and blood one.
I definitely don’t claim to have arrived by any means, but I think there is something that suffering and pain has unearthed in me.
What has been your greatest struggle as a musician and artist?
LG: Staying true to the art. It is often tempting to go the easy route for money and safeness sake. Especially with having two kids, I want their life to be secure, but then I remember security isn’t what I’m after.
Security is never a great springboard for good art. Risk is.
In every career you can get caught up in comparison. You see others who shoot to the top of the success ladder so fast, and it is tempting to compare. Staying true to the art I know I am supposed to make during really difficult times is a practice.
Who has impacted your life in a profound way?
LG: Oh so many. The top of the list are my girls - this may sound like the quintessential Mom phrase, but it’s so true. My girls have opened up my life in a way I didn’t know children could. They are my teachers and my late-night dance party partners - everyone needs that. Others are: Mary Oliver, Allan Watts, Ram Dass, Hafiz, Anthony DeMello, Shane Claiborne, and Richard Rohr.
The theme of this year’s conference is The Present Journey. How we must embrace the process instead of only focusing on the finish line. How does this tension of being present, while looking to the future, resonate with you?
LG: The present is all there is. That could be the theme of this year for me. We Westerners don’t do “present” as well as the Easterners (blanket statement here, yes). I think our idea of success has a lot to do with that, because our idea of measuring up keeps us looking to the future.
Photos provided by Lisa Gungor