Editor—Kendall, I came across your music a few years ago and was blessed by the energy and passion you put into it. Tell us about yourself and how you got into music.
Chaffee—Currently, I am the Music Minister at the Naples Seventh-day Adventist Church in Naples, Florida, pastored by Art Preuss. I am a husband of 44 years, father of two beautiful, grown, married daughters, and grandfather of four grandchildren—three grandsons and one granddaughter.
I grew up in a musical family. My father was a very accomplished guitarist during his life, and my only older brother plays the guitar, banjo, and dobro. I started playing the guitar at the age of nine. At 14, I learned to play the mandolin, and by 15, I was also playing the fiddle. The three of us would play bluegrass all over New England. This makes up my musical foundation, so it mostly came out with a country sound when I started writing music.
I started writing Christian music about 10 years ago out of frustration over mainstream CCM, (Contemporary Christian Music). There was a lot of good music out there, but none seemed suitable for my style. My goal was to produce something that would speak to the unchurched, and even though it was music for church, I didn’t want it to come across as “churchie.”
I am influenced by musicians like James Taylor, Jim Cole, Chris Rice, Steven Curtis Chapman, etc. I lead our church band of piano, keys, drums, bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and five or six vocalists. I am told we are unique in our musical worship in all of the state’s southern half.
Editor—So, you were surrounded by music early and encouraged to join in. That’s cool. The songs you write—are they primarily worship songs, or do you also write songs about life in general? Tell us about your songwriting process.
Chaffee—The content of my writing is generally taken from personal experience. I have not attempted to write any praise songs yet, though I have been kicking around some ideas. What I have produced is of a spiritual nature, something that can or has been performed in a church or spiritual setting.
The song “Blessings,” for example, was written to provide a blessing to the listeners at the end of a service or musical program. In my church, we perform this as an outro to the service every week, and it has become a regular part of the service. I was not satisfied with any mainstream music for this purpose so my answer was to create something that would achieve the goal of blessing the listener before they leave.
Another song is “Going to the Water,” which I wrote after my son-in-law was baptized. The experience of seeing this young man give his life to Christ was a moving experience prompting me to put it into a song.
Toward the end of her life, my mother was deep into dementia. Our relationship had always been strained and complicated, and I found myself caring for her when she couldn’t care for herself. I wrote “Mercy” as a result of that experience: a song about the mind slowly slipping away and asking God for mercy for my momma.
Editor—I love it! You mentioned that you have a couple of daughters. Does music run in the family? I’m guessing you’re not the only one in your family who is musical. Tell us about that.
Chaffee—My oldest, Danielle, is a fantastically Spirit-driven praise leader. She leads our praise team’s vocal element and has been with the band about six years now. My youngest, Ashley, has also been part of our band in the past, however, right now she’s taken time off to raise her young daughter.
We have performed as a trio on many occasions, and it’s a father’s dream to do this kind of witness with his children.
Danielle’s sons are both interested, and my oldest, Andrew, 14, is learning guitar, bass, and percussion. He will be a fine musician someday if he chooses to stick with it and has filled in on the drums when we’ve needed him. His brother, Tyler, 11, has dabbled a bit and may decide to become serious about music sometime soon.
Ashley’s daughter, Amelia, started singing at the age of two, and I am impressed with her ability to hear and copy the pitch of our songs. She just turned three and has been ending our service each week by singing “Blessings” with the band and me. She’s getting there, and for a three-year-old, she does remarkably well. I believe she has the talent to excel if she wants.
My wife also has a beautiful voice but prefers to leave performing to the rest of us. She is, however, a multi-talented woman with unending creative ability who helps with sound engineering.
Editor—Very nice. It is a family effort. That’s great because every musician needs to grow some more! And speaking of growing, what tips can you give to fledgling songwriters, guitarists, and would-be worship leaders? Actually, there are two questions in one. What advice can you give to those just starting their musical journey? And, what would you do differently if you could start over?
Chaffee—As a young musician, I believe it’s essential to connect with others, especially others that have more skill than you do. And older, skilled musicians need to mentor the youth to take up the mantel and lead. By connecting with better musicians, you have no choice but to get better yourself unless you want to be the worst musician in the room.
As far as songwriting is concerned, learning song structure is important. So, studying the history of the top 20 hits of 1959 or 1970 is helpful. Certain compositions resonate with people that cannot be ignored. That’s the first thing I’d suggest.
Lyrically, you have to figure out what you want to say. So, ask yourself, what do I want to say? Write down your thoughts and journal. If something moves you, write about it. It might be just a line, just words. Some songs I’ve written have taken months to finish and others a few hours, so don’t get discouraged because it is a process.
Read the Psalms, then reread them. Try to understand what David and others were saying and why. Take these thoughts and organize them into a song structure and music. It might be the music that alters the lyric or the other way around. Keep tweaking it until you’re satisfied, then present it to your mentor and listen to their feedback. You won’t write a hit the first time out, so listen and learn. Above all else, be a student of the craft.
Editor—Thank you for taking the time to respond to my questions. It’s fun to watch God working in other people! With music, this means we get to hear some of “heaven’s songs” before we arrive. Courage to you and your family! Keep up the good work!
The featured photo is of Kendall Chaffee and his daughters, Danielle and Ashley.
Kendall Chaffee was interviewed by Rich DuBose, who directs Church Support Services and Adventist Society for the Arts for the Pacific Union Conference.© 2017 - 2022 ASA. All rights reserved. Click here for content usage information.