Not many churches can say their music director is up for a Juno Award—but then, not many churches have Drew Brown working for them.
The Toronto native, who currently serves as creative arts director at Trinity Streetsville, in the diocese of Toronto, is one of five contenders in the category of Contemporary Christian/Gospel Album of the Year for his most recent release, Analog Love in Digital Times.
“It’s pretty dream-like; it doesn’t seem real,” he said in an interview. “I feel like a little kid at Christmas. You know, it’s a cliché that people say, ‘it’s just an honour to be nominated,’ but I really feel that it is an honour just to be nominated. The Junos are a pretty big deal.”
Brown has been involved in music for many years, both as an independent artist and as a music director. He got his first full-time music ministry job at The Meeting Place in Winnipeg, a member of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren, and for the last four years he has been at Trinity Streetsville, where he does everything from music to sound tech to visual arts to designing the offering envelopes.
But he has always been engaged in his own music projects on the side. Analog Love, which was released last November, is his third full-length album, and a bit of a departure from his previous material. While it continues to explore the heady blend of electronic folk and indie soul that marks his earlier work, this album attempts to move into slightly different territory lyrically.
“Originally what I wanted to do was write an album of love songs to my wife,” he said, “because in the contemporary Christian catalogue I didn’t know of any romantic songs that were based within a marriage that talked about the struggles of two becoming one, but also the amazing part of that, too.”
The album quickly expanded beyond that. “It was love songs about my wife,” Brown said, “songs about learning to love her better, learning to love God better, and learning to love myself better, and learning we, the collective we, can learn to love each other better.”
Though his passion for music is clear, Heidi Czulinksi, executive pastor at Trinity Streetsville, says that while Drew is “front and centre” on Sunday mornings as music director, his own music is “something that he does very quietly…most folk at our church don’t even know that he records music.” Despite his modesty about his own work, he has had a major impact on how Trinity does its music.
“He’s modernized our worship style,” she said. “Before, we were doing a lot of ’90s contemporary music, so he’s just introduced more modern music.”
Brown himself, however, sees his role at Trinity as being as much about bringing out the talents of others as it is about using his own.
“We have a lot of musicians and a lot of poets, and I think, eventually, songwriters,” he said, speaking of the talent that is present among the church’s laypeople. “And I think my thing, I think especially for this year, is cultivating more of an attitude of let’s get people to learn a trade, or to go back to an artistic trade they left behind. I’d love it if five years from now all the songs that we’re singing are either hymns or songs that we’ve written ourselves.”
For Brown, keeping the church artistically engaged is key to helping it live out its mission. “I think that is important for us as a culture,” he said, “but also it’s great for churches to honour God through this, and through our stories, and through who we are as a church.”
The Juno Awards will be presented in Hamilton, Ont., on March 15.