Eighth in a series
Nicole Swartz is a Canyon Worship 2022 artist who stands out for several reasons, and not just musically.
It all starts with her faith, of course. Like any Worship Arts student at Grand Canyon University, everything revolves around that.
But then there’s her thing about pictures of skulls and bones. She loves them. Her graphic design and photography company, which she founded with her boyfriend and fellow GCU alumni, Connor Wolfe, is called Dry Bones.
Not far behind is her fascination with the American West and the 1920s. That’s why she’s into antiques.
That leads to her fourth distinction: her hat. The fedora is her signature look. It reminds her of those olden days.
Even her song on the album – called “Dry Bones,” of course – has a unique sound to go with its unusual message. It’s all in G minor.
So let’s break down these curiosities of a curious mind.
First, the skulls and bones. She loves to buy things with skulls on them.
“People would be like, ‘Oh, that’s weird,’” she said. “But, honestly, the Bible paints so many pictures of death to life. Some things in our lives, they have to die in order for God to bring a revival into them.
“Skulls have come to be like this ‘Oh no!’, but in the new generation it’s like, sometimes death is good. Our message is, ‘What is in your life that maybe you’re holding onto that needs to break away?’”
The symbolism is perfect, in her view – bones as a sign of our redemption through God.
“A symbol can be what you do with it,” she said. “If there are dry bones in my life, maybe God is going to bring a new force, a new revival into them. And it’s going to be something better than it used to be.”
If there were a time machine, Swartz is the type who happily would take a trip back a hundred years or more. She loves to shop for antiques. Even her rings are antiques that have stories behind them.
“I love telling stories,” she said. “I think that’s why I’m a songwriter – I really love it. It’s telling the story of what God’s doing in my life and what He’s doing for the church.”
There’s a story behind her ever-present hat, too. It’s not just part of her stage persona. It’s her, through and through.
“What I love about it is that it’s something that I love,” she said. “This is my hat. It’s my presence.
“I love vintage things. I love the 1920s – fedoras, clappers. It’s just so fun, and it’s really beautiful. Even in my photography, I love vintage photographers who have antiques. I love that there’s a story to it, but it’s eternal.”
Likewise, “Dry Bones” lends an out-of-the-ordinary look to Canyon Worship. The song is taken from the passage in Ezekiel about God raising those bones, laid out in Chapter 37, verses 12-14:
“Therefore, prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, My people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put My Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it,’ declares the Lord.’”
Swartz’s take on it:
“It’s really symbolic because Israel was really, really deteriorated at that point. God can take the deadest of dead – it’s been there for so long – and breathe life into it and turn it into a powerful force. That was something I really needed in my life. I had a lot of things that needed to go away – a lot of anxiety, a lot of insecurity.”
She turned that into the positive energy of a song that has more of a rock-and-roll feel than other songs on the album. Like her look, it suits her.
“She has a unique style. She knows who she is. I think that fits,” Worship Arts Coordinator Dr. Randall Downs said. “Just like writing to your voice, you have to know who you are, what you like and be able to communicate that. And she’s got it down. She knows who she is.”
Said Recording Studio Manager Eric Johnson, “The song reminded me of revelation, requiem and restoration because it has a much deeper message of God’s power to restore life and bring back to life that which is dead. Even though it sounds darker, you might think of a stormy night. It definitely has an artistic flair. There’s tension in the song, but it really is a prayer from the deepest part of one’s soul when it comes to asking God to restore and renew. There’s revelation in that.”
The choice of doing it in G minor is right in step with her piece’s aura. Her study of classical piano, a fixture for most of her life, helped feed the song’s unusual piano sound, and her powerful voice brings it all together.
“It’s a weird song. It’s very weird,” she said. “It’s Christian, obviously, but it’s not contemporary worship genre.
“Dry bones can definitely be a frustrating topic. The song is very much a prayer. It’s pleading with God that He would bring a revival, that He would bring fresh wind.”
The Worship Arts program has generated a fresh wind, too. She is grateful for her three years in the program and for being included on Canyon Worship the last two years before graduating in April.
“I have learned that there’s so much more to the faith than I thought. So much more,” she said. “I’ve learned how to really be empowered by the Holy Spirit, and I’ve grown in a connection with God that I never thought possible.
“And I’ve been humbled in huge ways – in my relationship with Connor and my family and my friendships. God has shown me, ‘Wow, there are some deep weeds that need to be cut down.’ And then He brought new life.”
It springs from the old life … and maybe it wears a stylish hat, too.
Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].
Canyon Worship 2022 is scheduled to be released Sept. 9 on Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music. It will be available in the iTunes Store.
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