3GQ: The Interviews
The last twelve months have been filled with great personal and professional success for Edwin Imer Santiago. In the span of one year, he has become a husband, church ministry leader, and father to a newborn son. On top of that, he has been recognized by local media and by the Nashville Symphony for his outstanding work as a musician and music teacher. With so much going on, I’m glad he found the time to do an interview with me.
When we sat down together, we did some basic catching up and talked about our favorite college sports teams. Then, the conversation turned to questions from me – three questions about his life as a musician, Christian, and new father.
Living the life of a musician – what has it taught you about yourself and about the world?
I credit music with helping me gain greater self-confidence. When I was in elementary school, I had a few more pounds on me, and I didn’t think of myself as a good-looking dude. Girls didn’t pay attention to me, and I wasn’t popular or athletic. So, it wasn’t until the end of my freshman year that I started seeing aptitude in myself and realizing that when I put my hand to the plow and practiced as a trumpet player, I did well.
Tenth grade is when it really opened up. I became one of the top trumpet players in the school, and I was starting to improvise on the trumpet and get solos in the jazz band. I remember feeling better about myself. And all of a sudden, I had friends and respect of people that I didn’t have before.
And then, you know, I started getting different haircuts and dressing a little bit differently. I got eye contacts. For a while, I would only wear contacts, but it’s weird that in the last few years, I’ve gone back to wearing almost exclusively glasses.
But all those things just helped me feel better about myself – how I looked and what I could do. So, I think music has helped me…it’s been part of the journey that helped me realize that who I am now didn’t have to be about music. What I mean is, I realized I had the ability to do whatever I wanted to do, whether it was going to medical school, becoming a lawyer, or whatever.
Also, I’ve met a lot of people. I’ve been able to travel the world without really having to pay. I’ve been to Europe four times and Brazil twice. And the majority of those trips, I’ve not had to pay, or I’ve paid very little, because I was with an organization that was going there to play, so they covered the expenses. And that’s not even counting travel within the U.S., or Canada, or Mexico.
So I think being able to travel has been neat, because you meet people from different cultures. Something I wish – and this is getting off on a tangent – but I wish we Americans did more traveling or befriended folks from other countries more often. When you do those things, you get to realize that as positive as the U.S. is about itself, a lot of people outside the U.S. don’t have that same opinion about us. They may think of us as arrogant, cocky, foolish, unwise, wasteful, heathens… And I think sometimes we do deserve some of those names.
But I think traveling around the world, you get to meet people, and it’s humbling. Or sometimes, you go to another country – like when I’ve traveled with Salvador – and you go to Sweden, and people are just loving your music. You’re saying to yourself, “Wow – this is amazing that I’m in another country for a few days, and they’re accepting this gift of music that I’m presenting to them.” Those are God moments, I think. So, I’m grateful for that.
You and your wife just welcomed your first child into the world the other month. I was thinking about the two of you and the baby, and there was a question in my head: if you could guarantee that your son would inherit one thing from you and one thing from your wife, what would those two things be?
Wow. Only one thing from each of us? Well, let me start with her. I’ll tell you a few of the things I like about her, and maybe that will help me pick one. I love her smile. It’s the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen. I like that she’s very organized. She’s good with finances. Knowing how to stick to a budget…I think those kinds of things are important for a household, because a household is basically a business. You don’t want the business to go under.
But on my side, I love the fact that I’m very social. I love to meet people. It’s very rare that I meet people I have to put up barriers with for any reason. I love the fact that I’m social. I like to joke around. I can be serious, definitely, but I like to joke around. And I love my passion for the arts…for music.
So from my end, it would be great if my son were an artist or musician, but I think overall, I’d want him to be a person who can enjoy life and knows how to relax. Life has its share of moments that are evil or difficult, and you have to be able to laugh. So I would want my son to have that, whether he decides to be a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, a musician, or whatever.
And then from his mother’s end, I would say just being responsible, and wise, and able to make good decisions. It’s a great question.
