At first, Surrey’s Carolyn Arends believed her song about grieving the death of her mother was just too personal to record for public ears. But now, three years after its live debut, “To Cry For You” is an award-winner, and the emotional video is a hit.
The four-minute piano ballad won Adult Contemporary Song of the Year at the Gospel Music Association of Canada’s 42nd Covenant Awards, celebrating Canadian Christian music and arts. Arends was a double winner Nov. 19, as “Without Music” was declared Folk Song of the Year.
With “To Cry For You,” Arends strikes a nerve with a song she wrote about a year after losing her mother in October 2018.
“It’s one of the most personal songs I’ve ever written, and when I first wrote it, I thought it might be just for me, that nobody else needs to hear it,” revealed Arends, whose music career launched in the mid-1990s.
In 2019, “To Cry For You” debuted live at the annual Hutchmoot music conference near Nashville, on a theme night devoted to mental health and not being afraid to get help.
“They asked if there was a song I could share,” Arends recalled, “so I had this song and it was my journey of grief and having to learn that we learn how to grieve well. So I immediately connected with people about how helpful it was to reframe that, how when we cry for someone it’s really a way of honouring them, that’s kind of the heart of it. So after that I decided to record it.”
The song’s simply, single-shot video shows Arends driving alone in her car from Maple Ridge, over Golden Ears Bridge to her home in Fraser Heights, because she thinks “people do their best grieving in their car, in that private space.”
The video has been viewed more than 26,000 times on Youtube.com since March 2021.
Both “To Cry For You” and “Without Music” were written during a recent period of creativity for Arends, who’d taken time off songwriting for close to four years. From “famine to feast,” she’s been prolific enough to fill Recognition, a 12-song album of rootsy originals, and a seven-song “acoustic worship EP” called In The Morning.
“It’s funny because it doesn’t feel like my choice,” Arends said of her three-decade career in music, which started with a major-label debut I Can Hear You, for Reunion Records in Nashville and also BMG Canada, and continued with a dozen albums since released.
“In 2015 I did take a job with a Christian non-profit in the U.S. that I really loved, full-time remote, and at that time I wasn’t sure how much (music) I’d be making, new records.
“So I hadn’t recorded anything new for awhile and then at the beginning of COVID, my duo partner, who I’ve been playing with forever, Spencer Capier, he wrote this really haunting fiddle melody called ‘After This,’ and it was just so evocative that I told him, ‘Oh, can I write lyrics to this?’”
So that’s what “uncorked something” in Arends, who also authors books and guest-speaks at events.
“Then I had a little more creative margin because I wasn’t travelling for work,” she continued, “so I ended up starting to write, and then I remembered why I go long stretches without writing, because when I do, I’m kind of useless for anything else,” Arends said with a laugh. “It really takes over, and my family knows, ‘OK, no dinners for awhile,’ you know – really truly, I can’t sleep, it’s really something.”
Arends emphasized that in the years following 2015, she was still playing music all the time, just not creating anything new.
“It was really fun finding Songwriter Carolyn again – oh, she’s still in there.”
Also on the Recognition album, “Without Music” celebrates “the enduring necessity and power of music, even – especially – in difficult times,” Arends says of the song, which features guest vocals by Amy Grant and video filmed at an Abbotsford farm.
The song “After This” was about the current state of the pandemic, in those early days of COVID in May of 2020, when we endured six weeks of lockdown and had no idea what was to come.
Arends’ songwriting spree that year led to a crowdfunding campaign to record the resulting two albums.
“The crowdfunding went amazing,” Arends reported, “and the really cool thing about doing things like that is you hear from people who have all these touchpoints with your work, from the past – you know, this song was played at my wedding, this one was at the birth of my first kid, this is when I lost someone, got me through a hard time. So that’s all incredibly encouraging and an incredible reminder of what a gift it is to get to do this.”
The music was streamed throughout 2020 as Arends experimented with new ways of having people hear her songs.
“Even from 2015 to 2021, the music industry is kind of unrecognizable,” she said, “so it was about trying to figure out how to offer music to people in the modern world. People who helped fund the record got it right away, and then the songs were streamed out after that, one at a time. It’s been really refreshing and great.”