Catholic singer-songwriter Teresa Peterson was 16 when she felt the Lord “calling” her to music ministry.
“I was on a weekend retreat for teens and during the worship in adoration portion of the weekend, I heard what I would consider the strongest, clearest, loudest voice from the Lord I may have ever received,” she says. “I don't believe I heard it externally and audibly, but it resounded so strongly within me that it might as well have been. I heard the Lord say, ‘Teresa, I want you to sing for me and sing for them.’ After that weekend, my whole life trajectory shifted with stewarding this one clear word.”
Peterson has certainly answered the calling she believed she heard that weekend, and her spirit-filled music has been featured on Relevant Radio, The Catholic Playlist, Immaculate Heart Music and more. She has opened for such noted acts as Sidewalk Prophets and Stars Go Dim and has shared her music at events in association with the World Meeting of Families, Heart of the Father Ministries (Unbound), The Culture Project, and numerous Catholic conferences and youth rallies.
In her former home of Philadelphia, Peterson partnered with the University of Pennsylvania's Newman Center to promote their First Fridays Mass and Adoration of the Sacred Heart.
Now based in Brighton, MI, she credits her father for inspiring her love of song.
“My father played worship music in the house, so he was my first instructor on the guitar,” she says. “I took piano lessons mostly throughout grade school but didn't realize my passion for it until I was out of high school.”
Secular and spiritual singers also sparked her love of music, she notes. “Julie Andrews and Neil Diamond were some of my earliest inspirations,” she says. “Neil Diamond can turn a phrase and deliver a line like none other.” She adds that she grew up listening mostly to country as well as Christian music, and enjoyed Reba McEntire, Martina McBride and Faith Hill.
“I was always drawn to strong, powerful singers who could sing a song right through you,” Peterson says, noting Christian performers Bethel Music and Jonathan and Melissa Helser are some of her current favorites.
Peterson has also penned secular music and spent her 20s in Nashville writing country-pop numbers. She says her sacred and secular music share common traits.
“Most of what I write tends to come from a relational place, whether it's secular or sacred,” she says. “When writing my Christian albums, my inspiration comes directly from my relationship with the Lord.”
Peterson’s latest project is her second Christian EP, “Faithful,” which led to her being featured on New Release Today's “New Artist Watch” for June 2018. The title track is a mid-tempo, airy ballad featuring ringing guitar and a soft march-like tempo. Robert Venable (Stars Go Dim, Twenty One Pilots, Kelly Clarkson) and Jake Jones (As We Ascend, We As Human) teamed up for the production. Peterson collaborated on her EP’s tunes with such writers and musicians as Leo Ahlstrom, Jake Jones, Dana Catherine and the group His Own.
“Truly the Lord brought us all together,” Peterson says. “Jake (Jones) was my producer on my 2015 EP ‘Freely, Fully,’ and when it was time to record ‘Faithful’ he asked if I'd be interested in having Robert (Venable) be a part of the project. I was really excited about it, and it was a blast working with both of them! They both brought an amazing energy, creative ideas and pulled the very best out of me into that record.”
She says that her songwriting is a process of try and try again.
“I find that once I land on something catchy, whether it's a melodic hook or lyric that grabs me, I pray as I take it on a ride,” she says. “Maybe it's my next song or just a fun writing exercise that doesn't turn into a fully formed song, but you never know until you follow the idea. If I find something that sparks inspiration, I repeat the idea over and over and build and riff and tear down and build and riff and tear down until something starts to form.”
Inspiration comes from varied sources, she adds.
“Sometimes I start with the Bible to catapult me into inspiration, and sometimes I dive into it when I'm still searching for what I'm really trying to say,” she says. “When I walk away from the piano and can't stop singing the hook line, that's when I know I'm on to something. When I've finished a song and still love singing it months or years later? That's when I know I did something right.”
Live, Peterson mostly performs solo, although she sometimes uses a band that includes her husband, James, on drums.
Currently the Director of Worship for Encounter Ministries, she says she has had a number of positive experiences at the organization’s events.
“[In] a concert setting, I think the sweetest things are when the young girls make their way back to my table,” she says. “I remember one young girl, in particular, who was so moved by my concert that she wrote down my whole set on a piece of paper and wrote all these lovely adjectives about me and then gave me that piece of paper after the concert was over. I was so moved and humbled by her heart. I still have that piece of paper!”
She and her husband were so impressed by Encounter Ministries after attending a conference that they pulled up stakes from Philadelphia and moved to Michigan to work with the group.
“Its sole purpose is to equip Catholics to walk in the power and love of the Holy Spirit,” she says, adding, “It was one of the few Catholic ministries we knew of that were not only hosting healing services but also seeing dramatic breakthroughs with healing. I've personally been witness to medically documented stage 4 cancer being completely healed, deaf ears being opened, arthritis completely leaving — this list goes on and on.”
She credits her husband and manager, James, for supporting her work all these years.
“He rivals my parents as my Number 1 fan,” she says. “We really see it as our mission to do together and I couldn't do this without him.”