A New Day… A New Direction: “The Dawn” Song Story

“The Dawn” came crashing in without apology. It was one of those songs that refused to follow a conventional format. It drove me crazy, the lyrics and melody coming to me in a frenzied mess. I wrote it in less than an hour, but I fought with it for weeks afterward. There was no chorus— only four verses that when written out on paper looked like a poem. I was convinced it was going to be one of those never-completed songs that would clutter my composition book and constantly remind me of everything it could have been if I would have given it the chance.
It kept coming back to me though and refused to let me go. I had written it with a good friend in mind. For me and many of my close friends, the years between 2009 and 2011 were riddled with grief and heartache. One friend lost her mother unexpectedly to medical complications. Another came home after a failed relationship to start over again. I battled through adult-onset allergies that debilitated me so greatly that I struggled to breathe. It was a dark time for all of us, and it seemed like we couldn’t catch a break. They say bad things happen in threes; well, I was convinced we were up to six, seven, or maybe even ten. My prolonged illness was draining, and even though I was in grad school and working toward my passion for church ministry, I often couldn’t find the energy to get up in the morning. I cried a lot. I felt like I couldn’t keep my head above water. Stress and anxiety were constants in my life during that season.
In talking with one of my dear friends who had been walking through her own struggles during that time, we spoke of our quest for hope. I compared our time of darkness to a never-ending night. It’s often been said that it’s darkest before the dawn, and at that time, it made a lot of sense. We were in the inky blackness of midnight; there was no light at the end of the tunnel, no shaft of light from the lighthouse on the raging sea, no glimpse of light on the horizon from the coming sunrise. We just needed to find the dawn!
To lighten our perspective during those dark days, we would often text or call each other when we happened to be outside at the time of sunrise or if we glimpsed something that reminded us of dawn. “I found the dawn!” we might say at such times, and for a moment, it made us smile.
Midway through 2010, I began to catch a glimmer of hope on my horizon. I prepared to travel to Nashville, Tennessee to compete in something called “Immerse,” and my song “The Dawn” was still not letting me go. I finally stopped fighting and forced myself to record a rough demo of it in the studio. I wanted to take some of my recorded tracks to Nashville in case I had the opportunity to workshop with other songwriters. I wanted feedback on my unconventional format. Although the song refused to comply with a typical structure, I still loved it. I thought of it as my diamond in the rough that just needed a beautiful unveiling.
I got good feedback about the song in Nashville, but the time for “The Dawn” and its unveiling didn’t come about until August, 2017. I spent a few hours in the studio at Bailey Park simply as a means to work my way back into recording. I hadn’t recorded anything since 2011, so I was a little out of my element. I was considering recording an album, but nothing was ironed out yet. During that two-hour session I laid down piano and vocal for two tracks: “The Dawn” and “Waiting here.”
As I got ready to leave the studio that night, I asked the producer: “Do you hear any other elements that we could add to the songs?”
He thought for a moment and then said without hesitation: “On “The Dawn” maybe some violin.”
Instantly, I knew he was right! I had always loved the interplay between violin and piano, and I got so excited that I could hardly sleep that night. Even though I was technically on vacation starting the next day, I sent off a message to the only violinist I knew would have the potential to add something special to my diamond in the rough: Jennifer Kittleson.
When I sent that message, I had no concept of the reply that awaited me a mere twenty minutes later. Jennifer immediately expressed her interest in helping me with my project, but her eager response was tempered with deep pain. She proceeded to tell me that her fourteen-year-old brother had recently suffered cardiac arrest and was no longer conscious. She didn’t know if he would make it, and their family was reeling. She told me that she wanted to collaborate with me, but that she needed time.
I felt the sting of Jennifer’s pain, for it was only six months earlier that I had experienced my own unexpected loss, also as a result of cardiac arrest. John was only 39 when he passed away suddenly, and I was still processing the void his loss had created in my world. I told her there was no timetable for my project and that we would move forward when she was ready.
On September 2, 2017, Jennifer and her family said goodbye to Chris as he peacefully passed into eternity. The loss was significant for their family, but even in the midst of all-consuming grief, Jennifer’s mother had this to say on their CaringBridge site: “It is up to the rest of us to live life to the fullest in order to fill the void that we will all feel because we knew and loved Chris.”
“Live life to the fullest”— that line struck me profoundly. It spoke of the will to go on even when the pain of loss was still so sharp there was no comprehending its release. Jennifer embraced this will to move forward by going back to work and returning to the music she loved. By the middle of October, we sat dawn to talk, and I relayed my vision for “The Dawn,” not only the song but the album I had begun to piece together with the songs I had written over the past ten years.
“The Dawn” album found its beginning in the darkness of despair, when grief, physical pain, and suffering were all-consuming. Sometimes life and its trials don’t make sense; but even when answers don’t come easy, hope is never out of reach. It may be the darkest before the dawn, but when morning breaks, there is no denying the beauty of color and light as it paints the sky. “The Dawn’ celebrates God’s faithfulness and His promise of life everlasting.
“Yesterday has come and gone. You’ll wake to see the light of dawn.”

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