STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For 21st Century Media
Routinely delving into the musical diversity of domestic and world cultures while striving to push the outer limits of his creative energy, world renowned and critically acclaimed recording artist Phil Keaggy knows no boundaries.
A successful Christian recording artist for more than four decades, Keaggy, known for his dozens of solo works as well as his time with “Glass Harp,” has successfully crossed over to mainstream music without compromising the deep faith that has come to define the man and the musician.
I love music from different cultures, not just American music,” said Phil Keaggy, from his home in Nashville, Tenn., “I’ve enjoyed the music of what goes on in Asia and South America, South Africa. I love rhythms, ultimate time signatures. I have music in my heart, and it can come out through my fingers. I’m always listening and trying to pick up something new.”
Currently on tour with fellow musician and collaborator of recent years, pianist, songwriter and vocalist Jeff Johnson, Keaggy has enlisted the talents of Irish flutist Brian Dunning and violinists Wendy Goodwin and Geoffrey Andrews.
Billed as the “WinterSky” tour, the concert will feature solo efforts from Keaggy along with compositions written and recorded by Keaggy and Johnson on their “FRIO Suite”(2009) and “Watersky” (2012) album releases.
“I proposed that maybe during the Christmas season we do a tour together,” said Johnson from his home in Camano Island. “It was fun to come together and try to figure out how to do this music live. We were able to add those textures to the things we could do. We were really committed to not playing with tracks. We wanted to do what we did live and just break the song down that way.”
“What makes playing in an ensemble so great is when you are playing real music live, particularly in a chamber kind of setting when everybody is listening to each other,” adds Johnson. “What Phil does in concert is pretty mind blowing. You see Phil Keaggy integrated into an ensemble, and that’s pretty neat. Everybody is adapting to the dynamics and all the other things that each other is doing. The most fulfilling situations for me are when it’s a situation where it’s a communal experience. Everybody is drawing from one another’s inspiration.”
“I think it’s really quite fun for the audience,” adds Johnson. “It’s so different, and it kind of takes them to a space. It’s really cool to do that in a live setting, because obviously there’s not only energy coming from the artist, but there’s energy coming from the audience.”
“I think it’s a very full evening of music, and I think it’s a full evening of celebration,” adds Keaggy.
Keaggy and Johnson’s first studio effort, “FRIO Suite” (2009), began as a simple collaboration between two artists with no initial intention of releasing an album together.
“We met at Laity Lodge, which is a Christian retreat center in Texas. Phil was doing a concert. I was there doing music and leading the worship for the group there. Phil and I just kind of hit it off. Before we left we kind of joked about ‘Hey we have to send some tracks back and forth.’”
“I got home and I thought, ‘well, I’m going to send him something.’ Within a day or two he had sent me something back that he added to that. Then I added some more stuff and that was, I think, the first song we did — “Like Walking on Water” on “Frio Suite.” It was just such a fantastic experience for both of us. There was no pressure. There were no deadlines.”
“I really felt that would kind of be it,” added Johnson. “About three years later, I proposed that maybe we think about doing something again. He said, ‘Yes, send me some ideas.’ So, I sent him ideas, and we went back and forth with a couple of ideas and finished them, and then our schedules took over. Again, we weren’t interested in giving ourselves deadlines or putting pressure on each other. Eventually we did end up doing another record, ‘Water Sky.’”
“Jeff is a very melodic keyboardist,” added Keaggy. “One of the things I think is a real plus and why we work well together is because he would send pretty simple structures to me and then I would just embellish them and create what I thought would sonically give it some extra beauty and melody. We were never in the studio at the same time, so that’s an unusual thing for two albums. He lives pretty far away, and I live pretty far away from him.”
“I don’t think we lost anything by recording separately,” added Keaggy. “In this case, it was just the two of us. We gave each other a lot of consideration and space, and there was a lot of trust there, which is cool. Jeff would trust me knowing my level of musicianship would ultimately compliment what he had already created and then vice versa. It worked out beautifully.”
More than 40 years since Keaggy surrendered his life to Jesus Christ, his passion and commitment to faith and music remain what he considers to be his greatest contribution to his fellow man.
“I do rejoice in the fact that I can give honor to Jesus,” says Keaggy. “I just love his heart. To me, he’s a real person. And because he’s a real person of time in history and with eternal significant purpose — his coming believing he is the Son of God as he is the Son of Man — his sacrifice on the cross redeemed us from our sins. It’s the same good old gospel story that has changed millions of lives. And so I do like to make that known. There’s a place in what I do that brings that across.”
“If more people were musicians, I think we’d have a lot more peace in the world,” added Keaggy. “You’d take up your instrument and not take up arms.”
IF YOU GO
What: Phil Keaggy and Jeff Johnson present their “WinterSky” tour.
Where: Sellersville Theatre, 24 West Temple Ave., Sellersville.
When: Shows are at 3 and 8 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 21.
Info.: Tickets are can be purchased by calling (215) 257-5808 or at www.st94.com.