Late one night in 2016, Christian composer and pianist Mike Janzen got up out of bed in Toronto to get a drink of water.
His life hasn’t been the same since.
In the Dark
While getting the drink, Mike suddenly passed out and hit his head hard. After regaining consciousness, “I stumbled back to bed and went back to sleep,” says Janzen, 51.
But in the morning, things felt off.
“When I opened my eyes, everything was blurry, the light was odd, things felt strange,” he says.
After seeking medical attention, he was diagnosed with a concussion and told it could take a few weeks or a couple of months to feel better.
It took four years. He still doesn’t feel 100 percent recovered.
“I just kept feeling worse and worse,” says Mike, who is married and the father of two girls. “I sat in my dark basement for a month, feeling nauseous.”
Birth of a Project
Unable to write music or perform, Mike turned to the Bible’s Book of Psalms for comfort—especially to the Psalms of lament, the 65 or so chapters where the writer expresses hurt, disappointment, anger and loss.
“I saw myself in those Psalms,” he says. “The words of these ancient prayers were full of cries to God in times of great distress. They gave voice to my despair when I couldn’t gather up the strength to call out for myself.”
As he was able, Mike also worked on some song ideas, recording them on his phone.
“I ended up with about a thousand short voice memos,” he says.
Later, when he began to feel a bit better, he started going through the memos to write some material that became the Psalms Project, biblically inspired songs about dealing with disappointment and finding hope.
“Some songs came very fast, others took longer,” says Mike, who graduated with a degree in music from Brandon University in Manitoba. “I put my own story into them.”
Although he wrote the works while recovering from the concussion, Mike sees a connection between what the Psalms meant to him then and what people experienced during the pandemic.
“I think people are still feeling the pandemic’s effects,” says Mike. “We all felt that same loneliness, anxiety and isolation.”
Some people look fine on the outside, “but are crumbling inside,” he says. “The pandemic took a big chunk of our lives. It was really tough on many people.”
The Psalms, he says, can help us express those thoughts. “They don’t mince words. But they also offer hope.”
“I saw myself in those Psalms.” MIKE JANZEN
Mike performed the Psalms Project in Winnipeg this past April. It was his first major concert outside of Toronto since the concussion and the pandemic. He was joined by his friend and renowned Christian musician, Steve Bell, and jazz-folk vocalist Erin Propp, along with the Horizon Choir and 13 members of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra string section.
Mike hoped audiences would find solace and communion in the concert. “People can spend time together to express those feelings and find that hope, and be reminded we are heard in our times of darkness.”
Faith reporter John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg’s faith pages since 2003, and blogs about the media, marketing and communications.
Reprinted from The Winnipeg Free Press, April 26, 2023
Photo: Courtesy of Mike Janzen