I’m Frances, a professional singer/songwriter from Newville, Pennsylvania, who almost gave up on Christmas. Frankly, I secretly dreaded the holidays. Fortunately, Christmas didn’t give up on me. The more I share my own story, the more I seem to encounter others who have felt this way too…or perhaps, still do.
One of the big reasons I had this aversion to Christmas was because as a young girl, our family tragically lost two brothers and I never learned how to process the grief our family experienced. It always seemed especially tough at Christmas.
My brother, Nathan, drowned in our farm pond a few days after his second birthday, and another brother, Doug, (age 26) was killed in a tractor accident on a farm where he worked. He had a wife, two young daughters and three younger siblings. I was seven when the Pastor came to our farmhouse to tell my mother she lost her first-born son. That front-porch scene is forever etched in my mind.
As I got older, my struggle with sadness during the holidays only grew stronger. So in 1999, I decided to “skip Christmas” and ask God to reveal why I had such a hard time with the holiday season. Where was this “joy” the little baby in a manger was supposed to bring?
Months of quiet reflection that year began to reveal deep-seated, unprocessed grief. As I unwrapped this concealed package of heaviness, I was surprised to discover how far down I could stuff something in my little soul only to have it show up later in life in seemingly unrelated ways. But grief is a root that produces shoots of unwanted growth in so many areas if left unattended.
Through tears, quietness, prayer, and a re-examining of the original Nativity story, I started a healing journey. I found unusual solace in the fact that there were threads of sorrow in the story of the Christ-child. I had never noticed that until I viewed it through my own window of sadness. Once I identified the grief, then it seemed that joy was able to start growing, even if it was as slow as an oak tree.
As a songwriter, I guess it’s a natural progression to write songs as you process life (and death). So I started writing songs about my journey around the holidays and grief. Later, the story turned into an album—an audio journal of sorts. On the flip side of sadness, I also have a quirky side and a child-like love for snow that shows up in my songwriting. So the title track of my Christmas album, Portraits of White, seemed like the best title for my thoughts reflecting the winter seasons of my life, both the sad and the fun.
In fact, I wrote the title track while I was driving to Shippensburg, PA on Route 997 (yes, I do write while I drive—oops!) The fluffy snow was blowing and drifting across the road and painting “portraits of white” throughout the Cumberland Valley. The playful song reflects my life-time fascination with snow. Just like the dormant seeds that sprout after the blanket of cold winter snow has lifted, life sprung from the long, hard winter of my disenchantment with Christmas, and I found hope. I think this might also be why I loved snow. It always turned the dark barren winters into portraits of white…long before it was ever a song title in my mind.
With a vision to share my story and music with others who may have been touched by loss, I stepped out to follow my dream of putting together a professional concert each December. This year will be the seventh year for this BIG dream and every year is creatively different!
Along with other professional musicians from the South Central Pennsylvania region, we always combine humor, stories and inspiring music to offer hope during the holidays. This event has become a highlight of the Christmas season for many people.
Every year, the creative team I put together makes a special effort to ensure that the music for Portraits of White is unique and entertaining; working hard to maintain the nostalgic feel of Christmas while presenting music in a unique way that is new and creative but still leaves you with the warm, fuzzy Christmas feeling you expect during the holidays.
I love offering hope over the holidays by sharing stories, humor and great music. This concert contains all of those elements and more! I’d love to have you and your family make this concert a family tradition.
In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, we have some GOOD news! The 7th Annual Portraits of White Concert will take place “At Home” this year, on DVD.
Around Labor Day, it became clear that we couldn’t offer an in-person event in 2020. I cried and grieved. THEN, one night near the end of September, I got an idea. What if we could offer this year’s concert on DVD?! We went to work immediately…
This DVD (which has been created in the past five weeks) combines repurposed video footage from the past six years’ December concerts, with a few NEW elements we’ve created just for this DVD.
It’s a collection of all the things you love about the Portraits of White Concert experience…in ONE package! It will keep the holiday spirit alive in our hearts and we’re excited about offering this alternative.
PS. In the summer of 2018, I re-visited the farm where Nathan drowned. I felt the need to go back and look at this farm through different eyes. It was such a monumental event in our family. Though I was only six months old when it happened, the after-effects of it reverberated throughout my whole childhood. I could not have done this video before, but doing the Portraits of White concert has brought me face to face with my journey of loss in ways I could have never thought possible. I’ve laughed, cried, (and still do when I practice sometimes), been overwhelmed and been overjoyed.
I know many people experience unexplainable grief when tragedy strikes their family and community. This awareness is the driving force behind this concert and I love offering hope during the holidays using the beautiful gift of music.