Written by: Sherman Wong (Photo by: Awaken Generation)
Interview with Calvin Gan
It is rare to find songs that are able to convey a message so perfectly, in which they resonate with every fibre of your spirit. When I first had the opportunity to listen to Prodigal by songwriter Calvin Gan, the streets it led me through were all too familiar — the dead-ends where love found me quivering and the shrouded back-lanes where faith taught me to trust. It was comforting to know that there was someone also navigating these alleyways of grace, and how all of us, while on unique journeys, are but children finding our way back to the same destination.
We spoke to Calvin about his journey through drifting, seeking, and finding home, diving deep into the perspectives he has gleaned from this pilgrimage.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m currently in the second year of university, pursuing a degree in Digital Art and Animation. I also serve in the youth and worship ministry of my church.
What are you passionate about?
For now, I am very drawn to the youth in my church. I see the need for discipleship, mentorship, and generally nurturing the next generation for Christ. It stems from a revelation of what I feel God is currently doing in the church in Singapore. It began at the end of 2015, where a few of us in church felt that God wanted to work on establishing the youths’ identity in Him.
I believe that all of us are being called to understand the father heart of God. Personally, it’s about discovering our adoption as sons and daughters in Him, followed by understanding His heart and plans for redemption, such that we may join Him. Fundamentally, I think it’s about discovering that our lives are meant to serve a purpose.
I am also discovering that God might have a place for me in future to use creative platforms to reveal more of Him and the gospel message. It involves storytelling, be it visually or aurally. As of now, it kind of hazy, but I’m in the process of learning and exploring this call.
When did you start taking an interest in music?
It goes way back…I’m not sure if this counts, but I remember singing “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever” in my primary school canteen with some friends. I remember enjoying the feeling of just belting it out, and attempting to do vocal runs in songs like “I Believe I Can Fly” or “One Love.” Embarrassing, but yes, so true.
We first heard about you from your stint in Awaken Generation (AG). What made you decide to join AG?
It was really random. One of the leaders in my church had asked if I was interested in going for this course from an organisation called, “Awaken Generation.” The name immediately caught my attention as both words were very significant; these very words have been laid on my heart for about five years.
“Awaken” — I got this word from a youth camp, where I had an impression of a huge revival movement that would meet the youth in my church. The Great Awakening. This has never really came the way I thought it would, so I have continued to wait.
“Generation” — During a transition period for my church, someone had a vision of the next generation leading us back to our renovated building. It is tied in with the first vision, in that this new generation would awaken to their calling in Christ and rise up to lead the church to His heart.
With great uncertainty, and a very slight impression to go, I said “yes” and went in faith.
What is the one takeaway from your journey in AG?
I had joined AG with the thought that God wanted to work in the youths’ understanding of their identity in Him.
Through AG, I grew to discover that this burden was shared across the nation. Being in a place where representatives from various churches converged, I saw God’s heart for the youth of Singapore resound. It was essentially the same call across Singapore, expressed in different ways.
In hearing the hearts of the mentors and various individuals from other churches, I began to see that God had a bigger plan in mind — bigger than anything I had ever envisioned!
Prodigal is a heart-wrenching song about being lost and found. Did it stem from a personal place?
The song came from a place of carrying the weight of the burden for the youths in my church. It wasn’t about understanding a simple idea; it was a realisation of their adoption into His family, the security of being forgiven, and the empowerment of purpose. It was, ultimately, a process of realising that they are significant.
But what made it really personal was when I felt that God wanted me to embark on this journey of understanding identity in my own life. I definitely had struggles that I had to work out with God: emotional instability, temptation, and insecurity, to name a few.
God was constantly drawing me back to the fact that His love had no conditions. I didn’t have to fit a certain mould before attaining His acceptance. What more, I found out that His acceptance emboldened me to strive to be better.
The chorus (You call me closer/ You call me deeper/ You call me further to surrender/ To remember) had come to me first, and it was the constant hook that I had to sing to myself in respect to this larger narrative. It was a constant reminder that His love was more about Him than it was about me.
The lyric, “Don’t let me go/ They told me I’m too far/ The Hurt won’t guide me home,” stood out to me. What was the process of coming to this revelation like?
The song isn’t just intended for church listeners; I had also wanted for it to be something that non-churchgoers could listen to. Within this context, I wanted to show the vulnerable side of the church and to reveal the humanity of Christians. We are, after all, fallen by nature; yet faith, hope, and love, inspire us to better ourselves.
Through the lyrics, I wanted to show that rejection does exist in the church, but it isn’t due to Christians being hypocrites. It just proves that the gospel message is meant for the broken and imperfect. All of us are undergoing a process of recovery and growth, and this journey might include us having to work in friction with others.
Simply put, I wanted to communicate that the church is made up of humans — all of us broken and imperfect. If you’ve been hurt or you’ve shared in that feeling of being ostracised, may you know that God is the one who calls you to Himself.
What do you want your music to achieve?
I hope to reveal a facet of the church that the world seldom sees. I want to show the struggles and the gruelling journey of Christians, and perhaps say that we are fundamentally human. It doesn’t stop here: the gospel holds a compelling message of hope and love, and it motivates us to embark on a journey of growth.
What would you like to see more in the local Christian music scene?
I would like more honest and open narratives that cater to the public outside of the church. I do enjoy worship music and I listen to it every chance I get, but I feel that songwriters need to be more involved in what’s going on in society. We need to acknowledge the human condition, but go further to say that hope, love, and faith exist in the large spectrum of things that we are forced to face.
I also believe that there are many talented writers in our midst. I want to hear more Christian songs written in the Singaporean context — songs in our own voice and musical language. AG is one such organisation that champions that, and I am really excited to hear from their songwriters.