Colin Buchanan dishes up a new (old) album
COVID, kids ministry and the Old Testament
Australia’s best-selling Christian artist, children’s performer Colin Buchanan, has had the same year as everybody else: challenging.
“It was just generally unsettling,” Buchanan tells Eternity about the COVID-19 experience, over a Zoom call from his southern-Sydney home.
“There was this, what I call, ‘white noise’ of uncertainty and things not being right … So there was a bit of an emotional hurdle to jump over to just really be focused on the joy of making music.”
There have not been many moments in Buchanan’s long career where he’s had to dig deep to find joy. As well as 25 years as a Christian kids’ singer/songwriter, Buchanan is beloved as a former Play School presenter. He’s also a regular radio panelist on ABC Sydney Drive’s Thank God It’s Friday comedy program, and a Golden Guitar and ARIA award-winning country music star.
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While COVID prevented Buchanan (like other performers) from the joy of playing to a live audience, it did provide him with the time he needed to record songs that had been lurking in the background for years.
“My Old Testament song [digital] shoebox was bulging!” he says. “I tend to be a very sort of appetite-driven writer. So if I hear a sermon or read a Bible passage or read a book, it’ll peak my interest and I think, ‘Oh, I’ll write a song about that.’
“About four years ago, I released my New Testament Bible Story Songs album, but my shoebox of Old Testament songs kept sort of growing and growing.
“So once COVID hit, I thought, ‘You know what? I’ve actually sort of pre-produced this record, virtually. So I think it’s time for the Old Testament album.'”
Buchanan is certainly not exaggerating about the number of tunes in this collection. His new album Old Testament Sing-a-long – to be released on November 6 – is a smorgasbord of 25 new songs, with a total run time of 75 minutes.
They range from the typical toe-tappers for which Buchanan is so loved, like God Is The Biggest Of All (David & Goliath); to memory verses, such as Rise Up! (Proverbs 4:23); to reworked old favourites, Father Abraham Had Lots Of Kids; to the title track which is a nifty way to remember the names of all the Old Testament books, in order.
As a result of its pandemic origins, the album also includes more reflective songs (as well as the “lively and fun” ones).
“I was working in a new setting and in a new studio with a producer I’ve worked with once before, but not on a kids’ record. And we had to fiddle around to have social distancing between singers, and so forth. All of that created what would have been just a mild challenge, but I think with COVID, it felt a bit more unsettled,” Buchanan explains.
“I think that’s maybe allowed the album to have a little bit more adult and child ‘light and shade’. I’ve always been conscious of adults listening to my kids’ records, but I think I’ve probably not edited this one quite so much … There’s probably one or two more sort of reflective songs on there than might normally be on kids’ albums.”
“There’s a song called Hannah Prays that I wrote just after a Sunday evening sermon at our church … When people hear that song, it just connects.” – Colin Buchanan
These songs are already appealing to adult listeners.
“There’s a song called Hannah Prays that I wrote just after a Sunday evening sermon at our church [Engadine and Heathcote Anglican, Sydney] by our local minister Michael [Dodd],” explains Buchanan. Indeed, Dodd’s preaching has inpired a number of Buchanan’s songs. Must be quite the preacher.
“I’ve noticed that when people hear Hannah Prays, it just connects. I’ve probably had more comments about that song than any of the other songs on the record, which is a delight because it makes me think that this album has got this sort of interesting adult-children’s seesaw thing going.
“I really love that about what I do.”
He continues: “I’ve always been conscious that there’s times when I’ve written a song with children in mind, and then adults have said, ‘Yeah, that song’s really helped me.'”
Surprisingly, one such song is the Isaiah 53:6 memory verse that has become synonymous with the name Colin Buchanan – which is no doubt the song you’re humming right now: “We all like sheep have gone astray, baa, baa, do baa baa …”
“I got an Instagram message from a fellow who said, ‘Look, life’s been a bit of a haze of drugs for me for quite some years. I’ve come through that, and the baa baa song was really instrumental in God getting my attention,'” Buchanan shares.
“He needed no convincing that he’d gone astray, and the thought of grace in the face of that – you know, the punishment being borne [for him by Jesus] … It’s an amazingly compact gospel Old Testament truth, isn’t it?”
This example sums up two truths that have made Buchanan’s ministry so powerful. They are truths which Buchanan expressed in a recent interview on The Pastor’s Heart podcast. The first is that “children’s ministry is no lightweight thing.”
“It’s surprised me how you can actually teach the whole counsel of God,” says Buchanan about his ministry.
“You can climb into some pretty amazing places in the Bible, if you just do that with care and with thoughtfulness, and with an eye for the real nub of what it is that the Bible is teaching – which is what I call ‘the distillation.’
“So it’s not the dilution for children, but the distillation – so the refining to find that concentrated truth, which good preachers do. They find that concentrated truth, and that takes a lot of thought and effort and restraint as well. What you don’t say can be just as important sometimes in the final delivery of the truth.”
The second truth that Colin’s career has taught him is that “songs can really do business with people’s hearts.”
Buchanan describes the impact of his music on countless families as both surprising and “sobering.” While he had a heart for children’s ministry and trained as a primary school teacher, he never expected to become a musician – let alone Australia’s best-selling Christian artist.
“Putting a Bible verse to music lodges it in people’s brains. It’s a very subversive act.” – Colin Buchanan
“I’ve probably ended up having more theological impact on families than [as a teacher],” says Buchanan, humbled.
He adds: “In a sense music is an attempt to get people’s attention – putting a Bible verse to music lodges it in people’s brains. It’s a very subversive act.”
His advice to parents on helping kids’ faith to grow in our tech-saturated age is to “beware of the screens”, and to listen to Christian music in the car while driving places.
“To be in the same space, without a screen in front of you, listening to the same music is a really lovely thing for families to do. You don’t always get to do that at home. But in a car, it’s just one drive here, one drive there, and then suddenly kids are getting bigger and you’ve driven them to the pool 150 times, and you’ve listened to music together. They’ll remember that and the conversations that happen around that,” says the father of four (now adult) children.
“I love that my music helps to sort of lubricate conversations. Kids will ask, ‘Is God really like that? What does that mean?’ Parents, who perhaps haven’t had to think about it in that way, or at least verbalise it, are suddenly talking about those things.”
Producing an album is not the only thing that Buchanan has managed to pull off this year. He’s been doing Facebook live gigs “@HomewithColin” with Gospel Coalition Australia, “Kids Talks With Colin” through Compassion and is about to hit the road for a country music tour in central-west NSW.
And Buchanan says his creativity hasn’t run dry yet.
“I’m not stuck for ideas, and I love writing … I don’t know when the next song is going to come along. I love that songs come unexpectedly. And sometimes, an accumulation of those songs will create another project of its own.
“I remember saying quite a while ago that I’m just waiting for people to lose interest in Colin – you know, things just have their time. So I’m really blessed that there’s this continued interest in what I do, so I can make a new record and there’s an audience there who want to listen to it.
“I’ve got the delight of also having big people who say, ‘You know, when I was a kid, I listened to your songs and they meant a lot to me.’ That’s really precious.”
Eternity has 10 signed copies of Colin Buchanan’s new album Old Testament Sing-a-long to give away to our readers.
For your chance to win, go to Eternity News Facebook page, find the post on this story and (in the comments section) tell us (in 50 words or less) your favourite Old Testament Bible story and why.