STEPH Unger is tired of hearing the barrage of pop songs with inappropriate, demeaning and degrading lyrics.
As a former teacher at Our Lady’s College, Annerley, an all-girls’ Catholic secondary school, Steph witnessed first-hand the way music could mould minds, especially young women.
“Sometimes the content or the way that men might talk about women or women might talk about other women is really inappropriate in music,” Steph said.
“It doesn’t really actually set a good example for our young people and we need to combat that.”
Combatting negative images is part of Steph’s vocation, firstly as a musician and teacher, and secondly as youth worker at the Darra-Jindalee Catholic parish.
Steph’s name is slowly becoming a household one in Church circles, having been invited to speak to Australian bishops and media delegates at the recent Communications Congress in Sydney, and now a regular performer at the Australian Catholic Youth Festival.
She was five years old when she began her music career, firstly as a sweet accompaniment to her father in a Catholic parish “folk group”.
“I have really fond memories of practising with my dad while he was practising for Mass, of me singing the melody and Dad doing some harmonies,” Steph said.
“It was just a really beautiful time that I spent with my father.
“He was always an inspiration in terms of music for me.”
An early love for “Church music” developed into a desire to pursue music as a career, and Steph enrolled to study music at the University of Queensland. There she found herself at a crossroads in her faith.
“There were a few years at university, while studying religion in a secular uni, that I was surrounded by lecturers and classmates who weren’t particularly religious,” she said.
“It was quite confusing; it was a time of discernment for me, figuring out where I was, what I believed and who I wanted to be.”
Steph eventually decided on loving and embracing the Catholic faith after starting as a religion teacher at a Catholic school eight years ago.
“Going to work in a Catholic school and teaching religion from Year 8 to 12 made me solidify what I believed,” she said.
“As I was teaching them what the Church teaches, I believed it was actually important.
“The more I taught the more I wanted to live my life by those values.
“It’s truth; it’s how we should be living our lives and it’s the right way we should be living our lives.
“And so it wasn’t very long at all after I started teaching that I went back to church and got heavily involved.
“It’s been just full-on since then, the last eight years, of really wanting to learn more about my faith and help others to find Christ.”
Teaching music also inspired her to chase her dream of being a musician.
“When I became a music teacher that really defined for me who I wanted to be as a singer, because I just saw the influence that music had on my students,” Steph said.
“I saw how pumped-up music could make them, and how good it could make them feel, and I also saw how it could also challenge their values.
“That made me decide that I wanted to write music that was positive, that would just pump young people up and make them feel good about themselves, to help them to really feel good about their values and really cherish them.”
Steph said her musical influences included American worshipper Steve Angrisano, and having something like his job, travelling the globe and holding music workshops, would be “heaven”.
Steph’s latest recording process began with demos on her iPhone.
After “flogging” an online Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a producer, Steph’s fans pulled in more than $5000 to help her record another album.
By early June, her amateur sound bytes will come to life in a polished, six-track EP produced by renowned musician and producer, and Tommy Immanuel’s guitarist, Michael Fix
“Michael Fix has been quite an inspiration for me in that he’s embraced my music,” Steph said. “He’s taken my very simple compositions and arranged them into something really beautiful.”
The album’s first single, Free, was written for a singing competition where Steph experienced slight prejudice after entering as a Christian artist.
“It was pretty obvious (the judges) didn’t like what I was presenting,” she said.
“Through the heats, I struggled a little bit, knowing that even though I was certainly capable to go forward to the grand final, the fact I was a Christian artist had, I think, tainted their opinion of me.”
To her disbelief, the judges invited Steph to perform at the grand finals, and inspired by her negative experience, the confident musician wrote Free.
“I decided that I was going to embrace who I was and not care what (the judges) said, not care what they thought, and present a song that was going to say, this is who I am, take me or leave me.
“Would you believe that they absolutely loved that song?”
Freedom is a theme that appears often in Steph’s upcoming album, Free at Last.
“It’s not freedom in terms of ‘I can do what I like and it doesn’t really matter what people think’; it’s more of, ‘I’m free to be the person God created me to be and to love myself’,” she said.
“Whether I come in a package that looks the way a singer should, or if it comes in a package that’s cool enough, trendy enough, or music that’s loved by everyone, it doesn’t matter because God created me and I’m special because of that. Because I am God’s child, I should feel free to be that person, and so I would like to help other people to feel that way as well, to feel free to be the person they were created to be.”
Steph is praying radio stations around Australia will pick up her album and showcase her wholesome, positive music.
The Catholic Leader is an Australian award-winning Catholic newspaper that has been published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane since 1929. Our journalism seeks to provide a full, accurate and balanced Catholic perspective of local, national and international news while upholding the dignity of the human person.
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