In song, a catharsis


Laurie Johnson Solheim ‘86
Audio CD, Digital Ave.

Solheim’s brother, Daniel Johnson ’81, a researcher in the Puget Sound geology department, and a colleague died tragically in 2005 when they were traveling on U.S. Highway 101 and a logging truck lost its load in the path of their car. After the accident, Solheim’s grief counselor suggested she begin writing down her feelings in a journal each morning as a way to “breathe for that day.”

“I was kind of stuck,” Solheim admits, though she started to focus on the idea that her brother was safely in God’s hands: “He’s in heaven; he’s fine.” She also thought about others affected by grief.

“You have to find some reason outside of yourself to go on,” she says. “I had to reach out, to look beyond my own pain. It’s the little light at the end of the tunnel that you aim for.”

“If I didn’t live,” she continues, “then that log truck killed more than those two men.”

Eventually her journal entries began to look more like poetry or song lyrics.

Then one day, browsing Craigslist, Solheim came across an ad: “Aspiring vocalists wanted.” Though she’d sung most of her life—ever since soloing in her junior high school choir—she had never recorded.

She responded to the post and went on to partner with a Kirkland-based music producer, Daniel Christopherson, to create Offerings, a four-song CD of adult contemporary Christian music with a surprisingly uplifting pop bent.

“There are many kinds of grief,” Solheim says, whether it’s for friends, family members, relationships, or careers gone awry. With her music, she hopes to “inspire people to look for the ‘now what?’ instead of looking in the past.”

Rounding out the project was Christopherson’s team of crackerjack musicians, with recording credits ranging from the movie Titanic to the rock band Heart. Solheim also hired a woman to play her brother’s cello on the signature track, “You’re in Heaven (Dan Song).” (Johnson played in Puget Sound’s string quartet when a student.) “It was as if Dan’s voice responds to me through his instrument,” she writes on her MySpace page (

Solheim says she was immensely grateful for the chance to record Offerings. Driving home from the studio, she says, “I would be so stoked, I’d have to pull over and call my parents.”

In addition to doing voice-overs for KOMO-TV, Solheim sings at funerals, church gatherings, and other events and works as a Christian motivational speaker. She and her husband, David, also run a video-production business called Digital Ave., which released Offerings. — Andy Boynton

Crafting Peace

Crafting Peace: Power-Sharing and the Negotiated Settlement of Civil Wars
Caroline A. Hartzell ‘85 and Matthew Hoddie
208 pages, Penn State University Press,

In Crafting Peace Hartzell and Hoddie examine nearly 40 negotiated civil-war settlements that occurred from 1945 to 1999 in order to identify what factors contribute most to the success of peace efforts. What they find is that settlements are more likely to produce an enduring peace if they involve construction of a diversity of power-sharing and power-dividing arrangements between former adversaries. The strongest negotiated settlements prove to be those in which former rivals agree to share or divide state power across economic, military, political, and territorial dimensions. This finding is a significant addition to the existing literature, which tends to focus more on the role that third parties play in mediating and enforcing agreements. Hartzell is a professor of political science at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania.

The Birth of Christ

The Birth of Christ
Composed and conducted by Andrew T. Miller ’91; narrated by Liam Neeson
DVD, 85 minutes, Sony Classics,

Recorded live at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, in 2006, and subsequently aired on PBS, this widely hailed musical performance recounts the Nativity according to the Gospel of Luke. “I think that people are looking for a new way to explore a powerful story,” says maestro Miller—a take certainly supported by the response. (The performance was released as both a DVD and a CD and quickly topped’s classical music list.)

For the event, two Protestant choirs joined a Catholic ensemble (remarkable in itself, given Ireland’s history of sectarian strife) and a full orchestra, all led by an emotional Miller, who by turns looks pained and exhilarated. The darkened, towering Gothic church interior only heightens the drama. Liam Neeson (of Schindler’s List fame) narrates.

Miller has been involved in a variety of musical projects during his career and is now completing a composition called The Passion and Resurrection, scheduled to debut in spring 2009. He also speaks at school, public, and business events.  — AB

Toast is the Most

Toast Is the Most
Crissy Lee Scott ’01 and Jason Lee
32 pages, Tate Publishing,

“Where does toast come from?” siblings Scott and Lee ask in this charming children’s book. “Does it rain from the sky? Or come from the sea?” The quintessential breakfast staple is celebrated in colorful illustrations, as are favorite toppings like jam, cinnamon, and peanut butter and banana. (“Be careful though, that honey may be runny!”) Scott and her husband, Brett Scott ’01, live in Sammamish, Wash., with their twin children, Audrey and Riley. The book comes with a free audio download.  — AB