Riordan Stewart-McDougall: The girl with the pink guitar

She’s a young, blonde, guitar-playing singer who pens poppy tunes. Comparisons are so obvious that Riordan Stewart-McDougall preempts them.

“I used to listen to a lot of Taylor Swift,” the Geelong teenager freely admits. “That shows in my music today.”

At age 8, Riordan was a serious and promising ballet dancer. But at 12, she made the tough decision to give it up and dedicate herself to music.

Soon after, the preteen picked up a brown, $10 op shop guitar that her mum had bought for her older brother. She taught herself to play using chord sheets and YouTube videos.

Riordan hasn’t looked back.

“I’ve always been a ‘just go do it’ kind of person,” she affirms. “If I want something, I’ll do it, I’ll get it.”

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Mel Crothers: From musical theatre to touring worship ministry

Mel Crothers is living her calling. She has a job many would envy, touring the country, writing and recording her own songs.

“I love being able to sing and lead people in worship,” she affirms. “That fills me, that’s my greatest calling.”

Music and performance are the only things the Perth singer-songwriter ever dreamed of doing. She knew they would be her life – but the journey to where she is now took many unexpected turns, and the destination isn’t quite what she imagined as a child.

Teenaged Mel was sure she was headed for the big time when she was accepted into the prestigious Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. WAAPA, producing world-class alumni like Hugh Jackman, accepted only the cream of the crop – for Mel to enter straight out of high school, at barely 18, was a huge testament to her talent.

It also placed a lot of pressure on her. The academy was all about being judged. “With every class you go into, you’re always being critiqued,” she recalls.

Such an environment was far from a culture of grace. When Mel met Daron, a saxophonist also studying at the prestigious institution, both wore the label of “Christian” but didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus.

Taking Jesus seriously seemed antithetical to a career in musical theatre. Realising that her convictions would severely limit the roles she could accept, Mel decided fame and fortune would no longer be her dream.

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She and Daron married shortly after her graduation and embarked on the more modest enterprise of building a music teaching business together. By day, they taught music, dance and theatre to students; by night, they played gigs with various bands in the Perth area.

It was far from the stage lights and billboards of the theatre, but it was still music.

At the same time, they took on voluntary leadership roles at their local church. Daron obeyed a call to full-time ministry, becoming worship pastor, and Mel later followed him into ministry as creative arts pastor. They were beginning to see how God was drawing them – and their musical giftings – into His mission.

 

mel-crothers-3It has now been two and a half years since Mel made the move into full-time itinerant ministry. It was a big step of faith and one that she was able to make because of unwavering support from her husband and church leadership.

Pursuing God’s heart over worldly success has given Mel a contentment that achievements in musical theatre could never have done. She now sings at churches and events all over Australia almost every week, and often also ministers by delivering a spiritual message to the congregation.

Success, for Mel, isn’t about how many followers she has on social media. “It really is about the individuals you meet along the way, and the role that you can play in their journey with God,” she affirms.

In fact, Mel is wary of the self-absorption that performance can cultivate, not only in a place like WAAPA, but even in ministry. “It can very quickly become about us, and very self-focused.”

Mel makes sure the emphasis is on Jesus, not on her. She accepts only freely given offerings for her worship and speaking engagements, and is happy to minister to groups of ten or ten thousand.

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Another important way in which Mel has sought to stay grounded and give all the glory to God is by becoming a Compassion advocate. She uses the platform that her music and her ministry give her to share about Compassion’s work and encourage her audiences to make a difference by sponsoring a child living in poverty.

Mel’s song ‘Speak’, from her second album Faithful, is a declaration of the purpose that she sees for herself and her listeners:

Be the voice of the ones
Who are lost and broken-hearted
Be the hands and the feet
Take a light into the darkness
Speak for those who cannot speak
For the weak and suffering
Speak up in the name of Jesus

For Mel, music and performance are all about speaking up – and singing up – in the name of Jesus.

Hsu-Ann Lee
www.suansita.com

One Kingdom: Mission through music

One Kingdom: Mission through music 

Nicholas Rickard’s first ever gig with One Kingdom, in a Melbourne pub, ended in prayer with a disillusioned former worship leader.

The hard rock band’s thumping set had been audible from the adjoining establishment, and the guy had caught their riffs and sensed something different about what he was hearing. Intoxicated but intrigued, he entered the pub where he later approached the One Kingdom boys and shared his story with them. They then had the opportunity to pray with him.

This is the kind of music-as-mission that vocalist Nick hopes to see more of as One Kingdom develops their sound. He never intended to make music for Christians – rather, he’s wary of being pigeonholed in the Christian music genre because his aim is to reach a wider audience.

At the same time, Christ is never far from the songs he performs. “I want to play music for a purpose, to share my faith,” he says.

With little in the way of Christian heavy bands in the Australian music scene, Nick believes One Kingdom have found a niche and now have the line-up to seize the opportunity.

Years earlier, he had been part of a few short-lived bands, but faced a number of obstacles as he chased a career in music. He was never able to fully express his faith in bands where the other members didn’t understand or share his convictions. Meanwhile, his Christian friends weren’t into the same genres.

So at 21, Nick shelved his musical aspirations, got married and started his own landscaping business.

A few years later, personal tragedy put Nick face to face with his own humanity and emotions.

He had long struggled to connect meaningfully with his emotions. Describing his Christian, nuclear family upbringing as “positive”, Nick couldn’t understand why he still experienced negative feelings.

But when his older brother took his own life, things came into relief. He had been a crucial presence in Nick’s life, and Nick owed much of his early musical education to his brother’s Rage Against The Machine and Soundgarden records.

The grieving process taught Nick that “God wants us to be emotional.”

This loss liberated him to tap into both the positive and negative sides of the human condition, acknowledging and channeling them through music. Although he had taken keyboard lessons as a kid and later played drums, Nick saw a gap in the industry for hardcore singers, so he studied “screamo” techniques and developed as a vocalist.

He names Faith No More, and their frontman Mark Patton, as his greatest inspiration. The legendary band’s diverse, genre-fusing repertoire and Patton’s vocal capability are elements Nick hopes to see in One Kingdom learn from.

OneKingdom01When guitarist Troy Dixon advertised for a vocalist for the band, Nick admits the band’s musical catalogue at the time “wasn’t his cup of tea”. But he loved One Kingdom’s mission: to know Jesus and make Jesus known. It’s a commitment that each member of the band has made to invest in a deep personal relationship with Jesus, so that they can then share him with their audience.

Over time, as the band worked on new songs, the collaboration between the boys began to take One Kingdom’s music in new directions. With Troy and drummer Phil Peters nutting out riffs and licks and sending them to Nick for his lyrical input, One Kingdom were able to launch their second EP, Science of Change, in 2016. The five tracks embody the melodic sensibility of late ‘90s Nu Metal bands like Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit, with its edgy and energetic instrumentation. The redemptive narrative of Nick’s lyrics add light and shade, reaching out from the depths of despair and struggle to future hope and trust in a God who is good and able.

Having welcomed a new bassist, Dom Masculo, in 2016, One Kingdom are looking to produce more tracks together, experimenting and incorporating the sound and experience that each band member brings.

One Kingdom are currently writing music for their debut LP. Their latest EP, Science of Change is available on iTunes and you can listen to it on Spotify.

 

Hsu-Ann Lee
www.suansita.com