Recently I had the great pleasure of meeting up with and interviewing an up-and-coming Catholic artist and good friend of mine, James Rosenbloom, to talk about his newly released album Small Things With Great Love. Disclaimer: we had more fun than should be allowed on a Sunday afternoon. Nonetheless, James, who has played music for upwards of 19 years and self-identifies as a bassist and cellist (though he plays anything from the banjo to the bouzouki), is one of those rare talents and personalities who can seamlessly transition from the orchestra pit to the concert stage with hardly a second thought.
James is a 26-year-old fellow south Louisianan and LSU graduate who is about as genuine and candid of an aspiring Catholic saint as you will ever meet in this life. His first ever album, Small Things With Great Love, is an 8-song collection of sacred hymns and instrumentals that will both warm a frozen heart and move one’s soul with the melody of the divine. Below is a portion of our interview together, some helpful links, and closing thoughts of mine as I processed our interview over the better part of this past week. I hope you enjoy!
You have entitled your first album “Small Things With Great Love”. This is a familiar expression of Mother Teresa with which many are well-acquainted. Why have you chosen this particular phrase for a title?
Well, the album is a tribute to Mother Teresa whom I have admired for a long time. It is in itself a title and a descriptor to recognize that my music experience has had to heal from the notion that I am supposed to produce something grand and life-altering and dense and influential and time-tested and a supremely prodigal work. There is a tremendous pressure on me to create greatness but the notion of greatness means many different things to different people. Greatness for me a few years ago would have meant the amount of instruments, the density of the orchestration… now it has more to do with me writing things that really speak to my personality and spirituality. They may not come out to be the loudest or fastest or largest productions… they may be small. In fact, many of them were small on this record. From pieces with solo instruments to duos to as large as a stringed quintet.
You have said that “Small Things With Great Love” is a collection of works that have all been born from different experiences in your life. What are some of the most powerful and subtle experiences that have influenced your album?
The experiences are vast. Each one, each track on this album takes the listener on a journey, a journey through beauty and prayer, desolation and redemption. There is a piece called Two for Logan, it’s track two on the album, written for a friend named Logan. We have always been good friends and the piece is immensely beautiful because she is immensely beautiful. I felt moved by her influence on my life as a sister in Christ. I wanted to commemorate and translate the beauty that every woman has — as a being created in the image and likeness of our Lord — into a piece that approaches that same beauty. Also, there is a piece I wrote as a tribute to a friend of mine that is going through some great loss — it is a soliloquy to her grief. The seventh track is a piece that I wrote to Our Lady. It is an Ave Maria, but it is not a particularly happy one. It is one to commemorate her suffering in the image of the Pieta. We forget that our lady suffered just as Christ suffered and there aren’t many Ave Maria’s for that. The last track wasn’t even supposed to be on the album. I wrote it in a week’s time, a week after I was supposed to have all of these tracks submitted. I recorded it at the last minute because it embodied a trial that I was going through at the time. Every piece has its own origin, and no piece is written merely for the sake of being written but for the sake of something much bigger.
You consider it as part of your own personal vocation to create and co-create “beautiful music.” In your own opinion, what are the different aspects to and components of “beautiful music” as opposed to the oftentimes generic, crude, or disjointed music of today?
Speaking generally, if a self-aware Catholic Christian is going to sit down and realize that the world has problems, then I think they’re going to point to the fact that a great number of issues – social issues, family issues, work-related issues – all have the same things in common — they are all in some way disordered. Beautiful music starts with an artist that has been given a gift from God, a gift that can allow him to create in the way that mirrors the way that God created us. We are God’s walking, living, breathing pieces of art. Beautiful music always starts with a person that has been given a gift, accepts it, and uses it to give the gift of himself – through music, painting, acting, writing. Anyone that has been given that gift has the natural drive to share it… In order for it to be beautiful it must be done in a way that is honest and has pure intention. Honest in that the words in the song or the notes in the music is never superimposed or created to produce a cheap thrill. Purely intended is to say that one should have the desire to give of oneself without expecting recognition or reward. When one has the sole intention to make money or be played for hundreds of thousands of people or get me big, nice things, then that is where many problems crop up. There is nothing wrong with these things but when they supersede the desire to give of oneself to another, then that becomes an impure intention… It is the listener’s job to receive, and he must do so openly to receive the fullness of the gift has been given. This creates life in the way of a conversion, consolation, or an all-around beautiful experience. We are all so effected and touched by the music we listen to. This energy can then lead to one giving oneself to another — like a father and mother creating a child who then leads his life in a gift of love.
Who is Jesus to you? Why do you love him?
Who is Jesus and why do I love him? Jesus… that’s a good question. Jesus is the ultimate example of beauty. And that’s who Jesus is to me… want me to elaborate? Beauty starts with a gift of self, and it is completed when it is received and turned into life. He set the model for beauty, the formula for beauty, when he gave himself on the cross.. when he died.. And that’s why I love him.
(James and I at lunch before our interview)
I have been listening to Small Things With Great Love as I write this article and can certainly attest to its supreme artistic integrity and prayerful genesis. I have been playing it in my classroom the past couple of weeks and have received great feedback from my high school girls — some say it is delightfully beautiful and others that it strikes awe and wonder into their minds and hearts. I wonder what it will stir up within you? Below are some links that you will find very helpful: the first is to iTunes; the second is to James website; and the third and fourth are videos of James that I think you will find quite edifying. Thanks and God bless!
Download James’ Sicut Cervus for free!
Purchase Small Things With Great Love on iTunes