Meet Founder, Producer, Creative Director: Steve Siler
Is That All There Is?
By the late 1980’s I had been pursuing a career as a songwriter in the pop market for over a dozen years. Like most people trying to break into a very competitive business I’d had just enough success to keep the carrot dangling in front of my nose.
A collection of music writing assignments for jingles, sitcoms, and soap operas had kept me peripherally involved with the music business while I earned the majority of my income cleaning up garbage at construction sites.
On numerous occasions songs of mine were considered by major name artists only to be passed by when it came time for recording to begin. Then finally I had what seemed like a real breakthrough. A Canadian group called Candi and the Backbeat recorded a song I had written with a couple of friends. The song “The World Just Keeps on Turning” was an innocuous piece of dance drivel reminiscent of recent hits by then pop song queen Paula Abdul, later of American Idol fame.
When I got word that the song was slated to be the first single I got really excited. Then I heard that Billboard the most prominent music industry magazine had a full page ad of our song announcing “The new hit single!”
I raced out and bought a copy and sure enough, there it was. In fact the ad it was directly across from the Hot 100 singles list, the plumb spot in the magazine! “You’re on your way!” I said to myself.
Just a few days later the song was in rotation on a Los Angeles radio station. I parked in front of our radio in the living room anxiously waiting to hear my single for the first time. Then the moment I had worked for my whole life happened.
And it went thud.
After the song was over I found myself thinking of an old Peggy Lee song.
“Is That All There Is?”
I had spent fifteen years, my entire adult life up to that point, trying to achieve something and now that I had, all I could think of was that it didn’t make any difference in the world at all. It was catchy enough, but empty.
It dawned on me that the song could have been written by anybody. There was nothing of me in it.
Worse, there was nothing eternal about it. My song was never going to make a difference in anybody’s life. It didn’t even make a difference to me as I heard it. It was just me giving the world what I thought it would buy. It was utterly disposable. It would be here today and gone tomorrow.
Late one night, feeling very discouraged, I went to our little wooden church that had a 24-hour open door policy to pray. I sat there and asked God to send me something meaningful to do with my life. I knew that He hadn’t given me the gift of music to write jingles, sitcom themes, and dance tunes. There had to be something more. I even told Him I would quit music altogether if He wanted me to do something else.
The following week out of the blue I received a startling phone call that would change my life forever. The call was from a young man who was starring in Les Miserables at the Schubert Theater. He had been visiting my church and happened to be there on a morning when I sang a song called “Even Me,” one of the three Christian lyric songs I had written up to that point.
“You don’t know me. My name is Stephen Breithaupt. I visited your church a week ago Sunday and heard you sing a song. I’ve just licensed a book on childhood sexual abuse and I’m going to create a stage play. I want it to have music and I think you’re the guy who is supposed to write the songs”
It was an unusual call to be sure but it seemed like an answer to prayer. And so I agreed to meet with him.
When I arrived at the restaurant in Burbank, California he put this book down on the table between us and I looked into eyes of the little girl on the cover and I knew right away that I would do it.
I took the book, a gentle children’s story called “I Can’t Talk about It” home with me. I didn’t know anything about the issue except for what I had learned from the book when I got down on my knees next to the piano.
“Lord,” I prayed, “I don’t feel qualified to write these songs but I know this is important and I know it is from you. Please help me.”
Over the next couple of days I proceeded to write four songs through only the guidance of the book and prayer. When I was done I was very concerned that the songs might actually do more harm than good. I felt I needed an expert, professional opinion.
I called up the only therapist I knew. “Mary Leigh” I said, “I have done something here and I’m not really sure about what I’ve got. I don’t want these songs to hurt anybody. Will you listen to these songs and tell me what you think?”
That was on a Friday. On Monday morning she called me up and she said “Steve, I hope you won’t be angry with me but I used your songs with clients over the weekend.”
Thus began an incredible journey.
Stephen and I went on to stage what we thought was a children’s play.
