Singer-songwriter expresses faith and doubt

August 09, 2007|By JULIE E. GREENE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - Susan Werner believes that faith and doubt can both reside in a good person, as well as in one project and even the same song.

"Faith and doubt can sit side by side because they do in American life every day," she said.

Her latest album, an agnostic gospel album, "The Gospel Truth," released in February, is a testament to that belief.

"It's by far the most intense response I've gotten with anything," Werner said in a recent telephone interview. "People have approached me in tears after the show," thankful someone had presented differences with the church, without hating the church, she said.

She's also had people walk out on her show. "They didn't want to hear the doubt. To have any questions whatsoever was too much," she said.

Werner, 42, who lives in Chicago, will play songs from "The Gospel Truth" and other projects Saturday night as the headliner for the NewSong Academy Concert at Shepherd University's Frank Center.


NewSong reworked its festival this year. The NewSong Contest has grown so much the finals were moved to New York City's River to River Festival on Saturday, Sept. 22, NewSong spokesman Douglas Imbrogno said. The contest will feature finalists from around the country and Canada.

NewSong Academy is holding workshops, classes and events for performing songwriters today through Saturday at sites in the Shepherdstown area. For more information about the academy, go to

The festival culminates with the concert Saturday night, which will feature Werner and fellow singer-songwriters Craig Bickhardt, Devon Sproule, Paul Reisler and Jason Blume, who are New-Song Academy instructors.

Werner first performed - singing "It's a Small World After All" and playing a guitar taller than herself - as a first-grader in her Catholic school's church in Iowa.

She no longer attends church regularly, but she respects the institution.

"Most Americans have a great respect for the church and what it inspires people to do" - take action on behalf of others, she said. "It also has another component, which is exclusiveness," a component Werner does not favor.

Werner was inspired to write "Gospel Truth" after attending the Chicago Gospel Music Festival last summer.

Her future interests include making a blues-influenced album and writing a musical. She wouldn't reveal many details about the musical, but she said she would write the music and lyrics for a story written by someone else and based on actual events.

It will be a fantastic challenge to write duets and ensemble pieces for four people or a chorus, she said. "I look forward to trying to pull this off."

Werner's previous projects include 2004's "I Can't Be New," a collection of songs done in the style of the Great American Songbook and composers such as Cole Porter and Ira and Georgr Gershwin.

"What seems to be happening with these themed projects I've been doing is that I, as a person, am feeling something, going through something, exploring something as an individual," Werner said.

"Then the music shows up, the best format, best form. The music shows up that's the best way to express those feelings."

For romantic turmoil or unrest, she felt like writing in the style of Porter and the Gershwins. Getting older and wondering about the purpose of life led her to the church.

"And I suspect that with the blues project, there's something about frustration," Werner said. "I think a lot of people in midlife begin to figure out that they're never quite going to get it all nailed down. There's always going to be something sticking up in the floorboards of life."

If you go ...

WHAT: NewSong Academy Concert featuring singers and songwriters Susan Werner, Craig Bickhardt, Paul Reisler, Devon Sproule and Jason Blume

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 11

WHERE: Frank Center, Shepherd University, Shepherds-town, W.Va.

COST: $20 in advance; $25 at the door

MORE: For advance tickets, go to or call 800-594-TIXX (8499).

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