Corey Doak finds grace underneath the music

Posted: April 5, 2010

By Amy Robertson

Front banner: Corey Doak. Photo by Geoff Holman .

Corey Doak. Photo by Geoff Holman.

orey Doak (College '04) knows that his music was never intended for Christian radio.

He also knows that it can change the world anyway.

Music has always been a part of him. Even when he was just “a lost soul,” he somehow understood the power music had—he just didn’t know how to harness it.

That changed when he met Christ—the source of music’s power and beauty, he says—more than a decade ago.

A friend told him that if he wanted to learn about the music he longed to write—music that would change the world—he should leave the sunny coast of Oregon for Briercrest College and Seminary on the prairies of Saskatchewan, Canada.

Eighteen months later, Doak found himself stepping off a bus in Caronport, Sask. It was 40 degrees below zero, and at 5 a.m., the only place to seek refuge from the cold was a phone booth.

As he shivered and counted the minutes until something opened, he wondered what he’d gotten himself into.

It didn’t take him long to find out. The community, encouragement, and warmth he found here brought him back to finish a four-year degree in music.

While he studied and played his guitar in stairwells, Doak struggled to find out who he was as an artist. He tried leading worship, but it didn’t quite fit—he couldn’t connect with people’s souls through the church songs he imitated.

He also spent a year and a half as the unofficial fifth member of Downhere, a Covenant-Award-winning group made up of Doak’s Briercrest classmates. While his time with Downhere was an important time of growth for him, it wasn’t the fit he was looking for, either.

So he branched off on his own, releasing two very different CDs . His first album, Another Heart Tomorrow, was a reflection of Doak’s soul—it contained songs he had written “from the guts.”

But some of his peers were concerned that the album wasn’t “Christian” enough, and criticized it for such a glaring “flaw.”

Doak was a newer Christian who assumed that his peers, who were older and wiser in the faith, must certainly be right. So he adjusted his style accordingly and produced a second album of music he thought they’d want to hear.

The disc flopped. Miserably.

But seven years later, Corey is thankful for the failure.

"If it hadn’t, I would have made such lame music!” he exclaims.

Since Briercrest, Doak’s music journey has led him to and from a worship director’s position at his local church, to stages in Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, and all over North America, and to Comedy Central and CTV because of a video that began as a family joke about a Christmas elf named Scruffy. He’s released three more CDs and toured the West Coast as a self-proclaimed troubadour. He also won the 2009 Covenant Award for Best Folk Album in 2009.

Along the way, Doak has learned a few things. For one, his music will always be intertwined with his call.

Corey Doak performs at Briercrest College and Seminary March 22, 2010. Photo by Rob Schellenberg.
He believes the role of the artist is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” and that part of our calling as Christians is to create beauty—God himself has created so much of it that Doak can’t imagine not following suit.

For him, not being able to play would be like being a cripple. The need to use his gift is so strong that if he couldn’t, it would literally “burn a hole” inside him. It’s his life’s work.

He’s also learned that the best music comes from his heart.

Even as a worship director, the songs that blessed him and others the most weren’t the worship choruses he pulled out of a book—they were the ballads he’d penned on his own that sang of the God who made his heart sing.

He’s learned that he doesn’t need to “Christianize” everything he writes. As his life is characterized more and more by grace and redemption, so is the rich music that flows naturally from his soul.

“It’s ... about realizing what it means to be fully human in Christ, and then letting my songs spring out of my essence as one of the redeemed,” he says.

Some of his music speaks to people through humour—like “Scruffy the Elf” and his hip-hop tribute to Yo-Yo Ma.

Other songs speak to the deepest part of people, telling vivid, timeless stories of lost hope and redemption.

In “Life Without Grace,” a young girl with a “broken wing” has coffee with “a king with a rusty crown.” They share their stories of broken dreams together: two husbands have left the young girl with nothing, and “a king with a rusty crown” has spent 10 years working at a “corner shop.”

They live in a city that’s “just a memory of a life without grace.”

“Song of the King” is a story about a wise, just king who lives in “a castle of gold” and takes “a lady of the night” for his bride. The king plays “a fool, the only faithful lover of the queen” for years. When his bride comes back “pitiful,” “frail,” and “wretched,” rather than condemning her, the king showers her “with diamonds and gold.”

The song concludes simply, “Her beauty returned with a magic love that burns, older than all stories ever told.”

Doak’s music is like the biblical book of Esther. Rather than proclaiming the name of God, it simply bears his thumbprints. For Doak, that’s where the power is. These are the songs that have been God’s grace to people, and God’s grace to him.

“It’s kind of like you have this bar of music with the name of Jesus written underneath it,” he explains.

Doak hopes his life and his music will be “God-saturated”—even though some might not recognize him among the notes.