Building Faith Through Music: An Interview with Shawna Edwards

Shawna Edwards seeks to build bridges with music. Her most recent work, "Restored," reflects on the wonders of the Restoration of the Gospel.

As we begin our study of the Doctrine and Covenants, some of us find ourselves on the lookout for supplements to aid in that study. One such supplement that we have is gospel centered music. I’ve written about what the Nashville Tribute band is doing with Don’t Miss This in a previous article. Today I want to shine a little light on Shawna Edwards, whose song Restored, focuses on the restoration of the Gospel. Shawna is an amazing musician and has collaborated with talented singers such as David Osmund, Yaphet Bustos of BYU Vocal Point, Kristen Scott and Allie Gardner, both previous singers in BYU Noteworthy, and the One Voice Children’s Choir.

It’s always great to spotlight those who are out there trying to make the world a better place, so I reached out to Shawna. Lucky for me, she graciously agreed to answer my questions.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and your music?

I only started writing music about a dozen years ago. I was a piano major at BYU years ago, then a full-time mom to five children, and I never even considered composing. But when I returned to BYU to finish my degree, I didn’t see any point in practicing the piano 5 hours a day, so I graduated in Commercial Music, and that sparked my interest in songwriting.

Who/What are your musical influences?

I think the person who influenced me the most was my dad, who loved classical music and taught all of his children to love it. He was very invested in my musical education — buying a grand piano on a school teacher’s salary — so that I could have something beautiful to play. He also regularly came into the piano room and sat on a chair in the corner and listened to me practice. His consistent interest in my developing talent did more to encourage and motivate me than any other single thing.

I had a piano teacher – Mrs. Hinckley – who believed I could play anything and inspired me by giving me the world’s best music and teaching me not to just play the notes, but to say something with my fingers. Maybe that was a precursor to learning how to say something with my songs.

Also, my husband, John, has helped me every step of the way. He gave me courage to put my first few songs on YouTube. He’s both my biggest fan and my most brutal critic. For example, when I played my first version of Restored for him, he said, “You can do better. Lift your sights on this one.” And so I tried to do that. And the song turned out better in every way.

Finally, while I love classical music and was trained as a classical pianist, I also love 70’s/80’s pop & rock. I also love a lot of contemporary Christian pop. And I often listen to that when I’m trying to find inspiration for something new.

If you were to choose one of your songs, which one would be your favorite?

Ah. That’s a tough one. It’s like asking someone their favorite scripture. It usually depends on the day. But if I can only have one, it would probably be Risen. If I can broaden it out to 3 or 4, I would include The Miracle, My Own Superhero, and probably my most recent song, Restored.

What led to the idea for Restored?

“In the early spring, in a grove of trees, a young man knelt  to pray. For the world he knew, was a world confused, and he wanted to know the way.”

I tend to gravitate toward ideas that I don’t think are ‘out there.’ One day in December, I was thinking about the First Vision and the restoration. I could think of several hymns/songs about the first vision itself, about Joseph Smith, prophets, priesthood, etc. But I wanted to write a song that would address the broad impact of those events and people. At about that same time, I was studying the first section of the Doctrine & Covenants: The Lord called Joseph Smith and gave him commandments – why? So that faith might increase in the earth. That every man might speak in the name of the Lord. That the fulness of His gospel might be proclaimed. I wanted to write a song about those blessings – promised not just to members of our Church – but to the whole world!

I also wanted to say that anybody can know the truth by asking God. I felt like one of the best ways to do that would be through many singers – different ages and races, sizes and colors. I wanted a viewer to see themself in that group and feel a connection to it.

And then I might just add that it was a miracle that we were able to pull together that group of singers. They all had a different style – and I worried about how they would sound together. But they were incredible. It was one of the most meaningful projects I’ve ever worked on. I’ll never forget that day in the studio.

You’ve worked with some talented people in your videos, like Yaphet Bustos, Lyza Bull, Kristen Scott and Allie Gardner, not to mention the One Voice Children’s Choir, is there someone you would love to collaborate with on a future song?

Wow. There are so many talented singers around here! For Restored, I put out a notice on Facebook asking for singers. I got over 70 videos. They were ALL good! Some of my favorite local vocalists that I haven’t worked with before are Ryan Innes, the Bonner family, and I think David Osmond is incredible. (He sang one of my songs several years ago, but I would love to have him sing another one.)

Your song Risen has garnered over 2.4 million views on YouTube. What has your reaction been to it being viewed so many times?

Whenever I look at views on some of my most popular songs, I just feel grateful that people are listening. That says two things to me: 1) There are still so many people who believe in God and look to Him for guidance; and 2) There is so much power in music – the power to strengthen, encourage, and comfort. If my music has ever had a positive impact on anyone, I’m grateful for it.

Also, I think this sometimes: 2.4 million views is nothing! Lauren Daigle’s You Say video has almost 200 million views. Adele’s Hello video has over 2 billion views! So…I have a long way to go.

What’s one thing you want others to know about your music?

I have tried to write music that appeals to a broad Christian audience, not just members of our Church. I think we need to do whatever we can to stand together with other Christians in this crazy world. I’m currently ‘chatting’ back and forth online with a nun who lives in a convent in Poland, a pastor from Texas, and the director of a Christian children’s choir from Mumbai, India. Building bridges between people of different faiths has been very fulfilling to me.

Also, many of my songs are written for the in-betweeners. You know – that group from 7-13ish who are beyond the little kiddie songs but not quite into the teenage stuff yet? They’re a little more grown up than typical children’s songs. But the little kids always learn them anyway. I mean, they can learn every word of Let it Go, right? I believe, in general, that the children of today are very capable of understanding deeper doctrine and learning more difficult music, and we should help them do it.

There’s one more thing: Sometimes the song just comes. And sometimes it takes a long time. But either way, I absolutely know this: We can take our meager, flawed efforts to the Lord, and He will multiply them. Almost everything I wrote for the first 10 years was just for someone in my life. Do You Have Room? was for my family for Christmas. The Miracle was for my Primary. I never thought anyone else would ever hear them. They aren’t great songs – they’re just simple songs that share what’s in my heart. But the Lord has the power to touch our efforts and make them great. And He will do that over and over as we continue to offer what we have to Him.

Any hints as to what you are working on next?

I’m working on getting many of my songs translated into other languages, especially Spanish.

And I’m doing a series of songs that tell Bible stories in a fun, creative way. I hope to finish that during the spring and summer months.

If you like what you hear, you can check out more of Shawna’s work by visiting her website, or on her YouTube page.

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