Hymns of Grace: Creating Music out of Seasons of Hardship
Updated: May 30
Oftentimes, life has a way of creating beauty out of seasons of hardship. I’ve seen this ring true in my life on many occasions, one of them being the circumstances under which my first album came to fruition.
During my time at the Cleveland Institute of Music studying Cello Performance, I was training to become an orchestral cellist, striving to win a full-time job in an orchestra after graduation. However, when I graduated amid the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020, I knew that this would be impossible for me for the foreseeable future. My training could not be put to use—at least not yet—and the career that I was planning to pursue was considered "nonessential" and "out of business."
Even though I could not make my career in music at that time, I felt a strong desire to keep creating musical projects in my free time (which was…all the time!). I felt especially compelled to combine my passions for cello ensemble and my Christian faith, and began to record short arrangements of beloved hymns on my iPhone. Using an app called Acapella, I could even duplicate myself to perform multiple tracks, resulting in a cello quartet (or more!) of all Sarah’s (me!). I would post them on my Instagram page to try to encourage others and share some music throughout the darkness of the pandemic, and ended up getting a lot of positive feedback from them!
As I began to record more and more hymns and create a small collection of them, I wanted to find a way to compile them all in one place, to immortalize them and to always remember this time of unique creativity in my life. At the same time, the COVID restrictions were beginning to loosen, and finally I could start collaborating with friends (who were other musicians and producers, one of them being fellow StringTime teacher Emera Gurath) to help me create a professional album of these hymns.
A small group of us friends would record every few nights in a friend’s home recording studio, and on the off-days, our producer friend Jon Cigary would work to mix and balance the tracks.
Life also has a funny way of opening and closing doors in perfect timing. It just so happened that as we were finishing up our album, orchestral jobs began to open, and I ended up winning a job in the Knoxville Symphony and had to move away from these dear friends. In retrospect, I feel as though this was a sweet way for me to not only create beauty out of the darkness of COVID, but a way to create a finished product of music with these talented friends for the last time.
I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to make this album, even if it stemmed from the hardship of the pandemic. I am grateful that, in a way, the pandemic encouraged me to explore different avenues of music, and that I could explore it with old friends before starting a new chapter in life.
Our completed album, called Hymns of Grace, can now be found on any major streaming platform (iTunes, Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, etc.).
Sarah (Miller) Senn and the StringTime Family