Imagine our shock when, at a church performance in Rolling Hills, California,
hundreds of adult women showed up to see the play, many of them clutching teddy bears.
As I sat behind the curtain playing the piano for the songs I could hear women crying out in the audience. After the performance I told Stephen, “I think we have a tiger by the tail.”
We continued to accept invitations to play at churches across southern California. After one of them a woman named Maureen came up to me and said, “For twenty-five years I have taken drugs to go to sleep.” Then she held up our tape. “Now, I listen to this.”
After another performance in Fullerton, California a therapist came up to me and said, “I have a client I’ve been seeing for two years. She would never cry about her abuse. Then I brought her to one of your performances and she heard the songs. She hasn’t stopped crying since. She is finally letting all the pain out.”
I’d had no idea that music could be used in this way. Not only had God answered my prayer, giving me something meaningful to do with my life, He had also showed me a way to live out my faith each and every day through my work; through the gifts He had given me.
For the next two years Stephen and I presented our play for audiences as small as 10 and as large as 1,000. It was performed at colleges, churches, hospitals, and in theaters around southern California.
Then, in an astounding development we were invited into the Los Angeles public school system to perform the play twenty times in ten different schools in diverse neighborhoods all across the city.
Shayla Lever, the lady in charge of bringing outside presentations to the children, flew in the face of the separation of church and state by deeming the value of our project too important to pass up.
I asked her, “Couldn’t you get fired for having us perform this play in the schools?”
“I don’t care,” she replied. “It’s the truth and the kids need to see it.”
It is significant to note this unreserved show of support came from a lady who was Jewish even though our project was blatantly Christian. It was God that moved upon Shayla’s heart and prompted her to invite us in to the schools. We didn’t force her to do that. We didn’t have to water down the faith content of our message to gain her approval.
Many times since starting Music for the Soul I have been told, “If you would just take Jesus out you could reach so many more people.”
What my experience with Shayla taught me is that my responsibility is to share the gospel. It is up to God to move the mountains.
Finally, we received the invitation that would truly change my life forever.
We were invited to sing one of the songs from the play, Innocent Child, at the closing ceremonies of a conference in New Jersey called VOICES (Victims of Incest Can Emerge Survivors).
We accepted. Then Stephen, my partner and the singer in the duo, developed a conflict and could not attend.
But we had already said yes. It was up to me.
When I arrived at the conference I immediately felt somewhat out of place. There were three hundred people there but only about ten of them were men. I was cautioned by one of the organizers not to hug any women during the weekend.
I spent time during the weekend hearing story after story from women who had experienced the unspeakable. I understood the title of my own project in a new way.
Many of the women were angry at God for what they had gone through. I literally felt like I had two strikes against me – I was a man and a Christian.
Many of the books and speakers at the conference seemed committed to the message that the best way to stop being a victim was to get angry and stay angry. One of them liked our tape in spite of herself and it actually seemed to make her even more angry.
“How do you know what you know?!? Have you ever been abused?!!!”
I told her truthfully, “No. I just prayed and this was the result.”
By the time the weekend was over I felt like she was a friend. Another woman, an author who was an atheist, endorsed our project before the weekend ended even though she continued to urge me to “take the forgiveness part out.”
When the time for the closing ceremonies came I found my way to a ballroom where there were chairs set up in a big circle around the wall. There was a grand piano in the middle of the room. The women filed in and every seat was filled.
After some announcements and a dance routine it was my turn.
I sat down and began to play.
I know you’ve been sad for so long
Don’t blame yourself
You didn’t do anything wrong
After just those few lines I could hear the tears begin to cascade toward me from around the room. The pain became so unbearable that I literally had to slow the song down, gasping for breath to keep from passing out. I truly didn’t think I was going to make it through the song.
When I was done I buried my head in my hands and was overcome by deep convulsive sobs. That was when the miracle happened.
These women – the same ones who I had been warned not to hug – lined up one after another and started hugging me.
