Nick Metcalf: Pastor, Performer, Artisan

Nick Metcalf of San Juan, Texas, is a man of many talents, balancing full plates as a pastor, musician, instrument maker and visual artist. The Lord has blessed Metcalf with myriad gifts, and he uses them all for God’s glory. His music bears a decidedly Celtic bent, born of a combination of heritage and simple love of the form. He took a few moments from his busy schedule to talk with Artists’ Work B.e.n.c.h. about his art, faith, inspirations and aspirations.

Above: Nick Metcalf playing the Irish low whistle

Metcalf says he comes by his musical talents naturally. “I have pretty much been inundated with music my entire life. When I was born my father had a singing group that he had founded. He was (and is) a guitar teacher and a very talented songwriter. I sang on an album from his group called 'The Little Advent Band' when I was 3 years old. The album was released on cassette and vinyl through Chapel Records in about 1981. I began playing guitar at about 12 years of age after having formal piano lessons starting at age 7. My piano lessons only lasted formally for about a year or so, but my dad always had a few keyboards at home so I played on them often while growing up.

“When I was about 17 I started listening to a ton of Irish music. I had heard some of it growing up and kinda felt like I was going back to my roots a bit. I started learning the flute and the tin whistle at that time. I took a couple lessons from Irish flute virtuoso Justin Murphy, from the bands Legacy and the Poor Clares. I only had the chance for a couple of lessons, but he gave me the foundations for learning Irish music, ornamentation, etc.”

His musical influences range from major Christian and secular artists – Michael W. Smith, TobyMac, U2, Timbaland – to a wide range of Celtic performers: Afro Celt Sound System, Nightnoise, Davy Spillane, Solas, Capercaille, Donal Lunny, John McSherry, and Carlos Hevia, just to name a few. “My heritage definitely played a huge part in leading me into the Celtic style of music. There’s something that just awakens inside me when I hear some good bagpipes, or whistles or fiddles playing Irish and Scottish music. I especially love the haunting sound of the Irish low whistle. It just evokes certain emotions like no other instrument can.”

Metcalf’s interests expanded after he was out of high school. “When I was 20 I moved to Oregon where I had the privilege of playing in a weekly Irish music session, and playing with an Irish band at festivals and pubs. It was a lot of fun! Soon after that I went to college, where I got my degree in Theology and brushed up on my music theory. I had a band while in college, which was a lot of fun, and honed my songwriting skills and took some voice lessons. I have had recording studio equipment since I was 18, and of course it grows and changes as new technology comes out. I now use mainly computer-based software recording.”

In 2007 Metcalf released his album “Change Your World” on the Sonlight label. It’s a compelling, fresh, very creative blend of Celtic, acoustic rock and hip-hop textures. (You can hear samples of the project here: He is already moving forward with his next project. “The ‘Change Your World’ CD was a lot of fun to make and I put a year’s worth of time and effort into perfecting it. Right now I am working on an instrumental CD of Hymns, mostly played with Irish whistles and a few bagpipes here and there.”

One of Metcalf’s many sidelines is manufacturing Irish flutes and whistles, a craft which he stepped into almost by accident. “As far as instrument making, I never had any training in this area. It all started when I really got serious on the Irish whistle and realized that the cheap versions weren’t really cutting it. I was poor, though, so I couldn’t afford the ones I wanted. My grandfather had a wonderful workshop with every tool imaginable, and we decided that it would be easy enough to make a few whistles rather than to buy them. It was a lot harder than I anticipated, but I came up with a design and sold a few back in 1998. I wasn’t completely satisfied with the sound or design, and when I moved away to go to school I no longer had access to the workshop, so I took a few years off from making them. After I graduated I joined the military (Army National Guard). When I got my signing bonus I invested the money in tools and supplies for making instruments. It took 4 months to iron out the new design and work out the kinks. But I am very happy with the design and sound of the new whistles.” He now has his own company, Ethnic Wind, through which he produces the instruments by special order. They are truly beautiful artworks, as attractive as they are functional, with painstakingly crafted Celtic designs and polished metal bodies.

Above: A case full of Nick Metcalf's handcrafted Irish whistles

As much as Metcalf enjoys making music and its tools, he doesn’t hold any grandiose aspirations of scaling the marketplace. “For the longest time I had the goal of making it in the Christian music industry. I sent demos out to all the record companies, and performed all over with my band, but over time I have come to realize that it’s too commercial for me. It’s a very competitive market, and it seems like most of the movers and shakers are more in it for the business side than for the ministry aspect of it. I still am making music, and selling a few CDs here and there, and I love it and will continue to do so. But I am now the head pastor of two churches and I am taking pleasure in local ministry and using my talents to help my churches and communities.

“The market for whistles is bigger than I anticipated. I am currently flooded with orders (although I can’t complain about that). I think there’s also a big market for the kind of music I do; however, getting it to that market has proven difficult. I, like many musicians, have a closet full of CDs that I am having trouble selling. The problem isn’t that it’s not good music. Almost everyone who has heard it is full of praise for the music and the message; but distribution and marketing are hard, and since I make flutes and serve as a pastor I don’t have enough time to tour all over and market them myself at the moment.”

