Making Music: An Interview with Cara and Jonathan Pardo

Jonathan and Cara Pardo have been a big part of CTK Music through the years. In addition to making music in several bands and groups around the city, they can often be found playing with the music team at CTK Cambridge. Here is a glimpse into how they got here, their music process and their love for hymns and worship. 

Jonathan: Both Cara and I have had similar upbringings regarding music. We’re both singers, went to jazz school, and no longer sing jazz. To be fair, I only went to jazz school for about a year and a half, whereas Cara gave it up after getting an entire degree in it.

Cara: Heeeeeey. At least I have a degree to show all the people in the jazz club that I’m not singing to.

Jonathan: We both eventually realized that we were much more interested in writing our own songs. My brother, Steve, was in the middle of planning a small tour of the northeast with his band at the time (which we later joined him on as backup singers) when he introduced us. The night we met, we sat around the dinner table with Steve and his wife Amy (both of whom Cara had attended university with) and basically laughed for three hours straight. My brother often fondly remembers just laughing, looking back and forth between the two of us, while not getting one word in edgewise.

Cara: Then Jonathan picked up the guitar and played a song he wrote. Classic, right? I was all… “Ok, guy. We get it.” while also secretly swooning. Anyway—skip forward 8 or so years—and we’ve got a mini tour, a marriage, 2 albums, countless “song idea” voice memos, a dog, a cat, and a bun in the oven. Shortly after we started dating, and after a bit of “church shopping,” we came to CTK Cambridge and fell in love with the music. Fast forward a bit, and we soon weaseled our way onto the music team.

Jonathan: Playing worship music is very different than playing your own song (or your own fascinating take on a Gershwin tune...did someone say FOUR MINUTE SCAT SOLO?) First of all, it’s no longer about your favorite thing in the world; yourself. And it’s not even like you’re a backup singer. You’re leading, but you’re leading others to praise God. Music school does not prepare you for this struggle in ego. Not that we’re up there thinking, “Man, how good do I look right now?” But at the same time, there’s a reason the term “diva” is associated with singers. It’s because, deep down, WE’RE ALL DIVAS.

Cara: We both grew up Catholic, and so we were learning a lot of new (to us) hymns. Seeing the texts and hearing the traditional melodies for the first time allowed us both to appreciate them in a sort of “doe eyed” way. It also coincided with our growing faith. Even now we’re gaining better understanding of these texts that we’ve been singing for the past six years.

Jonathan: A few years back, our band Opal Puckett (made up of Steve, Amy, Cara, and I) were asked to lead worship for the first three months of the new Somerville CTK church plant. This allowed us the chance to dive deep on these hymns we were learning. We did our best to bring new life to the hymns while keeping the focus, at its core, on the text. We found the best way to do this was to focus on four part vocal harmonies. The beauty of harmonies is that they remove the attention from the one and instead puts it onto the whole. I find singing harmonies to be naturally ego-killing, because the best way to sing harmonies is to not focus on how you sound, but how well you fit in with everyone else. And when everyone thinks this way, we’re all giving ourselves up to the music. And when the song you’re singing is praising God, we can more easily give ourselves up to Him!

The process was extremely rewarding, sometimes challenging, and delivered us with some unique arrangements that we were pretty proud of. After our three months were up, we chose some of our favorites and recorded an LP. The experience of recording this album was very different from recording our original music, and in many cases I think it was actually easier. The arrangements were already done, the hymns at their core were extremely well written (I can’t always say that about my own stuff), so basically our work was to just get it down on tape. I have many fond memories of the four of us in the “recording studio” (which is basically a glorified closet) all around one microphone trying to nail our harmonies.

Cara: In general, music is something that can speak to so many different types of people, from so many different parts of the world, and can make you feel so many different ways. It could make you want to dance, make you want to cry, or make you want to call your Mom. When I hear Dirty Projectors and Bjork’s album Mount Wittenberg Orca, I am suddenly watching the ocean waves and hearing whales that I’ve never actually seen. During My Brightest Diamond’s tune I Have Never Loved Someone, I am crying (every. single. time.) over how deeply we are able to feel love. For The Beauty of The Earth will always remind me of Little Women, and Beyonce will always make me feel like I am THE GREATEST DANCER ON THIS PLANET.

Jonathan: If I may is worth noting that Cara is, indeed, the greatest dancer on the planet.

Cara: Correct.

Music is a way to connect. I think it’s the most relatable art form there is. It’s almost another sense that we all possess. Just like when you smell a certain scent, or taste something familiar, it can bring you back to a past experience or another place. A friend just shared this story with me and it blew my mind….

“As a young man, Boris Brott, conductor of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra in Ontario, says he was mystified by the unusual ability he had to automatically “play” certain pieces sight unseen. “I’d be conducting a score for the first time, and suddenly the cello line would jump out at me: I’d know the flow of the piece even before I turned the page of the score. One day, I mentioned this to my mother, who is a professional cellist. I thought she would be intrigued because it was always the cello line that was so distinct in my mind. She was, but when she heard what the pieces were, the mystery quickly resolved itself. All of the scores I knew sight unseen were ones she had prepared for a program while she was pregnant with me, but never had occasion to play after that.”

I meeaaaan. C’mon. How insane is that??

Jonathan: Since I read that story, we’ve been singing to Cara’s belly God Only Knows by the Beach Boys every night, hoping to create a super-genius baby. I even have a recurring appointment in my calendar for 10 P.M. so we don’t forget. Laugh now, but when our child is on The Voice season 34 (which I assume will be some sort of Hunger Games, government-run thing by that point), we’ll know why.

To try and sum up this sporadic blabber-fest, we’ve learned a great deal through our time playing music at CTK. Just like everything in life, it’s important to remember that all good things are gifts from God. We’re grateful to have such a strong music team with an amazingly talented, proficient, and generally thoughtful leader like Amanda. We’re grateful to have a pastor who is as passionate about music as Rick is. The first day we walked into CTK we were blown away by the beauty of the music. Not because it was an all star band (although it probably was), but because it was honest. The hymns were presented without ego in a way that we found ourselves truly worshiping and focused on the words we were singing. We hope to continue that tradition of praising God together, humbly and honestly, and with as many harmonies as possible.

Jonathan and Cara have been making music together since they met eight years ago. They’ve been married for five of those years and have a happy family of Nigel the dog, Mufasa the cat, and a baby on the way.