In the midst of our nation-wide COVID-19 lock-down, multiple Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Janis Ian wrote a new song entitled ‘Better Times’. Janis wrote this song to make herself feel better, to remind her friends that this is only a chapter of our story, and to share hope. In her own words:
On March 9, the day after John Prine died, I was doing laundry when a chorus began running around in my head. Two hours later, I sang a new song into my phone (dog barking in the background), and put it on line. My colleagues and I had just lost all our 2020 shows. Knowing the financial hardship it meant, I asked a few to make "home-grown" versions and let me put them on line, with leads to their websites. First was John Gorka; it worked so well that I asked a few more. Then a quarantined parent emailed that coloring books were sold out, so Sue Coccia, Sandra Boynton and I began "coloring pages". Donna Russo, a dancer friend who uses a wheelchair, sent a video; Frank Turner and Mary Black signed on, and now there are versions from Seattle punk to ASL to Japanese. I hope this illustrates the many ways one song can be done, and reminds us that you don't have to be a professional to make art. Every version here was done from "lockdown", with birds, dogs, children in the background. It doesn't matter. What matters is that we enjoy it, give voice to it, and remember that someday, better times will come.
As Director of Children & Family Ministries at Old South, I have the ability to direct and produce all sorts of programs on whims and tangents – wherever the spirit leads me -- and this was one “special project” that I decided our children should attempt during our stay-at-home time.
Our project began with my asking if any of our regular music folks had time to help out – but they were all swamped and couldn’t participate. So I reached out to a friend, Jeff Kile, whom I used to work and sing with when I was in Tennessee. He recorded a guitar track immediately and I was able to create a master track with several version of myself singing the lyrics and Jeff on guitar.
I invited the families of the church to participate in several potential ways: recording an audio track of their child singing along to the master track, sending photos or videos of their own stay-at-home time, and sending copies of artwork and/or thank you notes for essential workers. It took a while for our families – who were already dealing with working from home while educating from home – to send along items for this project – but we did it!
I created the video by first creating an audio chorus with each of the children’s voices, my voice, and Jeff’s guitar track. From there I created the video with around 150 photos and videos - and we were able to share it in worship on June 7th. Instead of a “children’s message” given for the benefit of the children, we shared the video as a “message from the children” given for the benefit of the congregation.
With so few ways for the children to participate in worship while we’re online – this was a fun project (for me) that enabled us to share the lives of our children with our congregation – while we are still separated bodily. It connected us together – and perhaps shared some hope too!
Janis has collected each of these “better times” projects onto a page on her website – and will soon launch a project page of its own, not connected to her site. Please check out all the lovely, beautiful and creative ways that people around the world have rallied to share the message that better times will come.
Janis’ page for better times: