Mom Music Spotlight
The Hands - Joe and Jean-Ann Hand
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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