Several minutes later when the crowd had dispersed and I had managed to regain some of my composure a young women of about thirty came up to me. She looked me in the eye and said “People have been telling me I was an innocent child my whole life but I never believed it until I heard you sing it today.”
I knew that what she had said was important. I thought to myself, “I’m supposed to do something about that,” but I had no idea what it was.
I could not get her words out of my mind. In reflecting upon what she had said to me in the coming months I thought, “OK, how many other people are not going to hear what they need to hear unless someone sings it to them?”
Eventually her words led to me discovering my own personal mission statement: To proclaim a renewing, healing, and compassionate Christ to the world through music.
I wish I knew where that woman is today so that I could thank her. God used her to plant the seed that, eleven years later, would become Music for the Soul.
Not Too Far From Here
By the summer of 1993 I was living in Nashville and writing songs several times a week with Ty Lacy, a staff writing buddy at Starsong Music Publishing. We often wrote at my home. Ty is very creative, a great melody and hook writer, and a great song plugger, instantly likable with an amazing ability to get people to record his songs. But he is not terribly organized. In the days before e-mail, more than once he called me from a pitch meeting to ask if I could bring a lyric sheet to him right away.
One afternoon after Ty had been over at my house for a writing session I noticed that he had left his lyric pad on the kitchen counter. At the top of the first page was written one line – a song title: Not too Far from Here.
I called him right away and told him that he had left his lyric pad in my kitchen and that I had dibs on writing the song title Not too Far from Here with him. The next time he came over he had a melody line and an opening verse lyric for the song started.
As was usual in our writing sessions Ty basically blew in, blurted out what he had, and then blew back out, trusting me to finish up what he had brought me. I remember lying on my stomach on the floor of my office looking at my lyric pad – the best lyrics are often found on the floor – and thinking to myself this needs to be a prayer.
The song was recorded by Kim Boyce in 1994 and went to #1 on the Contemporary Christian Music charts after being released as a single. But it was in spring of 1995 that the song stunned me.
By that time EMI had bought Starsong and Ty and I were both EMI writers. We were working on another song together in the old Word Music office on West End Avenue in Nashville when someone came in to tell us about the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Later on as I tried to pray for the families I found I couldn’t. Though I felt deeply, especially for those who had lost their children in the day care center, I literally felt I had no words.
A few nights later the annual Dove Awards took place in Nashville and I went to the obligatory after-party for EMI staff, artists, and songwriters. When a limousine arrived bearing two of Contemporary Christian music’s more prominent artists a photographer bodily shoved me out of the way to get a clearer view. I thought to myself “What am I doing here? I’m going home to my family.”
The next morning I had just come back from taking my mother-in-law to the airport and as I pulled in the driveway my six year old daughter came running out saying, “Daddy, daddy! Your song is on television!”
I wondered to myself, ‘Ohmigosh, what terrible game show re-run from my TV scoring days is on,’ when I walked in to find my wife on the den sofa, tears streaming down her cheeks. On Good Morning America a little 8-year old girl, Mikaila Enriquez, was singing Not Too far From Here. Interspersed with live shots of her singing were video clips of the rescue efforts at the bombsite and clips of the victim’s memorial service.
It was as if in that moment God said to me, “This is what you’re doing here. You do have words for these people,” and I knew in my heart that that was worth a thousand Dove Awards stacked on top of each other and then some. I was humbled beyond belief that God would allow my song to be used to comfort others in this unspeakably tragic time.
I saw something else even more important in that moment. Mikaila was singing about Jesus on national network television.
Somebody at my publishing company told me that ABC had received ten thousand calls before noon that day with people asking, “Where do we get that song?” Ten thousand calls in three hours.
After that, it was as if the song took on a life of its own. Kim Boyce called me to tell me about a man who had heard the song on his car radio that had pulled over to the side of the road in tears to accept Christ. She told me, “My whole career was about getting to the moment when I could sing that song.”
