Faith, music and Rachel Smith
Published: Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Updated: Friday, November 25, 2011 23:11
The sun beamed through the windows of a local coffee shop. Tucked away in the back corner, a young woman with dark brown hair is curled up in a burgundy armchair, poring over a copy of Henri Nouwen's The Wounded Healer. She occasionally forced herself to break away from the words to spare a sip of iced coffee. If asked about her favorite book, she usually didn't have an answer, but she is now confident that this title took to the top of the list.
"I don't really know how to put it into words," she said, scanning the ground as if searching for an answer. "Whatever. The more I think about it [what she's read] throughout the day, the more I'm going to internalize that and I may end up writing a song about that thought in about a week."
Her name is Rachel Smith. A 22-year-old Christian musician who recently released two albums and toured several states with Tenth Avenue North, a chart topper in the contemporary Christian music scene. Her time is divided among writing new music, coordinating the worship program at Antioch 21 Church in Orlando and trying to wrap up her bachelor's degree in history at UCF.
Born in Pollock, La., Smith moved to Florida as a teenager when her parents were relocated for their work with Campus Crusade for Christ. She said the move was the hardest thing she ever experienced. Louisiana was everything she knew; Florida meant starting over.
Music was her therapy and an ever-present piece in her. As a child, her parents enrolled her in piano lessons, during which she gave everyone a glimpse of her talents. She was obviously skilled, though she admitted to only playing for show rather than enjoyment. The piano was not something she was passionate about. Then she found the guitar; an old acoustic that occupied her parents' closet. At 12 years old, Smith decided to try her hand at the dust-coated instrument.
"I just kinda started messing around, and I was like ‘alright, got it,'" Smith said. "When I started playing guitar, that's kind of when [the guitar] started to become a part of me."
Smith took several lessons, but the majority of her music skills are self-taught. She mimicked the songs she heard on the radio. Even today, she fiddles with hits from artists like James Taylor, Brooke Fraser and Fleetwood Mac. However, as her skills developed throughout the years, so did her abilities to write lyrics and create melodies of her own.
"There are certainly some times when, you know, I'll be thinking or reading one day and something will stand out to me… I'll just write down my thought and then sit down later and try to build off of that," Smith said of her music writing process.
Much of her inspiration is conceived through books, especially nonfiction works. Yet Smith is able to conjure a song through the simplest things as well.
"She internalizes everything," said Chris DiDonna, Smith's close friend and previous band mate. "The simplest little rainstorm turns into this magnificent song by the end of the storm. She's able to put words to life's experiences."
Faith is also evident in her music as well as in her life in general. Raised in a Christian home, a belief in Jesus Christ was as natural as breathing. There were times when she wrestled with her beliefs, questioning what she was raised to know as truth. Those difficult times in her life provided a structure for her music.
"[She] reached a point where she was no longer satisfied with spiritual answers that she hadn't investigated herself… I hear many of those questions—and sometimes, the answers—in her songs," said her mother, Beth Smith.
Today, Rachel is confident in her faith. It can be seen in the way she speaks, the way she acts and the way she sings.
Her close friend Holly Siudmak noticed an immense development in her spiritual life.
"A verse that inspired her a while ago was that ‘a man who fears the Lord avoids all extremes,' and I have seen her constantly pursue Christ and balance in everything she does with her music, family and friends," Siudmak said.
With this spiritual growth, musical growth followed closely behind. Her songs reflected her thoughts and her journey in seeking God in everything. She compared writing music to trying to grasp the beauty of the sun - she finds all things as a reflection of Christ.
"All art is born out of searching and not being satisfied yet. Inadvertently, any song I write, I'm looking for Jesus," Smith said.
Being blessed in her abilities, Smith has released two albums: Songs Made for Listening (2008) and All of Me (2010). The 2010 EP was recorded in Tennessee with guitarist Jeff Owen of Tenth Avenue North. Smith was introduced to Owen through mutual friend DiDonna. In September, Smith toured the Midwest with Tenth Avenue North, playing in front of crowds of 1,200 in churches and universities and approximately 80,000 at the SonFest Christian music festival.
Even as the opportunities continued to appear, Smith remained a humble musician. Her personality is warm and welcoming. She can always be found reading, writing, or cracking a joke. She enjoys a good football game and a cup of coffee. Apart from music, her favorite pastimes include being with people and talking. The reality of having a music career with real fans is still unreal to her.