Christian singer Marie Miller provides 'holy leisure'

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Her songs have been on top Christian and contemporary radio network lists. She's played for crowds of 5,000 people, recorded two CDs and had a song featured in a movie. Eucharistic adoration is on her short list of non-music activities.

The third of 10 children, Marie Miller got her start at an early age. She always enjoyed singing, and at age 5 or 6, people began noticing that she had a "unique, good voice," her father, Joe Miller, said. She began playing mandolin when she was 11, and shortly after began playing in a family band with her father and sister, Justina. Before long, her mother, Roxanne, joined, and together they sang and played acoustic string instruments at church events, fairs, festivals and at Rappahannock Cellars, which the Miller family partly owns.

When Marie was 15, Justina began attending college out of town and wasn't able to play with the band anymore. Marie had written several songs and recorded them in a Christian pop style, with acoustic guitar, mandolin, electric keyboard and drum. She sent the recording to a producer in Nashville who had recorded many female Christian pop singers.

"We sent him our homemade CD, and he contacted us and was really interested in Marie," Joe said. "He was asking a lot of questions. Did she really write these songs? Is that really her singing? Yes, yes, that's her, yeah, she wrote it. Then, he said, 'Wow. I don't normally work with independent artists; I usually only work with record labels, but I would make an exception in this case.'"

Marie recorded some songs and signed with Curb Records. Six months later, she had songs on Christian radio. Soon she moved into secular pop with her song, "You're Not Alone."

"One thing my parents made me do is practice a lot. Practice and pray," she said. Aspiring musicians should "love music for itself and (not) think about making money."

She plays about eight shows per month, including 10 in October this year. She has played in nearly all 50 states at a variety of venues, from small parish events to South By Southwest, an annual film and music festival in Austin, Texas. She travels to Nashville to record so often that she keeps an apartment there, though her home is near Front Royal.

It's a different experience playing at Catholic and secular events, she said, but she doesn't prefer one over the other. "They're both so great," she said.

Secular events, she said, are a way to provide a "holy leisure" to the audience, mostly college students and young adults. Catholic events are more of a ministry, and she said she's fed spiritually by playing at these events.

"It's humbling to be leading a group in ministry. Who am I to be leading? I say, God works through brats," - referring to St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who was a temperamental child - "and it's humbling that they'd ask me."

At South By Southwest last year, someone came to her after the show and said she and the musicians playing with her seemed so happy.

"It seems cliched," she said. "That's our mission, to have the joy of the Gospel in our faces. It's not Praise and Worship (music), but Catholicism is interwoven in the songs about friendship and romance."

"The songs she's writing right now, they're commentaries on people and life from the perspective of a young Christian woman," Joe said. "She's not trying to write a song for Christian audiences. She'll be inspired by a person or a situation, and she'll write about it from her perspective, which happens to be a faith-filled perspective."

Miller said she hopes to inspire young people to a life of joy.

"God is calling us to a great adventure," she said. "Don't settle for a mediocre life. The Christian life is the exciting life that hearts dream and long for. Don't settle, because you're made for a great life."

Tillotson is a freelance writer from Front Royal.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2014