Joyce Johnson Rouse is not only a familiar face at Nashville (Tenn.) Meeting, she’s a familiar voice. A singer/songwriter based in a town where tunesmiths practically flow through the water pipes, she is distinctive not only because she’s a practicing Quaker, but because she uses her music to raise awareness about ecology and the environment.
When she’s not touring the country, Joyce Johnson Rouse is usually in front of the old piano at Nashville’s meetinghouse leading Friends in pre-meeting hymns, sing-a-longs and chants. Year after year, she’s been a melodic spark for the meeting. During December, she leads caroling in the community and is the main force behind popular Christmas Eve services.
She changed the way she was doing music a decade ago after receiving leadings that inspired her to use her music to educate people about the environment. She began performing under the name of Earth Mama. She pens songs with varying themes, but they almost always have a central message that all things are connected—that if we find that still, small voice of God inside, our actions will be tipped towards justice, love, reconciliation, and right action.
Quaker devotion to silence and opening as a channel for messages that are meant for others is a powerful songwriting tool, she believes. "I’m just an instrument through which the music plays," she says. "The creative spirit moves me to draw from everything I hear and see."
More and more, Joyce Johnson Rouse’s sweet, strong voice can be heard beyond the small Nashville Meeting, which on a peak Sunday is attended by about 50 worshippers. With over 80 recordings bearing her writer credits, she has had songs recorded by Maureen McGovern, Marie Osmond, Jennifer McCarter and the McCarter Sisters, Wild Rose, Jana Stanfield, Lindy Gravelle and others. Her songs have been featured in movies and on syndicated environmental and activist radio programs around the world. They have been used extensively in educational venues and by international environmental and peace organizations including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, UNESCO, and International Earth Charter. Her commercial jingles and theme songs have been featured in a National Park celebration, historic preservation projects, and family festivals.
She received a master’s degree in Earth Literacy from Indiana’s St. Mary of the Woods College in 2002.
"It was not so much a decision, as my soul telling me that this gift of music—and the years I had spent honing the crafts of songwriting and wordsmithing—were intended to be used for something bigger than ‘Ooh, I need you baby’ or ‘You broke my heart’ songs," she says. "I’ve been an advocate for many progressive environmental stands and issues since my youth. I was spending a great deal of time on eco-activism and on music, but never realized that combining them might be possible. Prayer, meditation, and long, honest conversations with myself led me down this path."
In 1995, her song "Standing On The Shoulders" was chosen to be the theme song for the celebration of the 75th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage in Washington, D.C. She receives many requests to use it. "This is a fulfillment of a dream," she says. "My songs are being used to move and inspire people to greater heights of service, and lead more people to care for our Earth."
Woven in and out of her performances, speeches and public appearances is the slogan "Helping Heal The Planet One Song At A Time." She is often asked if she really believes songs can heal the planet. "My belief is that God can heal anything," Rouse insists. "We live in a world very much in need of healing—people, families, habitats, faith communities, eco-systems, nations, the ozone layer—the list goes on."
"Over the years, people have been moved to greater faith by music. People have used music to march into battle, to strive for equality, to be paid fair wages for their work—all kinds of music from classical to folk. I believe that songs can be powerful tools to nurture and encourage both action and a depth of understanding about important ideas. Every great social movement has marched to the strains of its own music."
New concepts and ideas are learned more easily through music, she reasons. "Our generation suffers from information overload. Because our brains are so full of technical knowledge and trivia, we have lost a great deal of practical Earth-basic knowledge, or Earth Literacy. Songs are melodies with a message attached—and they have a way of getting inside of you and sticking. Only by relearning and respecting the critical basics of living in harmony with nature can we hope to continue the human race and live sustainably on the planet."
2005 promises to be a lively year for Rouse, perhaps her busiest ever. Amidst leading workshops, school trainings, and giving speeches, Joyce Johnson Rouse will be in Europe giving concerts on behalf of Earth Charter education and releasing her seventh CD.
A self-professed cheerleader for the Earth Charter, Rouse is on a mission to get others to read and adopt it. "If you are not familiar with it, finish reading this, then go directly to http://www.earthcharterusa.org. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200! Read it, absorb it and spread the word to others."
To learn more about Joyce Johnson Rouse on the Web, go to http://www.earthmama.org.