My friend Jason who used to live in Oklahoma City told he went back and had dinner with some friends and they told him, “Tell your friend he will never know what that song meant to our city.”
Then in 1996 I heard from a missionary family that was using it in the jungles of Brazil.
In 1998 Michael Crawford, who had heard little Mikaila’s version decided to record it on an album of spiritual songs, which led to further exposure. He performed the song on programs like The View and on his PBS music special.
In 2000 I heard from Graham Webb, the chairman of England’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children who told me that the song and had been performed with vocal and harp at Leeds Castle for one of their events and that their television campaign featured the song. Not long after that I heard version of the song recorded by a boys choir in England
I started to hear of web sites that were incorporating the lyric and actually found several, including a web site that existed solely to share the lyric to the song. People began forwarding me sermons where pastors had quoted from the lyric. In fact my own wife heard one of my favorite preachers, Dr. Fred Craddock, quote the song in a speech he gave at a conference.
I have seen a video on the web where the song has been used to pay tribute to the rescue workers from 9/11 and another video where the song was used to make people aware of the plight of abandoned animals after hurricane Katrina.
On many occasions friends have come to me and said things like, “Hey I was at a graduation service for a Christian college in St. Louis and they sang Not Too far From Here.”
All of these experiences continued to build the case in my mind for a song-driven ministry that would help people to feel and to express the nearness of Christ; to feel hope in times of despair. Though Music for the Soul did not exist at the time Not too Far from Here was written, the song still manages to convey beautifully the purpose of this ministry – to show mercy and compassion to one another so that people will know they are loved by others and by God. But the events surrounding Not too Far from Here were not the only experiences leading me toward the creation of this ministry.
I Will Follow Christ
In 1995 my wife was four months pregnant when we discovered that the child she was carrying would be born with Spina Bifida. As a way to process this information and as a gift to my unborn son I wrote a song called Whole in the Sight of God. Author and artist Joni Erickson Tada, a quadriplegic, subsequently asked permission to sing the song at her conferences for handicapped kids and their families.
In September of 1997 my wife’s father passed away. I wanted to find something to comfort her and was amazed to find no music available to help those dealing with grief. As she was flying back to Virginia for her father’s funeral she looked out the airplane window and said she could imagine her father, free, dancing in the clouds.
Out of this circumstance Dancing With Angels was created. Counselors, pastors, and funeral homes have used this album to help those coping with loss. A beautiful line of sympathy cards has been developed to accompany the music.
My mission statement continued to drive the content of my career and I heard through recording artists from people all over the country about how the songs had touched lives; All of My Hope comforting a young woman who’s aunt was dying of brain cancer, More Like A Whisper encouraging a father with two special needs children, Every Single Tear being played over and over by a mother of 9 as she fought a losing battle with a terminal disease…God has been so faithful in answering my request to make the work matter.
In 1999 I was at the Ryman auditorium for a concert during Gospel Music Association week. Clay Crosse, BeBe Winans, and Bob Carlisle debuted a song I had co-written with Clay entitled I Will Follow Christ. Even before the song was over the crowd was on their feet screaming and applauding. I sat in the middle of all of it and remember saying quietly to myself, “wow.”
The next morning was the Columbine tragedy. I Will Follow Christ went on to win the Dove Award for Inspirational Song of the Year in 2000. “So in other words,” I said to a friend, “Cassie Bernall gets shot for saying she will follow Christ and I get thousands of dollars, the approval of a cheering crowd, and a gold statuette for my piano.”
That series of events had a lot to do with pushing me further towards the creation of this ministry. God had been guiding my steps and whispering in my ear ever since that night in the little wooden church. Finally, in December 2000 I made the decision to create Music for the Soul.
In the years since the ministry was founded and finally incorporated in December 2001several miracles have taken place confirming for me the need for this ministry and the direction it has taken.
I hope you will enjoy visiting us online and let us hear from you about the miracles that God has worked through music and song in your own life.
Music for the Soul