Senior admires personal connection with artist
JJ Heller shares meaning, stories behind lyrics
At a special performance at Big Valley Grace Church in Modesto, the Hellers played a number of songs while sharing various parts of their background including struggles with panic attacks.
Fans of JJ Heller appreciate her folksy, acoustic songs that carry important messages about God's love, while showing off her incredible voice, which is complemented well by harmonies sung by her husband, Dave. I first began listening to their music a few years ago and was immediately attracted to the laid back melodies and truth of the lyrics. With this in mind, I was eager to experience a live concert.
Big Valley Grace Church, located in Modesto, hosted a concert benefiting ministries for women and children, May 4. Heller has roots in this church; she attended in elementary school with her family.
The show opened with an introduction by a member of Big Valley Grace Church who prefaced Heller's appearance by sharing an abridged version of her journey into singing. As a high school student, Heller was a talented basketball player and planned to continue this sport through college.
However, God had a different plan for her, because at that point in her life she started singing and has continued since. Now, the Hellers tag team their musical endeavors by composing original music. God has used them in ways they aren't even aware of to reach people through their songs and bring hope to those in despair.
Heller's opening song was "Tell It Again," from her third album, When I'm With You. For each number, the only musical accompaniment was Dave's acoustic guitar and occasionally JJ played harmonica.
Many of the songs had stories behind their lyrics, which the couple would share before performing. Two special songs were ones dedicated to their daughters, entitled, "When I'm With You" and "I Get to Be the One." Their daughters, Lucy, age three, and Nora, who is 8 months, remained at the family's home in Phoenix, AZ and were not present for the concert.
During "Kingdom Come," one of my favorite songs, the audience was invited to sing along. I was doing this already, but with the Hellers' permission I upped the volume and clearly belted out the number.
The evening took a somber turn when the lyrics behind "Olivianna" were explained. This piece was written when JJ's friend directed her to the blog of a woman named Amber, who poured out her heartbreaking life story.
"Throughout the entire performance, the couple's connection and easygoing manner was obvious. They were very natural together and their voices complemented each other. Dave's lower harmonies blended well with JJ's folksy, pure voice, and his guitar playing was always perfect." --Austen Houts, '12
When she [Amber] was pregnant with Olivianna, the doctors told her that her daughter would either be born with severe birth defects or she wouldn't survive. Olivianna only lived for eleven minutes after she was born. JJ was so moved by this story that she wrote a song in honor of this little girl who has touched so many lives. Amber and her family attended this concert and requested that JJ perform the song.
After this especially meaningful piece, JJ shared some of her own testimony that tied into the creation of the song, "Your Hands." Years ago, JJ was experiencing severe panic attacks which would not go away despite her constant prayers. This song was written before JJ's music had gained popularity, but her career took off when a girl auditioned for the television show So You Think You Can Dance and danced to "Your Hands."
A radio station heard the song and began playing it on their station and slowly other stations picked up the song until it became more popular. The Hellers started to receive calls from listeners thanking them for the song because they heard it at exactly the right time. Now JJ understands why God allowed her panic attacks to continue, because something good, that is beyond herself, came about as a result of her temporary pain.
Right before intermission, the Hellers shared about their involvement with World Vision, an organization that works to better communities in Third World countries through child sponsorship. They encouraged audience members to commit to supporting a child as a form of ministry, because it is very rewarding to see the positive impact even from thousands of miles away.
My family and I have been sponsoring children through World Vision for years, and I wholeheartedly agree that it is very fulfilling to know that you are providing a child with materials and resources vital to their existence.
One of the places the Hellers visited to play at was a center for women with eating disorders, and while they were there the women confessed how eating was the only thing in their lives they felt they had control over.
Senior Austen Houts shares about her experience of attending the JJ Heller concert at Big Valley Grace Church.
JJ admitted she worries about everything and imagines the worst possible scenario without even having any reason to be upset. She explained that when she does this, it means she isn't trusting God to take care of her or trusting that His will is enough for her. "Control" was played after this portion of her testimony was shared. I found this piece to be especially meaningful to me because I have similar problems with worrying and was comforted by the thought that someone else experiences the same thing.
JJ prefaced the performance of "Tonight," by explaining how she had been trying to write a love song for Dave but could never make the words sound right. Eventually she gave up her solo endeavors and asked for his help, so together they created a song about their first wedding dance. She affectionately referred to it as "our love song for Dave."
The couple's final number was "What Love Really Means," a crowd favorite, during which they invited the audience to join them in singing once again. After receiving a standing ovation, they returned to perform -True Things-- as an encore.
Throughout the entire performance, the couple's connection and easygoing manner was obvious. They were very natural together and their voices complemented each other. Dave's lower harmonies blended well with JJ's folksy, pure voice, and his guitar playing was always perfect. Their humorous banter engaged the audience and made us feel as though they were old friends and I would love to see them in concert again.
After the performance I waited in line to receive JJ and Dave's autographs on my newly purchased CD. When I spoke to them, I told them that I've performed five of their songs at church. They thanked me for the free advertising and continued to be as friendly and pleasant as they were onstage.
I am particularly glad I had the opportunity to attend this concert because her songs have special meaning to me and I've sung them over the years so, I knew most of the numbers they performed. I admire her as a singer and spiritual leader and I hope to attain her ability to connect with the audience while she is onstage.
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