By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

Liz and Nate Dunn decided in March that they were going to record and release a Christmas album, but it led to serious discussion with their kids, Ingrid, Gretchen and Jonathan, during the summer months.

“We sat down with them and explained what we were going to do, why we were going to do it and why we needed them to be on board with it. We told them it was something we felt called to do, and we wanted to show them that you can make art but it’s going to take everything you have and then some,” said Nate.

There was also another lesson they wanted the trio to learn.

“That fame can’t be the goal,” said Liz.

Liz and Nate Dunn released a Christmas album on Dec. 4. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

Liz and Nate Dunn released a Christmas album on Dec. 4. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

On Sunday, Dec. 4, the Keizer couple, as the band Melody & Truth, held a release party for the album Merry Christmas at their church, Salem First Baptist. It was the apex of what had been a long journey that roped in numerous friends and relations along the way.

“There’s a sense of relief. The first 80 percent is fun, but you get to the last 20 percent and you feel like you’re never going to be finished,” Nate said. “It’s hard to comprehend the amount of discouragement you feel in a project like this.”

The album contains 11 holiday-themed tracks and all but two were written or arranged by Nate and Liz.

“The only songs we covered were Go Tell It On the Mountain and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas by Little Big Town. Their arrangements just felt right for the album,” Liz said.

The album cover of Merry Christmas by Melody & Truth.

The album cover of Merry Christmas by Melody & Truth.

CDs, digital downloads and even sheet music from select songs are available through the website melodyandtruth.com.

Nate got his first guitar at age 16, but practice took on a different form than jamming with friends.

“It was a way for me to journal,” he said. “Like other people write their prayers as thoughts or poems, I just started writing them as songs.”

Liz’s parents had met as part of a band and her father was a professional guitar player.  The circumstances resulted in her being surrounded by music growing up.

“I was always arranging music. I would never hear a song and sing it the way I heard it, I would always be looking for what I thought was the right way to sing it,” she said.

Music brought them together as a couple and they began composing together within the first years of their budding relationship, two of the songs on Merry Christmas were written in their first year of marriage.

Nate and Liz released their first album in 2009 – the result of a great deal on studio time – and they never stopped writing songs. They chose the name Melody and Truth because they envisioned it as a rotating group of friends collaborating over music.

The Dunns wanted to record together again, but it wasn’t until earlier this year that the conversation began in earnest. When they decided to go for it, a Christmas album seemed like the obvious choice.

“When we try to find Christmas music that is rich in melody and musicality, we don’t find a lot and we saw how we could fill that gap,” Liz said.

They chose tracks inspired by the paths they’ve walked.

“It’s all sacred Christmas music and an invitation to come hear about Christ,” Liz said. “Some of the songs are more of a mellow Norah Jones-type and others are much bigger.“

Nate said he’d come to miss the days when he had time to sit and look at the lights on the family’s Christmas tree.

“We used to sit down together and do that, but life gets busy. The whole time we were recording I had the thought of sitting down in front of the tree and taking that pause again,” Nate said. He said the family has built it into their schedule this year.

The Dunns enlisted the help of about four dozen friends and acquaintances to bring the project together including a number of Keizer-based musicians. Members of the McNary High School choirs and orchestras all took part in the recording and Keizer Police Det. John Troncoso (Ret.) played all electric guitars on the album. Even before they started recording, the Dunns raised more than $7,200 from 68 backers on Kickstarter.com to pay for studio time and other expenses. Their daughters Ingrid and Gretchen also sing on the album.

Time in the studio rarely went off without a hitch. Everything from nearby businesses to thunderstorms and illness had a way of interfering with the process, but they thought back to that conversation with their kids when the going got rough.

“There were 50 times when, if we hadn’t had that conversation, we would have just walked away from it,” Nate said.

The result is vindicating, a way for them to spread the message of their faith and a path to follow as future projects beckon.

“We know we’re musicians and called to do this, but we don’t necessarily want to tour. Making music means extra work, but we still did it. And, now we know more about where we can go to connect with other people. We have a template, and we want to do a worship album next spring,” Liz said.