Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Jim Brickman - Belief Beyond Words

  • 2000 18 Jan
Jim Brickman - Belief Beyond Words

Sometimes just having a dream isn't enough. It's the precise combination of talent and preparation meeting opportunity that brings a dream to life. But even with 88 keys, doors are still not easily opened.

One of the most amazing success stories of the past decade comes from a young Midwestern man who had a dream. {{Jim Brickman}} had the belief that his piano playing could make a positive impact on people's lives, providing for them an opportunity to escape from the grind of day-to-day living, finding spiritual retreat in the peaceful melodies and arrangements of his music. Regardless of however armed Brickman was with talent and ambition, opportunities to break into the mainstream still remained elusive.

The biggest obstacle for him to overcome was the fact that nobody was finding commercial success as a solo piano player. Adult contemporary radio stations were filled with tunes by Whitney Houston and Phil Collins -- who would ever be interested in piano music?

Brickman, remaining faithful to his belief in himself and his abilities, began to take the next step toward the doors he wished to be opened. He wrote and recorded a collection of original songs that he to took around to play for various radio stations. He collected letters from the broadcasters who heard his music and would be willing to play it on their stations, and then approached several record labels with his package.

The results have been phenomenal. The classically trained Brickman signed with popular instrumental label, Windham Hill, and released his first record, No Words, in 1994. Since then, he's released five more albums, brilliantly adding vocals by guest artists to several of his tunes, watching them continually scale the heights of radio airplay charts. Brickman has recently been named "Songwriter of the Year" by the SESAC performance rights organization for the second year in a row, and he's selling out concerts across the country.

His brand new project, ==If You Believe==, is a collection of piano solos, including a trio of songs that feature vocals from artists popular in Christian music. The smash hit "This Gift," the title track from Brickman's holiday release, features {{Susan Ashton}} and Collin Raye dueting on this tune which won him his first Dove Award from the Gospel Music Association. {{Point of Grace}} delivers "Hope Is Born Again," which also appeared on This Gift. "Love Of My Life" featuring {{Michael W. Smith}}, from Brickman's Destiny project, also topped the radio charts, allowing Smith to return to mainstream airwaves after a time following his own "I Will Be Here For You" and "Place In This World" hits.

Brickman's success story is filled with a message of hope and inspiration to anyone with a dream. Having a chance to speak personally with him afforded me the opportunity to pick his brain a bit on how to believe in your goals - to continue toward the goal, even when no one else is cheering you on. His response?

"It's very hard," he admitted without hesitation. "But it's knowing that it will make a difference, that eventually what you choose to do will, in my case, affect people emotionally, and get them through hard times."

STEP ONE: Believe that you can make a difference.

Click to hear "Hope Is Born Again" featuring Point of Grace!

"The best thing is when you're seen for who you are," he continued. "The worst thing about it is when you're misunderstood."

The trick in this, it seems to me, is to figure out who you really are - and then show that to people. Rather than showing them who you think they want to see?

"Exactly. Most people walk around life being what they think they're supposed to be, and not who they really are."

Jim then told me about how at the beginning of his career, so many different people would give him advice on what kind of music he should play - most of them leaning toward rock and roll. Because New Age [Editor's note: the musical style, not any sort of spiritual leaning] or pop/adult contemporary music is just not hip enough.

"I listened to that for a long time and it never worked. In retrospect, I go, 'Yeah, it never worked because it's not who I am.'"

STEP TWO: Figure out who you are - and be that person.

Click to hear "If You Believe" by Jim Brickman!

So I asked him the age-old question: "How did you translate who you are as a person into the kind of music that you play?"

"Well..." he thought for a second. "You can't try too hard. That's another thing. Sometimes people try too hard to be clever and different, or unusual and trendy, once again, because they think they're supposed to be that way. I find that the minute that I just sort of let go... Usually the first thing that I play is what ends up being the best, even though I'm somewhat of a perfectionist. I don't like to belabor it. It's the most honest."

Jim's a real believer that emotional content outweighs technical proficiency -- passion for the music and how it's conveyed to people is more important.

STEP THREE: Communicate with honesty and passion.

I start to wonder if it's possible, in the process of bringing your dreams to life, to not go absolutely crazy at times

"It's very difficult!" Jim assures me. "But the thing is, it's like a lot of other things in life. If you really walk around believing it, that's what people notice about you, and then they take you seriously. If you don't believe it, how are they going to believe it? It's kind of like you're saying, 'Don't you see it?' You have to be able to see it."

He tells me how he never knew that his playing was anything special. It's just how he plays the piano.

"I think you can learn how to do different kinds of things, and you can continue to grow, but ultimately at the core you have a style that is who you are. When people play my piano books, or they study my style, it's not something that I learned. It's just the way that I play. It's like reading an author. People say, 'I love his style.' That's just what comes to their mind first. It's how they write, it's who they are."

STEP FOUR: If you live truly believing, other people will come along.

Click to hear "The Gift" featuring Susan Ashton & Collin Raye!

How would you advise somebody who is wanting to go on the journey toward finding themself? That's a huge question...

"I'm..." he pauses. "I think we're all always on that journey. Personally, what I did was, I found myself in my work. I thought it was me and it really wasn't. It was my work. So, I'm still on that path. I'm on it right now in a huge way. Because I'm very successful in my work, and because it's emotion and it comes pouring out of me, people tend to think that it is really me. And I do too... At the core, it's such a deep part of me that it's hard to find sometimes."

Jim press kit says, "This is who I am. This is the way I write. And you have to give the people who love you more of what they love." That made me think, I wonder if it's a cycle that you can get into that says, "I've got to give you the part of me that you love, so that in turn, I will feel that you love ME."

I haven't been this deep since scuba diving in the Bahamas last summer, I think to myself.

"Oh gosh, yeah...that's a biggy -- because they don't know me." Now who's being honest, I wonder. "So it's kind of like it's accolades for who they think you are. And if you're not that person then they must not really count as accolades. It's not really for me, because they don't know me. How can their comments, or their impressions of me, or their love for what I do, translate into loving ME? It's not really the same. You can't get that from other people which is the major lesson there I guess."

STEP FIVE: Don't look to other people to give you the love that God alone longs to give you.

Time to come up for air.

continue on to part two by clicking here!