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The Hands - Joe and Jean-Ann Hand

Listen to a Sample from Psalms by Joe Hand

 

One Catholic Couple Making Great Music Together
Catholic Music Spotlight Joe and Jean-Ann Hand 

Most of us know them as the talent behind the song we hear weekly on Life on the Rock, but the partnership of Joe and Jean-Ann Hand goes way beyond this incredibly catchy theme song.  With eight CDs between them and a busy production studio business in Nashville, the Hands have found a way to combine their faith and their talent with incredible results.  Both in their own body of work and in the consultation Joe provides to other artists, the music they create is both inspiring and captivating.

Along with their CDs, including Joe’s latest The Psalms, Jean-Ann is the creator of “Here with Me Now”, a musical tool aimed at teaching the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  I took time with Joe and Jean-Ann to catch up on their recent activities and am happy to share their perspective on their teamwork, their music, and the Catholic music industry.

Q:  It's such a pleasure to conduct this Catholic Music Spotlight with The Hands!  Joe and Jean-Ann, thanks for your time and participation.  Could you please start off by telling our readers a bit about yourselves and your family?

Joe:  I'm the 2nd of 4 Children, My dad is from Northern Ireland and my Mom is Italian. She was born in the states though. I grew up in South Florida. My family was always in church. When I was young, all of us played music in church. My mom led children's choirs, and my brother played guitar, I played bass and keys, and my sister and brother sang. We were like the Von Trapp family of Catholic Music. I loved music, and was the only Hand to continue on with it. I went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and now I record music of all kinds at my studio in Nashville. Lots of Catholic fare recently.

Jean-Ann:  I was born outside of Cleveland (Parma, to be exact) in what I later learned was one of the most Catholic areas of the country.  I wasn’t even aware there was anything besides Catholic until we moved to S FLA when I was about 10.  I was blessed with an amazing family, somewhat musical, very creative and free-spirited and of tremendous faith.  After spending some of my wild youth dating guys who were as far away as possible from where I truly belonged, meeting Joe jolted me back to awareness of who God created me to be.  His upbringing was so similar to mine.  We ended up being compatible on so many levels.  It’s been awesome.

Q:  Did music bring you together, or did you discover that you sounded great together once you'd already met?

Joe:  I met Jean Ann when she was singing in a hard rock band. The band came to my studio to record. I thought the band was good, but she was the hottest thing I'd ever seen. I was pretty enamored with her.

JA:  Funny thing is, at the time, every Saturday, my parents had been traveling over an hour to go to Mass at a church in Key Largo.  They’d tell me about this guy who did the Mass music there, how handsome he was, how talented he was, and so on.  Of course, I didn’t pay much attention and was involved in other things.  Some time later, while my parents were still making their weekly pilgrimage, my drummer brought us to this studio he was recommending to us.  He told us “the guy’s a Christian artist, but he’s really cool and he’s really good.”  We were all skeptical, but decided to take a look anyway and were blown away by the place and the studio owner and we knew that’s where we knew we needed to be.  Little did I know the studio owner, who eventually became my partner and best friend (Joe) was the same guy who was playing at Mass at that church Key Largo on the weekends.  Joe would commute a couple of times a week to Key Largo; he was the music director there when he wasn’t running his studio.  Parents’ prayers must be extremely powerful!

When we met, I was prompted to take a good look at where I was going, creatively and spiritually, and realized I was kind of off course.  And while I’d heard Christian music, I’d never met a Catholic who did faith-based contemporary music. That was a real eye-opener, and a soul-opener as well.  Joe’s devotion to the Blessed Mother re-awakened my own devotion, which had been extremely powerful as a child but had gotten to be dormant by that time in my life.  To meet a man who’s faith led me to strengthen my own, well, what a blessing that.  To meet such a man and find him also so be the amazing talent that he is, well, that was something extraordinary that only God could arrange!

Q:  You're perhaps best known within Catholic listeners for your recording of that fantastic theme song for "Life on the Rock."  How did that recording come about?

Joe: They asked me to write a song, and I came up with NOTHING. NADA. Jean Ann came to me a few days later and said, "I think I have something." She played it for me, and said "It's not very good, is it?" To which I replied... "It's incredible!"  We made a demo, sent it up, and it became an instant favorite.

JA:  It was truly a gift from God.  It was the first Christian/Catholic song I publicly did.  And I couldn’t have done it without Joe.  I’ve tried recording myself and the results were scary.  And while I might come up with the backbone for a song, without him, it’s just a skeleton.  He knows just how to take what I bring and help me develop it to what it should be.  He understands my creative language, which is really important.

Q:  I know that you're based in Nashville now, and active in the recording industry.  Have you stuck to recording spiritual music as you base has broadened?

Joe: Not exactly. At this point, about 50% of the music that comes my way is God stuff. The rest is country, rock, jazz and even classical. I did a live remote recording with an Orchestra last week. I've had the privilege to record everyone from John Michael Talbot to Linkin' Park to Waylon Jennings to Peter Frampton. It's really great. But all my own music is still Christian. It's what I'm most passionate about.

JA:  Something I find amusing to watch is the spontaneous powerful witness that frequently occurs in Joe’s secular work.  It’s a pretty cool manifestation of St. Francis’s “Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words” thing.  Something I’ve come to realize over the years is that life is ministry.  Your life is your witness and speaks just as clearly if not more clearly than the words you may write or sing.

Q:  I lived in Nashville while my husband was in medical school at Vanderbilt, and I recall the Catholic community there as small, though active.  How has your Catholic identity shaped your music?  Was it difficult to break into the Nashville music scene?