Some people feel that Christians who are musicians should only play Christian music. The issue has been debated for ages – what’s your opinion?
My background was very conservative, and I guess my opinion has changed over the years. Where I’m at currently is, God is the most inspiring, most creative author or artist. You’ve got to think – no two human beings are exactly the same. The DNA is different, even with twins. And that’s the work of God. So to me, all creativity stems from him, whether you’re rapping, writing a poem, or creating a visual piece of art.
So, I think the question is not ‘Should Christians play only Christian music,’ the question is why do you create your art? What’s the purpose? I could be in church playing Christian music and have the wrong heart.
It’s not a matter of what type of music you play. It’s a matter of your heart. And I think I can be as effective in a secular environment, showing up not getting drunk, not chasing after women, being a person of integrity, arriving on time, playing the gig, killing it, and having people respect me for what I do. Some of that is missional: you can’t do that in a church. You can go play trumpet at church and have people say, “Oh praise God, he’s blessing the Lord with his horn.” And that’s a beautiful thing. But sometimes the impact is greater in the darkness, because you are that light shining out there.
But I don’t have a problem playing secular music. There are beautiful songs out there that are meant to be sung romantically or to express life, and they’re not going to be on a church set list on a Sunday morning. But they’re beautiful, and they touch me. Art is to be enjoyed, and I think if a person who is not a Christian creates a great song, whether he knew it or not, that creativity came from his Maker. You can’t create it without having been inspired by something that’s related to God. Even with a song inspired by the sunlight outside – who created the sun?
That is my opinion. But I wasn’t like that always. I was a lot more conservative fifteen or twenty years ago because of my upbringing. But today, the thing I would tell any believer is you’ve got to make sure that you’re at peace with God in any musical setting you step into.
Elizabeth Scutchfield made a memorable impression the first time I saw her in action. It was the summer of 2008, and she walked into a costume party dressed as an Olympic athlete. Then, she proceeded to behave like a total goofball. The party loved her.
From that moment, I knew she could be hilarious. Actually, I was convinced she didn’t have a serious bone in her body, but my opinion changed over time.
After knowing her for a few years now, I can confirm that her personality has a deep, reflective side that is just as pronounced as her funny side. In fact, friends have characterized her as being mostly serious and only sometimes silly.
What’s remarkable is the fact that whether you catch her in a silly mood or a solemn mood, she is always engaging. That’s the reason I decided to do a story on her this month.
When she arrived and settled in for our interview, my first question stemmed from a brief phone conversation we had.
The other day, I made a comment to you about the busy nature of your life…of all our lives, really. Do you think someday you will meet somebody who makes you say to yourself, “This person is worth slowing things down for”?
The day you said that, I thought: That was a word from the Lord. That is beautiful.
I mean it really is. “When will you slow down to let love into your life?” And that’s what I’m trying to learn. And to be perfectly honest, the person I’m meeting that’s making me slow down is myself.
So, at this point, I am purposefully trying to make time for things I enjoy, without ordering my life around always trying to connect with other people. Instead, I want to order my life a little bit more around trying to connect with myself and God.
And to the next point, loving yourself is the best gift you can give to anybody. When that other person does come along, I’ll be able to that much more give of myself if I take the time to love myself.
And I’ll throw this out there, because this was interesting: I went to a baby shower for my friend from college last weekend, and there was this little “Advice Tree”, where you take a leaf and write any advice you have for parenting or whatever.
So I was reading other people’s advice, and one of them was like, “Make sure to always spend quality time with your babies.” And one was like, “Don’t forget about your husband, because he is gonna feel neglected. So, you’re probably gonna need to make some time for him…” And I was like, “Taking care of yourself is the best gift you can give to your children.” Bam! Take that!
I think as women especially, your role in this world is to take care of everybody else. And there’s not a lot of permission to know that taking care of yourself is the best thing for yourself and everyone else, in the long run.
When you consider some of the great experiences and people you have encountered over the years, what experience has changed your outlook on life?
