“In a very chaotic, broken world that can skew towards skepticism and cynicism about people and life circumstances, I want to write songs that remind us of God’s goodness, bringing that childlike view of purity and clarity to lives,” says Melanie Penn, a New York-based singer-songwriter. “I hope that any song I write helps someone do that.”
Penn released her fifth album, “More Alive, Vol. 1,” in September.
Penn has been writing about hope throughout her career. Singing her first solo in church at age six, she knew then that she loved singing and performing. She has studied classical music and concentrated on voice. After moving to New York City, she performed musical theater and had a part in the Broadway touring company of “Grease.”
In her 20s, Penn decided she wanted to try writing songs.
“Though it was kind of late for starting as a songwriter, I dipped my toe into songwriting, and the rest was history,” Penn said.
Though her songs have never been typical pop songs about dating, love and breakups, as she has matured in her faith her songs have matured as well, with more and more about living the Christian life.
“I love it when non-Christians find my music. I think that the ideal world is to bridge that gap. I like to present songs that anyone can access,” Penn said.
Throughout her career, she has written songs about finding help in times of trouble. Calling them “hopeful anthems,” she looks for themes in the world and tries to talk about joy, then finds a way to tell that story in song.
Trouble has visited Penn recently though. In January she found out her father has stage 4 cancer. She lives in New York City, which has been one of the major hotspots of COVID-19. However, due to these personal struggles, she has been able to write songs addressing the troubles the world is facing.
“No matter what you think about what’s going on, I think we can agree that the media will always play up the negative and panic. I became so hungry for an alternate narrative that I decided I was going to write songs that have more truth than what I’m getting from the media,” Penn said. The songs “One Word,” “You’re Not Absent” and “Grace” were all written during the pandemic.
After spending time with her parents in Virginia, Penn is back home in New York City as her father is doing well with treatment. Living there might seem difficult as a Christian artist.
“However, there are a lot of gospel-believing people here,” Penn said. “I think the body of Christ in New York is very committed to the city and … is a very powerful force for good. I love being a part of that.”
Penn’s album “Immanuel” tells the Christmas story through the eyes of its characters.
“I never had any intention of writing Christmas songs. I have no explanation on how it happened,” Penn said. “Sometimes, as an artist, you’ll get an idea and realize that this idea didn’t come from inside. You can either accept that opportunity or reject it and be too busy for it. At that time, in 2016, I saw that opportunity and accepted it.
“God gave me that project to write, and I think it will go on after me.”
Favorite Bible verse
Though Penn has been relying on Isaiah 45 and 46 to get through recent struggles, she has a favorite Bible verse — Ecclesiastes 11:6: “Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let not your hands be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.”
“Am I doing the right thing? Should I be a singer? Should I be an accountant? Am I being impractical?” Penn said she asks herself. “I’m always hoping I’m on the right path, but I think at the end of the day, what the Lord wants from us is to be contributing to the world. Then the Lord decides what is going to take root and flourish. Our job is to contribute as much as possible.”
Penn has struggled with the idea of releasing music during a pandemic.
“People are at capacity in terms of what they are giving their attention to. But I really felt that I shouldn’t back away from releasing music during this time. It’s a reminder that artists are still out there creating beautiful things.
“The job of the artist in this time is to keep creating and presenting art to the world.
“Thirty days from now, all this could look different. But God is in control of all of this, and I think God is doing things that we can’t even see that are for our good.”