As a prison chaplain in New York, The Rev. J. Michael Nace has
always found a way to weave music into his life. Even as a child, Nace
recalls listening to’60s folk music on the radio every evening.
“The ’60s music was more intellectual and poetic and had more of
a message,” said Nace, who taught himself to play the guitar during
the decade. “That always captivated me – the ability to craft a song
to capture people with words.”
While in college, Nace wrote several songs and played in a student
band called Mr. Poet and the 30+3, performing frequently at The
Witt’s End, a nearby coffeehouse. The group attempted to launch
a music career by recording Nace’s song “Only a Boy,” but it never
achieved national success.
After graduation, with his music career stalled and Vietnam
troubling him, Nace realized that he had been “running from a call to
the ministry,” so he enrolled in the Hamma School of Theology, where
he earned his M.Div. in 1975. Yet, his passion for music remained
strong even during a year of street ministry in Springfield, which
inspired him to write the songs “Friend” and “Heavy Duty Lord.”
As the years passed, Nace continued to write, but it was his wife
Sylvie who finally encouraged him to enter the recording studio
after hearing him perform in recent years during religious services
at the prison. The result is the 2006 release of Nace’s CD Here I Am
in Buffalo, featuring 10 songs written by Nace, including “Julia,”
which he says was inspired by a young woman he saw in Wittenberg’s
dining hall years ago.
“I didn’t know her, but she had a mystique about her, and she always
looked lonely,” he said.
Nace credits Wittenberg with giving him the “freedom to be
inquisitive, to ask questions, to be myself, to become what I was
meant to be.” Today he works to integrate that philosophy into his
ministry and music. In fact, many of Nace’s songs have a soulful,
“I want [the CD] to open a window for them – to think, to just slow down
a bit, to listen to what their life is saying to them.”