For many who remember their earlier work or sing their songs in church, Waterdeep is associated with worship music. That’s a fair connection. But, after a successful run in the Christian Contemporary Music world that began over a decade ago, Waterdeep took a break before engaging in what they call their “Peace Talks.” In the talks, they considered a move away from overtly confessional music, directly defying a popular sentiment that music, especially music that doesn’t specifically talk about Jesus, can’t be a Christian vocation. “There are very, very few people left with the feeling that they can’t pursue their hopes and dreams vocationally and still be a Christian. So I think our legacy is being this transitional voice for that. And I’m pretty proud of that. I’m proud to have been in service to help usher that in,” said Don.
As a result, their more recent work has reflected a new direction. One reviewer of their 2009 release Pink and Blue, in what I think was meant as a compliment, wrote, “…While these songs may not be nearly as well-deep as this act’s prior work, they still by no means strictly represent the shallow end of the pool.” The reviewer goes on to elaborate on the album’s playfulness, but never fully explains what he means by saying the new songs are not as “deep.” In fact, the new album is quite rich and nuanceful, so I can only assume he’s referring to the lack of explicit references to Jesus—a curse no doubt borne by many former worship and CCM bands who have come to a point in their lives of trying to reimagine their artistic calling.
Here in the Student Activities Office, we’re always interested in exploring how Christians create art for the public square. Therefore, Waterdeep’s leading couple Lori and Don Chaffer is of particular interest. “…They helped pioneer a Christian’s way out of the contemporary Christian bubble into a respected place where artists can truly begin to flourish and speak the beauty and truth of God in a broken world,” writes Matt Conner, who published a three-part interview with Don in March.
Sure, the cover of Pink and Blue is playful, with cartoon images of a boy and a girl. Sure, Don and Lori have a YouTube video on their web site featuring their children, ages two and four, singing one of the songs. But Pink and Blue offers observations, both musically and lyrically, specifically for grown-ups about things like having children and wrestling with family legacies. Don explains that “lately, I’ve been captivated by the idea that maybe these experiences were never meant to be transmitted. That’s the nature of life is to be in it and be okay with that and having knowing looks and smiles and words, of course, but that part of the gig of being human is to actually be human and not have to qualify or quantify everything.” Contemplating deeper questions about art and language and purpose have not made Waterdeep’s work more shallow; in fact, it’s done the opposite, requiring new ways of being and creating that reflect a more complex understanding of life.
As Joy Williams, another CCM expatriate put it in a different way, “Everyone sees life through a grid. Part of my grid is faith. When I was in CCM, I was just singing about the grid. I’ve come to a point where I want to sing about what I see through the grid. In CCM, I was always pushed to sing about faith from a ‘victorious’ angle, when I feel like so much of faith is wrestling through questions.”
We’re glad to have this opportunity to support Waterdeep in this next phase of their artistic journey together.
- Kirstin Vander Giessen-Reitsma