Local musician leverages talents to lift others’ voices

| Jessica Weinberger | October 24, 2018 | 0 Comments
Abraham Gross performs during St. Paul’s Outreach’s 2018 School of the New Evangelization, held Aug. 5-11 at St. Olaf College in Northfield. Gross is the organization’s first music coordinator. “We talk a lot in the Catholic world about self-gift. Giving yourself away is how you find yourself, and it’s really evident in music,” he said.

Abraham Gross performs during St. Paul’s Outreach’s 2018 School of the New Evangelization, held Aug. 5-11 at St. Olaf College in Northfield.
Gross is the organization’s first music coordinator. “We talk a lot in the Catholic world about self-gift. Giving yourself away is how you find yourself, and it’s really evident in music,” he said. Amanda Grace Photography / Courtesy SPO

As a musician, Abraham Gross has seen success with his 2016 album, “Perfect Equals Messy,” and as St. Paul’s Outreach’s first music coordinator, raising the quality of worship for college chapters nationwide. It’s helping others create compelling, faith-filled music, either through a full-time role or his company, AJG Productions, where he says he really hits home runs.

“I am much more about the arrangement, production, recording, and vision for a song and melody,” said Gross, 29. “Any music that you hear…there’s a whole team of people that have put it together. I love being part of the team and showcasing sometimes my own music, but mostly other people’s music.”

His collaborative approach and smoother, down-tempo, R&B-influenced electronic style has led to opportunities to drum, play guitar and piano, or sing at live shows and on albums for local and national artists including Sonar, Connor Flanagan and Luke Spehar. Gross also regularly leads worship music at St. John the Baptist in New Brighton and St. Pius X in White Bear Lake, where he splits his time as a parishioner, along with his wife, Elizabeth, and 5-month-old daughter, Liza.

“He’s adventurous musically, which is really cool, so he’s stretching different audiences, and his heart is centered on the Lord,” said Spehar, a fellow local musician and Catholic. “It honors God and that comes through with his approach.”

Spehar, 30, met Gross at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, in 2012 when Gross was studying psychology and Spehar was performing. Now Gross will play guitar, run sound or perform an opening set for one of his gigs, making Gross “just one of those guys that you like having around,” Spehar said.

Musical roots

Gross’ musical career seemed destined from the start. His parents are musicians and met through the same booking agent. Growing up in St. Paul as a parishioner of the Cathedral of St. Paul, he took piano lessons before learning his first chords on an old “beater” classical guitar at age 10. He started lessons in the years that followed, nurturing a love for the instrument.

Raised in Community of Christ the Redeemer, a charismatic Catholic community based in West St. Paul, Gross saw the importance of building relationships and community, especially as a foundation for evangelization.

“With evangelization and with music, so much of it is about relationship with people. My music should come out of my relationship with the Lord, but also be tremendously influenced by community. That’s been very influenced by CCR,” he said.

With hopes of becoming a recording artist, Gross put out an album in 2008, the year after graduating from high school at Trinity School at River Ridge in Eagan. The release was less than successful. That led Gross, then a student at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, to look for direction and an authentic faith life. At the time, he admits, he had been just going through the motions.

He decided to spend a year in Detroit working with YouthWorks-Detroit, leading a youth group and after-school programs, and serving meals to the homeless. It’s there that he first experienced leading praise and worship, and there that he deepened his faith while living among a formal brotherhood of celibate men.

Gross largely put his own music career on hold as he transferred to Benedictine College and became involved in an SPO household, but he continued to write his own music.

He joined SPO full-time after college, serving for two years as a mission leader at Arizona State University before returning to Minnesota in 2014 to serve as SPO’s music coordinator — a move he considered both a call home and a call back to music.

In his current role, Gross trains SPO members to lead morning praise and worship in the households, while offering the tools and resources the national organization needs for worship at events. Based in Inver Grove Heights, SPO focuses on the evangelization of college students and has a presence in seven states.

Robert Williams, 25, SPO’s chapter leader at the University of Minnesota, said he used to be petrified in front of groups, but with Gross’ coaching, he can now lead worship, and he even sang on SPO’s recently released 10-track worship album, “Heaven’s Light,” which Gross produced.

“SPO is trying to reach college students and help them come to know full life in the Lord, and Abe has been the biggest proponent and biggest influence of having the highest quality of worship and teaching us how to worship the Lord,” Williams said.

A multi-faceted ministry

Settled in his role at SPO, Gross spent one Lent writing an original song every other day. Six tracks that fit the same genre — a quasi-electronic vibe — became his album, “Perfect Equals Messy.” The album draws on influences like Phil Keaggy, Capital Cities and Jon Bellion, and it reflects the uncertainty he was feeling coming out of single, young adulthood and anticipating marriage and future fatherhood.

Now looking back, he can see how the Lord made perfection out of the messiness, and that’s a message he wanted to share.

“The music that I make, yes, it’s fun to do, but it’s actually meant for other people to hear. It’s meant to be a gift,” said Gross, who considers himself a musician who is Christian, not a Christian or Catholic musician. “We talk a lot in the Catholic world about self-gift. Giving yourself away is how you find yourself, and it’s really evident in music.”

It’s all a part of a ministry that’s intrinsically rooted in his full-time role at SPO and in his work among the music community in the Twin Cities. Placed in this market right now with numerous opportunities to share his faith directly and indirectly, Gross sees the difference he’s making in the worship leaders he’s trained who have gone on to lead youth groups and Mass at parishes around the country. And then there are the individuals, like one fan in Illinois, who approached Gross at a retreat to express gratefulness for his relatable, faith-infused songs.

“It was crazy that somebody I didn’t know and had no connection to me had connected with the music, and that God was working,” he said. “That is worth the whole project.”

Gross is currently working on projects out of his studio at his parents’ home — just six blocks from his St. Paul apartment. He’s playing a key role in Sonar’s new EP album due out soon.

As for what’s next, he plans to continually refine the gifts he’s been given while fostering strong ties to other emerging and prominent artists in the Twin Cities.

“Hopefully all of my best music is in front of me,” Gross said. “When we’re following the Lord in anything, the best is yet to come.”

Tags: , , ,

Category: Featured, Local News