The Sound of Music

I like to say that I knew Kara Tippetts before she was famous. In other words, before her cancer diagnosis. Many people recognize her as the brave and courageous woman who lived and died with such grace and transparency. She was a hero and an example to many people, and rightly so. But she was also just a regular person like you and me.

Our first real conversation happened at The Little Gym. My daughters took a gymnastics class there, and my lovely wife, Heather, had invited the new-to-town Tippetts family to come check it out. So while our kids tumbled and rolled and summersaulted, Kara and I talked about music.

Now, I’m a music junkie. But I swear I didn’t raise the topic with Kara. If I were meeting a Presbyterian minister’s wife for the first time, I would probably start the conversation with something along the lines of, “So, the Westminster Catechism—is it awesome or what?”

But no, Kara wanted to talk about music. She had a way of asking just the right kind of personal questions that would get someone to open up and talk about the things that were important to them. She was interested in talking to the real you, not the superficial you.

Anyway, we talked about a rare recording by Peter Gabriel called “The Snowflake.” Many people have heard Peter Gabriel’s quirky radio hits like “Sledgehammer” and “Shock the Monkey.” But “The Snowflake” is a genuine rarity. It’s a recording, released only in Japan many years ago, of Mr. Gabriel reading a children’s story over a backdrop of quiet, contemplative music. To be honest, I was shocked that Kara not only knew about this hard-to-find curio, but could speak authoritatively on it.

We talked about the beauty of the music, the soothing nature of Peter Gabriel’s British accent—and the bank loan that would be required to actually acquire a copy of this rare CD. Kara said, “If I ever have another child, I want ‘The Snowflake’ to be playing in the delivery room. It’s one of the most relaxing and calming things I’ve ever heard.”

A few weeks (or months—I’m hazy on the timeline) later, the diagnosis came. But I’m thankful that even in the wake of the bad news, Kara’s love for good music remained. Readers of this blog know that she posted clips of songs that were meaningful and comforting to her on more than one occasion.

And in my own interactions with Kara, the conversation often turned back to music. I’m pretty sure there is video evidence somewhere of a certain gathering at the Tippetts’ house that involved all of the parents belting out “Let It Go” and other songs from Frozen while the kids looked on in astonishment. For soft-spoken people like me and Jason Tippetts, these epic gatherings were both entertaining and traumatizing.

I also had the honor of creating a playlist for the book release party of The Hardest Peace. My wife still listens to this playlist to this day… it’s got everyone from Jars of Clay to Hall and Oates to Mr. Mister to Sinead O’Connor, with a healthy dose of Kara’s known favorites thrown in like Daniel Lanois and Lyle Lovett. Lots of 80s music—or as it is now known, “oldies.”

My favorite song on the playlist—and Heather’s favorite, too—is a track called “Liberation” by the late Scottish artist Martyn Bennett. Over an aggressive electronic backbeat, it features a recitation of Psalm 118—sung in Gaelic and spoken in a thick Scottish brogue: “The LORD hath chastened me sore; but he hath not given me over unto death.” Bennett composed the song while he was in the throes of sickening and debilitating chemotherapy. He died a few months later, but “Liberation” is a defiant proclamation of eternal hope in the face of certain death. How very Kara Tippetts.

Oh, one more thing. Thanks to Kara, I am now a huge fan of Ellie Holcomb. I stopped listening to most “Contemporary Christian Music” years ago because I find much of it to be treacly and derivative. But Ellie is the real deal. When she turned up at a coffee house in Colorado Springs for a surprise concert for the Tippetts last year, I was blown away. What an honest and genuine person—a great role model for my young daughters, who were so thrilled to meet her at the show and get their CD signed. Thank you, Kara.

I’m not sure how all of this ties together, except to say that Kara didn’t leave the joys of music behind when she left this world. Now she’s experiencing it and living it in a way that we can’t imagine and won’t understand until we get there. If music is such an important part of our worship experience here on Earth, how much more will it define us when we’re in His presence?

The music of the spheres—I can’t even fathom it. But I know it will be better than “The Snowflake.” Or Handel’s Messiah. Or even U2, as tough as that is to imagine. And Kara is experiencing it right now.