Interview with Recording Artists "The Hands

By Michael K. Jones

A brief history.

Known best for the theme song of EWTN's "LIFE ON THE ROCK," Jean-Ann & Joe Hand are a Spirit-filled husband & wife team based in Nashville,Tennessee. Their music has been heard on radio & TV throughout the country, moving the young & the young at heart. Jean Ann, originally from Cleveland, Ohio, is a singer & songwriter versed in all styles of music and literature. She is a product of Catholic schools, and graduated from Barry University in Miami. After school, she began singing in rock bands, but the Lord had other plans for her. He brought her out of the bars and now she sings & writes music for Him! Joe is a master musician/ songwriter/ producer/ singer/ whatever-needs-to-be-done-musically-for-the Lord. God put the love of music in his heart early, and he began piano at age 7. He is a graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, with degrees in production, arranging, & performance. After school, Joe was deep into the rock and roll world, but God had something better in mind. Joe left the rock world behind & began producing music for Him. They met at Joe's recording studio in the summer of 1994...they were married 2 years later.

Interview with The Hands

Q. Could you tell us a little about your style of Christian music.

A. Well, we've done so many different styles over the 7 years we've been involved in this ministry that it's been quite a task to sum them up. When I started working for Joe 7 years ago, before I started recording Catholic music, he had just finished his first CD, "Listen to the Lord." The styles on that varied from gospel to adult-contemporary jazz and soft rock.

His second CD, "Get the Point," was extremely meditative. It was his goal thematically to keep it mainly piano and vocal and I think that was quite effective for the intensity of the songs on that album.

The theme of his third album, "A Simple Yes," was the Blessed Mother.

Since that was the unifying theme, I think he felt more free to experiment with the musical styles, so he ended up with an amalgam of everything from roots-rock to James Taylor-type guitar/vocal, to the inimitable Joe Hand piano/vocal ballad (which is my favorite style of his).

The song that launched my first CD was "Life on the Rock," which was written specifically for the "Life on the Rock" program on EWTN. The album that first included "Life on the Rock" was my only solo release and it was called Stronger than Diamonds; the whole thing was pretty rock-oriented with a few ballads and a gospel-style tribute to the Blessed Sacrament (the title track) bringin' it home. Those 4 CD's are no longer in distribution, but we took nearly all the original materials from those first 4 releases and put them on a compilation called "Life on the Rock," so if you get that album, you'll find the musical styles are all over the board.

The last solo release that Joe did, "Guardian Angel Blues" is mostly a roots rock sound, but there are also 2 of my favorite ballads on there, "Blessing" and "For His Sake."

Recently, we've moved in a very praise&worship-oriented direction, both in our writing and recording. We just released our second praise & worship CD called "Step." It's kind of a follow-up to our first praise & worship release, "Jesus I Believe." Both of those albums include songs people know and have sung at church as well as new worship songs we have written. We started going in this direction after receiving so many requests at our live presentations for recordings of the music we use during Holy Hours, liturgy, and worship services.

Q. Out of all the song you have performed or written do you have a song that remains your favorite?

A. My favorite song of Joe's is one not many have heard yet. it will be on an upcoming release. It's really intense modern rock with an equally intense them called "I Desire Mercy". It's just awesome. Maybe we'll upload it to our mp3.com site.

My favorite song of mine is also one not everyone has heard yet. We just finished the final recording of it. It's called "Daddy's Arms." I wrote it with my dad in mind and it speaks of the way a father's love can be an example of how God the Father loves each one of us.

My favorite already released songs of ours:
1. My favorite song of Joe's "For His Sake" (on Guardian Angel Blues CD)
2. My favorite song of mine "Stronger than Diamonds" (on "Life on the Rock" CD)

Q.When performing on stage what message do you hope you are sending to the youth in the audience?

A. That God is a so real and that He knows them so well and loves them so much. That living in God's will is really what will lead them to fulfillment in this life. It would be great to learn that before searching through bunches of other quests for fulfillment. And that God isn't just part of your "Church Life" or "youth group" life, but that He's there in every part of your life whether you acknowledge Him there or not. Everything you do in your life is a prayer; that's why it's so important to strive to live each part of your life with dignity, in purity. That God's mercy is so great, there's nothing He can't forgive and the sooner we come to Him for forgiveness, the better. There's just too much to say!

Q. Please share one of your most rewarding moments during your musical career.

A. I'd call them humbling moments. They happen every time I get a letter or email from someone who's either listened to our music or seen us play. To be allowed to share God experiences with someone else is better than making millions of dollars or winning famous awards. Some of the stories people share with us are so inspiring. And I love talking to people after we play, or rather listening to them. They have so much to share. Sometimes they thank us for sharing our music, but I really feel like I've received the gift in being able to know them even for a short time.

