When 20-year-old singer/songwriter Hannah Beck won the top prize at this summer’s Sonshine Festival tournament, a nationally recognized Christian music competition, it was merely the latest milestone in a professional music career that had already been rolling for half a decade. When Hannah was 15, her pastor asked her to perform an original song in church each week, and the young writer found herself on a path that came as a bit of a surprise.
“I think back then music was more of a pipe dream to me,” she says. “I’ve always been a girl with multiple interests. Even now, I constantly am adding new hobbies and topics to my repertoire of research projects and library book lists, but music still remains my go-to and longest constant.”
Pipe dream or not, there was no denying that music was very important to her, and she seized the opportunity given to her by her pastor to use her songs to make a difference.
“At 15, music played multiple roles in my life. It was my constant companion, [my] diary and the way I’d release and express emotions,” she says. “Music was my avenue to dream and imagine beyond what was in the here and now. So, through that, I would dream big. I wanted to learn how to be better and excel further. Any opportunity that came to share [my music] was a privilege. It meant that I could give life to my most recent beloved piece in front of an audience and hopefully impact someone with what I’d written. In those moments, my scribbles on notebook paper felt like something bigger than me, and that’s exactly what I wanted.”
She continued to play and sing, but the on-stage aspect of her music proved to be a challenge for a young performer who was still not quite sure who she was.
“I don’t think my goal has ever been to be a ‘professional singer,’” she says. “I love to write and play, don’t get me wrong, but being on stage, conversing with people and engaging the crowd are not my strong suits. Those are definitely areas I am continually having to push myself to grow in.”
Her inexperience came to the fore when she went into the studio to make her first recordings : two EPs and 2013’s full-length album, Lost in You. The songs on those records are the work of a young writer who hadn’t yet seen much of the world. And yet, Beck finds value in the naivete of those years.
“Lost in You was a compilation of my first two EPs,” she says. “I came into the studio at 16 to roll out my first set of tracks completely unlearned and fresh to the process of indie music. At the time of [the first two EPs], I came from a rather sheltered environment, so my knowledge of pop culture was pretty embarrassing. I think that was good, though. Growing up without being tainted by the outside world gave me a chance to build a foundation for depth and songwriting through experimentation.”
The process of recording, too, helped Beck to grow and to develop realistic expectations for her music.
“Looking back,” she says, “I would think that initially I was pretty naïve with any goals I had. As with any musician, I think everyone walks into the studio for the first time wanting to record their project and just suddenly make it. It’s natural. You fall in love with your craft regardless of how radio-worthy or well written it is, and you just expect everyone else to be mesmerized with it, too. Especially on first projects, I think it can be a night and day difference from when you begin the process to the time you come in for your next album in vision.”
That complex maturation process, Beck thinks, resulted in an album, this year’s Written on You, that is richer and more in touch with the broader world.
“Fast forward two years from the release of Lost in You,” she says, “and I would say that the Lord allowed me to embrace culture at an excellent time. Written on You is a totally different take on songwriting and faith than any other project I’d ever done. It came out of more life experience and awareness of people and their struggles.”
And she must be right. When she took the stage at the Sonshine Festival in Somerset, Wisconsin, this year, something clicked. Of all the acts that participated in the festival’s music tournament, the judges liked her best.
“Sonshine Fest was an incredibly humbling event for me,” she says. “Festivals haven’t necessarily been my target audience. We’ve discovered that my niche is in more intimate settings such as churches or conferences where I can spend time being more faith-based and explanatory in my sets. Festivals are all about the performance. People come to get a good show, and going into this one, we practiced a lot.”
Once again, Beck was surprised by her success.
“When I found out I’d won, I was amazed,” she says. “You never know what the judges are looking for in these competitions, and I was up against people from nearly every other genre imaginable. It was an excellent chance to practice being on a legitimate stage, but I didn’t expect to walk away with the win.”
When asked about the future of her music career, Beck is humble and resolutely down-to-earth.
“There is no guarantee of further growth; it’s all one great big unknown,” she says. “I find myself deliberately wanting to choose contentment with where God has chosen to put me for now and do my best not to become enslaved by always wanting more. My goal isn’t necessarily to be the next big thing if that’s not what God would choose.”
And the young woman who’s always devoted herself to many interests refuses to confine herself to a narrow career path.
“There are a lot of avenues alongside my music that I am pursuing,” she says. “I am planning to launch an online support group for Christian women struggling with women’s health challenges and infertility. I’m hoping to take my daily radio show/devotional, Blessed Womanhood, and expand to a few more stations. There are several writing projects underway that I hope to have available down the road.”
Still, no matter where she goes next, it’s clear that music will always be there by her side.
“Music is definitely a road that I’m destined to walk down in one facet or another,” she says. “It’s been a pivotal part of my life since before birth, as my mother will tell you. I can’t help but want to impact people through song. How, specifically, I do that will really depend on the season of life I’m in.”
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November 17 • Honeywell Center