Above: Nick Metcalf, upper right, with his worship team at Catalina Hills Fellowship

Still, he hopes to make enough income through his artistic ventures to stay afloat and keep expanding. “I have spent more money than I can count on instruments, recording equipment, and a ton of money on producing the ‘Change Your World’ project (which I am still in debt over). As far as the instruments I make, I invested about $10,000 in tools and supplies to make them, as well as countless hours and many injuries (I’m a bit accident-prone, I guess, but haven’t lost a finger yet!). And artists are always underappreciated and underpaid, usually until they die. So at least maybe I’ll leave a legacy for my family.”

Metcalf is even more passionate about the ministerial aspects of his work than the artistic aspects. “My art is very much a result of my faith. I believe as Christians we have real messages to put into art, especially music. The radio waves are clogged with songs that say nothing, but they reflect an emotion that the masses feel so they become popular. My goal as an artist and a musician is to do what I can to make music with a message that will get people to think as well as feel. I strive to make music that leads people that don’t believe in God to take a second look at Him. I believe the only reason the whole world doesn’t believe in, and have a relationship with God is because they haven’t seen a proper view of what He is like. Jesus said if He was lifted up He would draw all men to Himself. So I am attempting to do my best to clear God’s reputation, and to lift him up for all the world to see.

“I believe the arts are the universal languages that all can understand. Whether it’s music or visual art, they both affect the emotions the same way no matter what language you speak and what culture you are a part of. I am saddened, though, that the majority of Christian art seems to be simply to entertain Christians. There’s not really anything wrong with that, but we have an urgent message that a dying world needs to hear, and we need to use every voice and method of communication that we have to tell the world that there is hope for the hurting, and salvation is waiting for them if they will only accept it. Christians have gotten lazy and like to throw money at causes but don’t really want to do anything themselves. We have the truth and it’s present truth that the lost need to hear now. Their lives depend on our message, and yet we feel like we don’t want to impose on them, or that they might not like us if we talk about our faith. We need to realize that the Gospel is like air to the drowning man! Or water to the man who has been in the desert for days without it. You don’t have to tiptoe around them to give them exactly what they need to live, and that’s the kind of attitude we should have about the Gospel.

Metcalf has expanded his vision into the visual arts as well. “I paint a lot, mostly modern abstract type of art. I also love to cook, and I really enjoy taking normal-looking clothes and giving them a nice worn look with some interesting artwork, usually some Celtic knot work and other designs.” Here are some samples of his paintings:

As the pastor of two churches, Metcalf is in a fairly good position to integrate his talents into church services and activities, but there’s still some progress to be made. “My churches are slowly finding ways to fit in my artistic skills. We had a lovely Christmas program in which I helped a lot with the music and the visual setting. They are also appreciative that I put in a brand new sound system. As far as fine arts go, not really. They are small churches and haven’t really fond a way to minister in that area yet, but I’m working on it.”

He appreciates not being edged into a typical 9-to-5 existence, which would probably cramp his creative spirit and ability to keep all his irons in the fire. “Thankfully, every day is different! I really don’t like regular schedules and doing the same things every day. I thrive on spontaneity. Of course, recently I have had to spend a large chunk of time in the workshop making instruments, trying to catch up on the orders. Then, of course, my weekends are dedicated to church. One of my churches does the all-day thing, which is kind of cool. There are a lot of young people, and they really enjoy doing a lot of things in and around their church life, so that’s a good thing. I have been struggling a bit lately to find the time to finish my hymn project, but I think after the holiday rush is over maybe I’ll have a little more time.”

To close, we’d like to share this remarkable video, which is what brought our attention to Nick Metcalf in the first place. A sped-up document of creating profound art on a whiteboard, we feel it encapsulates his full vision as a performing artist, minister and creative spirit.

Nick Metcalf on Myspace:

Ethnic Wind Instruments:

Other artists and art ministries we have recently profiled below:

Studio On Location

Lynn Yoder

John French


Anonymous said...

This artist is really blessed. I wish there were more artists willing to dedicate their talents to the Creator like Nick is doing. Keep up the good work.

rickmetcalfmusic said...

Nice interview, Nick. I'm proud of you. Keep up the good work and keep putting HIM first! By the way, where are my whistles? (:

john duffy said...

I am an Irish whistle player and over the years, I have bought instruments from many makers. I have never been 'stung', until now. I was surprised to see the dishonest maker feature on your site, so you may be interested in my final email on Nov. 2nd., to Nick Metcalf, below. Like many other mails to him, he did not reply.

You were paid $204.99 in early Sept. On Sept. 24th, you wrote that it would be a 'week or two at least' before you began my order, which was fine with me.
Since that date, I've courteously asked you for an 'update', progress report', etc.
During Sept., you ignored some emails but since Sept. 24th., you have refused to answer five! What the hell are you playing at??
I know nothing about you but I assumed from your site that you were a skilled, conscientious maker, especially with the God bit thrown in.
I would like to have the whistle that I've paid for, please. Choice 2 is that you refund me immediately thro' Paypal. Choice 3, of course, is that you make no whistle and pocket the money, which is where this appears to be heading.
I might also say that I have a son on the west coast and he would visit you if I ask him.
In addition, flute & whistle forums are only a fingertip away and I will shortly forward this email if you continue to ignore me by either non-supply of the paid order or re-funding.
John Duffy

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