Tad Worku, who graduated from Pacific Union College in 2008, has been praised for his “inspiring compositions, eloquence on the piano, and soulful voice,” and been compared to John Legend or Bruno Mars. Worku will be performing his own music in a big concert with the Oakland East Bay Symphony next weekend, benefiting the Adventist Medical Evangelism Network. He talked to Spectrum about his career, his goals and his abandoned album.
Question: On February 28, you are performing a concert with the Oakland East Bay Symphony in Richmond, California. How many concert-goers are expected to attend? Are you nervous?
Answer: We have capacity for 1,000 people. I would say I am more excited than nervous. It is surreal that everything is finally coming together. I remember when I first shared the idea. It was hard to see back then how all of the pieces would fit together.
It has been so evident that God has been leading, and that has definitely been my greatest comfort throughout the entire process. I know that God has brought me this far, and I believe He will continue to lead me.
To answer the second part of your question, I did have some butterflies the first time I went on stage for rehearsal with the Oakland Symphony.
Question: The concert will feature your original compositions, is that right? Can you describe some of the songs you will sing?
Answer: Yes, I wrote all of the songs that will be performed during the concert. The theme song for the event is titled “Love Is All.” My inspiration for the song came from the essence of the Gospel and from God’s abiding love for us.
There is a line in the song that captures the idea, and it says, “‘Cause he died but he lives so in him I am free.” I will also be singing a song titled, “Ethiopian Queen,” which is a song I wrote to honor my mom, and to say thank you for her unconditional love.
Question: Did you arrange the music for the orchestra? What is it like to rehearse with an orchestra?
Answer: I collaborated on some of the arrangements, but my arranger, Marcus McCauley, did most of the arrangements. Marcus graduated from Berkeley School of Music and is extremely talented. He is composing an original song that the symphony will play to close out the concert.
I had some butterflies the first time I stepped out onto the stage with the symphony. It was pretty amazing to hear a song that I had written being performed by such a talented group of people. Once the initial butterflies wore off, I was very comfortable.
Question: Your band will also play in the concert. Can you tell us a little bit about the other band members?
Answer: My band is pretty amazing and loaded with incredible talent. There is so much I could say about them. My music director, David Jackson, is currently the music director for Jennifer Hudson. All of the other musicians have a long list of accomplishments as well.
The thing I love most about them is their dedication to living out the Gospel. When I made the decision to walk away from pop music, I also canceled the release of a completed album that each member of the band had contributed to and was going to be compensated for when it was released. I remember telling my producer, James Richard, about my decision to walk away from pop music and his response is something I will never forget. He replied, “Whatever God has impressed you to do, we are all on board.”
Question: You graduated from Pacific Union College in 2008 with a business degree, is that right? And later you studied nursing? And spent some time as a professional musician and songwriter? Can you give us a brief summary of what you’ve been working on since 2008?
Answer: Yes, I graduated with a degree in business marketing in 2008. After I graduated, I moved to San Francisco to pursue a career as a professional musician. I started off by performing original songs at various open mics around the city.
In 2009, I was given the opportunity to headline a show at Yoshi’s San Francisco. This was my first big show and it ended up selling out. After that show, I started performing a lot more and also was invited to write music with other production and songwriting teams.
I started working on my debut pop/soul album and was talking with a few organizations about launching the project. Everything was going very well and there was growing excitement about the album. I was awarded a $50,000 grant for national tour with the option for another $50,000 for an international tour.
Though everything seemed to be going very well, I wasn’t at peace with the direction I was heading. I felt that God was calling me in a different direction and challenging me to follow Him completely. This internal conflict culminated with a decision to walk away from pop music. I returned the tour funding grant and canceled the album. At this point, I ended up praying a lot about what to do next. I knew I wanted to do something that connected my faith with my actions. And a door opened to study nursing. A few weeks later, I found myself back at PUC taking pre-requisites for the nursing program.
Question: I understand proceeds from the concert will go to funding a free one-day medical, dental, and vision clinic at area homeless shelters. How did you decide to donate to this cause?
Answer: After deciding to leave pop music, I started writing a new Christian album. I was impressed to connect the proceeds from the new project to a cause that would meet a need and alleviate pain and suffering. My idea was that I wanted to show what the Gospel looked like, in order to make my new project more meaningful and relevant. After deciding to study nursing, I naturally gravitated towards a medical-themed mission project. I shared my vision with my good friend Mark Ishikawa (Director of Alumni Relations at PUC) and he told me about the work that Adventist Medical Evangelism Network was doing. I was inspired by the idea and decided that it would be the perfect fit for what I wanted to do.
Question: Have you recorded the Christian album?
Answer: All of the songs for the new Christian project are written but I haven’t recorded the album yet. I am looking for funding to complete the project.
Question: What would you look back on as your favorite or most exciting performance to date?
Answer: There have been a lot of exciting performances, but the one that sticks out in my mind as the most meaningful was the concert I had at the Pacific Union College Church in May of 2012. It was the first time I performed all the new Christian music that I had written. I think the reason it was so meaningful was because when I walked away from pop music, I never expected to do anything in music again. I remember walking off stage at the end of the concert and knowing that something special just happened. It was the moment that showed me that God still had a plan for me to use my music.
Question: What do you see as the purpose of your music?
Answer: I think the purpose of my music is to offer hope. There is so much need in this world and at times it is overwhelming to think about. I want to use my music, as well as the proceeds from my music, to offer hope to a broken world. I write the story of the Gospel into all of my songs in one way or another because I believe that the story of what Jesus did for us is the foundation of hope.
Question: What do you see as your number one goal in life?
Answer: My number one goal in life is to put my faith completely to the test. I really believe that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and that God is willing to do some amazing things through the people who abandon all and follow him. I believe that this event is just the beginning of a very exciting journey!
Question: What do you love the most about writing, playing and singing music?
Answer: Writing, playing, and singing music is something that just comes out of me. I love the creative process of making music and seeing how that music gains layers and meaning as it is performed and shared. You never know how a song will impact someone’s life.
Question: What is your next big project?
Answer: I want to do another symphony concert connected to another free medical, dental, and vision clinic. I am currently exploring the possibility of putting an event together in partnership with Loma Linda University. I am also very interested to see how this idea can be expanded to as many different locations as possible, while empowering as many people as possible to take up the call to live out the Gospel.