Right out of college, I didn’t know what I wanted, in terms of career. At that point, my dad’s opinion mattered greatly to me, and I knew he wanted me to go to graduate school. But I knew I would’ve had no idea why I was there. I would just be going in order to go and feel like I was just doing that next step, which is comfortable and easy because you know how to do the next step, but you don’t know how to do ambiguity a lot of times.
So, I love mountains, and I moved out to Colorado. What changed my perspective was that I was around all these people who had all these different definitions of success. And I had mostly been around people whose definition of success had been education or prestige – prestige associated with position more so than monetary achievement, in a lot of ways.
But then I meet an an amazing chef who teaches me to say the word gnocci, and loves cooking, and does it seasonally at different ranches. I don’t know if he had achieved full contentment with life, but he had found a sweet spot in seeing his gifts play out in the kitchen.
Or somebody else who was a wrangler, and he had never been to college. And he loves being with those horses. And that was what he needed to do for the rest of his life – to be with horses. He taught me how to keep those heels down and let it rip through the valleys of Colorado.
So, that really helped me see that there’s such a broader way to see the world, and achievement, and success, and happiness than in the world I came from.
I try to remind myself of that, though I’m an extremely achievement-oriented person. Sometimes it’s hard not to lose sight of that.
You have been exposed to a variety of church congregation styles. Probably, you’ve been exposed to some things that are not what people around you are used to and comfortable with. Is anything missing from the corporate worship and the community of fellowship you’re currently involved with?
Well, this is what comes to mind: I think we limit the ways in which God can speak to us. When I lived in Charleston, and I was part of an Episcopalian church – it was more on the charismatic side – and they really leaned into the whole idea of God revealing Himself through images. Either asking God for an image for yourself or asking for an image for somebody else you’re praying over.
I moved away from Charleston, and in my life here, I really didn’t know how to integrate some of the things I had learned about the way God relates and connects to His people. I didn’t have other people around me here who were pursuing that. And I’m just now getting back to where I’m asking God for images to reveal Himself to me.
So, in terms of something that’s missing from corporate worship, I think it’s allowing space for people to experience God in new ways. Just like each person has different learning styles, I think people can have different ways of connecting with God and understanding His character and love. I guess metaphors are big for me in how I understand God.
For example, this is a metaphor I feel like recently I’ve been given. I went to a meeting the other day, and I got there late for the meeting, which happens frequently. I’m a late person. It’s not good. I accept that. And I’m glad people have grace for me in this area.
Anyway, I get there, and there are no chairs left. Well, I see that there’s a kiddie table with kiddie chairs. A kiddie chair is there, so I go for it. I start sitting in this little kiddie chair, and this woman leans over and whispers, “You can’t sit there.”
I was thinking: I already don’t want to draw attention to the fact that I was late to this meeting, and now you’re drawing more attention. Don’t tell me that!
Of course I didn’t say that, but I was a little panicked. And she says, “I think there’s a chair across the room.”
So, I had to go across the room and pull a big person chair up to this table. And God was like, “Yep, that’s what I’m teaching you. It’s easy for you to step into a situation and say, ‘I’ll take care of this and grab whatever will temporarily ease my discomfort.”
But it’s often not a fit. And it’s a kiddie chair. And it’s uncomfortable. And while I am not drawing attention to myself, I’m awkwardly sitting in a kiddie chair for the whole meeting.
So, God’s like, “Why don’t you let Me and other people point you towards the big person chair.”
I was like, “Thanks, Lord, for that.” Because it’s harder for me to understand when it’s just in a text. But when it’s in an image, it’s easier to understand for me personally. So, I feel like there’s an opportunity to make more room for people to hear and experience God outside of just words.
I also think there’s a lot more room for addressing the emotional needs of the congregation. I think the church has become a church of reason in a lot of ways, and there’s this emphasis on the intellectualism of faith. Reason and apologetics and things like that. But people’s heart condition is often really struggling in a congregation, and the church doesn’t know how to facilitate working through that for people.