Joe:  I don't know about the Catholic identity thing. It hasn't been much of an issue. There are lots of Catholics in Nashville, though most people think Southern Baptist when they think Nashville.

Nashville is very intimidating, and for good reason. Some of the most talented people in the world are here. Incredible musicians, and incredible wealth from the music industry. When JA and I moved up here, we were traveling a lot, and needed a central place to travel from. I didn't move here so much to be a studio guy, but the Lord opened some doors for me in that area. I started helping people out with computer recording gear ... being a tech, really. Then people started asking me to help engineer sessions. Then the phone started to ring off the hook. I had a very valuable skill ... digital audio editing. I had no idea how big the need was. It allowed me to make money for the first time in my life. The industry has cooled a bit, but I'm producing lots of independent projects. Keeps it interesting, anyway.

JA:  It’s not as prohibitive as I thought it would be.  Maybe that’s because we’re the same no matter where we are or whom we are with.  There are a lot more Catholics around here than I thought there would be.  And non-Catholics are a lot more accepting than I’d been warned they would be.  Or maybe I’m just too clueless to notice otherwise!

Q:  I loved reading about your "Here With Me Now" program.  Could you please tell our readers a bit about this great tool for catechesis?

JA:  I enjoyed working on this so much!  It wasn’t my idea originally.  A really super Catholic doctor down in Louisiana had the idea for a music-based Catechesis and, drawing from his experience as a religious instructor at his parish, drafted an outline for the topics he’d like to see covered in a program.  We were doing some concerts down there when he approached us with the idea and we got started on it with him.  He later got busy with some other crucial stuff and wasn’t able to remain as involved in it, but it couldn’t have been done without him.  I don’t think I would have gotten to idea on my own.  I have a minor in Education from a Catholic university (Barry University in Miami, FL), and I really enjoy developing creative ways to effectively teach important concepts. What could be more important than our Faith?  After writing and recording the songs for the CD, I looked at the project from an educator’s perspective, considering my own experience teaching CCD and the position of most volunteer CCD teachers, whose schedules are already packed with families and jobs and everything else.  I wanted to make the program as easy-to-use as possible for them, so I included in each lesson plan everything the teacher would need to effectively teach the lesson.  There are topic outlines, discussion questions, related Scripture and Catechism excerpts that support the themes of each lesson, lyrics for the songs, even a glossary of words with which the students or the instructors themselves might not be familiar.  And, because it was initially conceived as a Confirmation Preparation program, I included an appendix with all of the material most parishes require their Confirmation candidates to learn:  basic prayers, Gifts of the Spirit and that kind of stuff.  I strived to make it comprehensive, and as I said before, easy for the instructors to use without too much preparation.  I get so excited just talking about it!  I’d like to write some more programs along these lines. To combine my love for music with my love of education and my Faith has been such an incredible gift!

Q:  Who would you say are some of your musical influences?

Joe:  Early on, mostly rock stuff. Yes, Journey, Kansas, Rush, Genesis, Queen, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, The Beatles... I couldn't get enough of it. Later I went to Motown and Soul, Paul Simon, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, and guys like Miles Davis, Jaco Pastorius, Steve Morse, the real super heavy music people. Funny thing is... I didn't listen to much Christian music. I didn't like much of it. it wasn't very interesting, musically. I hope to make Christian music that is not just a good message, but also good music. Unfortunately there is a lot of mediocre stuff out there for Jesus. I think He deserves better.

JA:  I grew up with a lot of John Denver music, which I still love.  I listened to a lot of rock/pop growing up, mostly the real commercial, radio-friendly stuff, which I think has given me a good ear for song structure and accessible melody.  I sang in church all through my childhood, and sang with my Dad and sometimes my brother and sister at Church functions.  As a child, I remember singing “Immaculate Mary” and “Sing of Mary” and all the songs we were learning in school.  I guess I am quite influenced by what’s in the missalettes!

Q:  What's your prognosis for the future of Catholic music?

Joe:  I've been very encouraged lately with some of new crop of Catholic Musicians. I went to the CAM (Catholic Association of Musicians) conference at John Michael Talbot's retreat place this past year. I was very impressed with the hearts of the artists that came. I'm working with a few of them now. There is a kid from Florida who goes to the Ave Maria University. His name is Rich Dittus. He's an incredible songwriter. Very cool voice. We're making a CD for him now. Hopefully it will be out by the fall. Kids are going to go NUTS over this stuff, and it's very Catholic. I'm also producing some other great Catholic singers and songwriters. Celeste Zepponi, Joe Hellriegel, Teri Everard from Australia, lots of cool stuff. There are other great artists too like Fr. Stan Fortuna, Tom Booth, Sara Hart, Mike Zabrocki, Annie Karto and David Ray. Incredibly talented.

JA:  I think it is limitless!  Considering the universal nature of the Church, and getting email from Catholics in Qatar and Nigeria and other distant places who are using our music and/or making their own, I am just overwhelmed by the possibilities that exist.  To be joined in Faith and joined in our expression of that faith through music, each person from each place having so much to contribute to this solid institution that has survived over 2000 years.  It is so exciting, the seemingly exclusive difference and sameness that only God can make possible.

Q:  Are there any closing thoughts or comments you'd like to share with our readers?

Joe:  Just to pray for us, and for the Church. The Church documents call music "the highest of all the art forms," yet does little to help make great music. Many deserving artists need support to make great music for the Lord. Thank you so much for listening!

JA:  In addition, overwhelming, overflowing thanksgiving to God, to the faithful of our Church, and to everyone who has prayed for us, heard us and/or supported us.  And to you!  God bless you!

For more information on music by The Hands, visit Catholic Music Network or their web site at www.thehands.org

 

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