Q. I understand that your ministry started out Marian, could you share some thoughts about Our Lady.

A. Joe & I were just talking this morning over breakfast about the Blessed Mother being our mitigator. I hate to generalize, but I guess I am when I say that I think it's the female instinct, the Mother's instinct to be a mitigator. On the news this morning, they were talking about the impending execution of Tim McVeigh. Who isn't appalled by his actions and wracked with communal grief over the loss suffered by his victims and their families? Yet, as the date of his scheduled death approaches, I find a small part of myself sorry for him, thinking of the fear and dread that must come from being in the position of facing your scheduled death. I think that tiny bit of mercy I felt then gives me a better understanding of the love our Blessed Mother has for us, no matter what our lives are like. That's why she guides us so adamantly; she's trying to mitigate the suffering we bring upon ourselves and others.

I'm also blown away by the Blessed Mother's example of quiet strength. People, especially females today are encouraged to make a lot of noise, to be really aggressive in order to get what they want. While I can't argue that sometimes assertiveness is a good thing, I don't think we need to be so obsessed with proving ourselves that we sacrifice the quiet dignity and subtle strength exemplified by the Blessed Mother. A line I frequently meditate on is when Mary "took these things and pondered them in her heart." As the Spouse of the Spirit, she stepped back from herself and relied on God's strength and not her own Because of that, she was able to successfully play her part in God's plan for our salvation.

Q. How did you first hear about Medjugorje?

A. I first heard about it when i was in Catholic school. One of the sisters told us about it. Growing up, I'd always loves stories about apparitions of the Blessed Mother and this one was just as exciting to me. Later, I forgot about it. Then, when I was in college, my rock band was going to record a demo and needed a studio. We went to check out the studio of a guy my drummer recommended. The studio owner turned out to be Joe, who later became my husband. Joe needed someone to work for him as he released his first album. I was quitting my current job and we talked about me coming to work for him. When we really got down to talking business, he told me, "I think you should know that this whole thing (his new music ministry) came out of my recent trip to Medjugorje." When I heard the word "Medjugorje," I just got chills and started to shake. He told me about the turns his life was taking. I felt like lightening struck and my life would never be the same. I was right. Joe's ongoing conversion led me to my own and I soon changed many bad habits and quit hanging with a lot of the bad influences who had become my acquaintances. I went to Medjugorje about a year later. Joe has visited Medjugorje 3 times.

Q. Do you have a Medjugorje experience you can share with us?

A. There are so many! I hear a lot of people talk about their pilgrimage kicking off their conversion. For me, I'd already made some severe changes for the better in my life. My pilgrimage was like a welcome home party. I felt embraced by the Lord and the Blessed Mother. I felt like a child again. I really didn't know the people with whom I traveled, so essentially I was alone and it was just beautiful that way.

The night we went to Apparition Hill for Vicki's apparition, there was a terrible storm, thunder and gusting wind and torrential rain. I didn't bring a jacket so I was soaked & cold and I was standing in puddles past my ankles. It sounds horrible, but it was so intensely beautiful!

Q. The 20th anniversary of Our Lady of Medjugorje is coming up in June. Please share any comments you have.

A. I'm just so amazed by God's goodness for allowing our Lady to continue to speak to us this way for so many years. To think of all the souls who've been converted because of Medjugorje! Not just the ones who have been there, but the ones who've been prayed for, or the ones for whom merely knowing about it brings about great changes in their lives!

Q. Without question one of the greatest highlights of the Mass is the Eucharist, what does the Eucharist mean to you?

A. I don't think I can accurately put it into words. Every time I meet Jesus in the Eucharist, it is a different experience. Sometimes it's intensely emotional. Always, it's devastatingly humbling. To think that that is our Lord, our God, the Alpha and the Omega. No words, no song, nothing on earth can ever express what happens at that moment. It chokes me up just to try.

Q. As Catholics we have many wonderful devotions, is there one devotion that you feel is close to your heart and please tell us why.

A. The Rosary is such a beautiful prayer. It's discipline can seem intimidating or even constricting at first, but later you learn that it's this discipline that eventually frees you for the meditation it becomes.

Q. Is there any other Marian apparition that you find remarkable?

A. All of them really.

Q. Jesus appeared to Saint Faustina saying His mercy is unfathomable, please share some thought on mercy and the Divine Mercy Chaplet for Medjugorje USA visitors.

A. Like the Rosary, it is a prayer of discipline. Also like the Rosary, it's repetitive nature eventually frees one to meditate on what the prayer actually is. I think it leads to a deeper appreciation for God's mercy and perhaps a little bit of a better understanding of it (as much as we can understand it!)

Q. What is your greatest hope for this world?

A. That people will want to know God. I think to some extent that's one of the most important steps. Although I don't think that in this life we can really "know" God (He's just too big!), when we reach out with a desire to know Him, He will reach back and lead us closer to Him. It's this leading of His that makes us treat each other better, makes us strive to love each other more. I see it happening almost every day. When I don't see it, I know I''m probabaly just not looking hard enough! I have great hope for this world because I believe in God's love and mercy.

Q.Is there anything you would like to add to this interview?

A. I just want to thank you so much for giving us this opportunity to share and talk about the things I am most passionate about. And to ask for your continued prayers.

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