Restore Ministries, I think, is a great answer to that. It’s run out of the YMCA, and it’s really for anybody who is in a place of emotional pain to come and press into what God might want to do with that.
I also have experienced healing prayer through the congregation I was a part of in Charleston. I felt like that was a really beautiful way to invite Christ into the painful experiences of people’s lives and help them see that God is the one who is there – even when their parents weren’t there, or when they were getting abused, or when they were this, that, or the other – that God can liberate them from that.
So, I have seen a few instances where people are trying to address it, but generally I think the church has a hard time knowing what to do with the fact that people are broken in their congregation and allowing space for that. But let’s be honest, brokenness is messy and scary at times for all of us to encounter…I’m glad there is a God to put together the pieces.
I met photographer David Darnauer soon after I moved to Nashville a few years ago. Since then, David has brought a lot of laughs, photography tips, and good conversation my way. I thought he would be an interesting interview subject for the blog, so I asked if I could do a story on him. He said yes.
When he arrived to meet me at the appointed dessert shop in Cool Springs, we each ordered a cup of The Country’s Best Yogurt and moved the interview outdoors. As our conversation unfolded, we wound up mostly discussing women – a favorite, confusing topic for us.
You, me, and a few guys we know were all together recently when you posed an interesting question: what was going on with you when you first started to wonder about whether any dads gave their sons advice about approaching girls?
All my relationships have happened organically; things just came together over time with me never having to just straight up call a girl and say, “Hey, you wanna…do…a thing…with me?” Instead, it just kind of happens, and we just feel each other.
But one day I was thinking there may be cases in life when I’ll have to be more intentional. What if I meet a girl one time, and she seems very interesting, but there’s not an avenue that I can naturally meet her again unless I specifically try to.
I’m not too familiar with that. I’ve never had to go through the process of really intentionally – in a way that wouldn’t happen unless I make it happen – spending time with a girl. And I don’t know the best way to go about that. I’ve never been told anything about it. Of the things a dad would teach a son, you’d think somewhere along the way, he’d give some information on that. My dad never really did.
My dad’s a pretty talkative guy – he communicated a lot of things with me, and it’s funny he never really shared too much on that. So then I started asking people – a good 7 or 8 now, and so far all of them said their dad never really shared anything.
I think for a lot of guys, whatever girl they end up getting, they’re still not totally sure how they got her. They’re like, “I asked a lot of girls out, they said no, one said yes, we dated for a while, then we ended up getting married. I don’t know exactly how that worked out.” So, I think a lot of dads don’t know what to tell their son about how to ask a girl out or take her on a really good first date. They’re like, “I don’t know – I had a lot of times fail, and then one worked, and I don’t know if I can tell you why.”
So, it’s fascinating to me that most guys aren’t informed.
What’s the hardest thing about approaching a girl for the purpose of dating?
The hardest thing for me is I always want to minimize how unsure I am when I try to convince a girl that she should spend time with me.
The question is how can I get in scenarios where I can figure out if I really want to pursue a date with someone. Because I don’t want to pursue it, convince her she should be into it too, and two dates later I’ve convinced her it’s a good idea, she’s into it too, and I say, “Now, I’m not into it.”
So I’ve got to figure out if I’m into it, but there’s not an organic way to do that. That’s my conundrum: when it comes to possibly asking out girls I’m not sure I’m into, wanting to find out if I am into them, but then dealing with the fact that I won’t see them unless I make it happen.
It’s a hard problem for guys. I’m sure there are hard problems for girls too, and I know you find yourself giving advice to female friends sometimes. Are you ever in a position to advise girls about how to know whether a guy is interested?
I generally lean towards the idea that if a guy is interested, either he’s going to do something, or he’s interested, and he’s not doing anything and needs to be more of a man.
Guys usually will show a sign, I think. They’ll probably show interest. The problem is girls will read into something that may not be interest when they’re dealing with someone they hope will show interest.