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Tom Renaud: From solitude to songwriting

Music: Former monk and local teacher records new album, ‘Walk Till Morning,’ inspired by god, nature

Posted: June 11, 2010 10:35 p.m.
Updated: June 12, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Local teacher and former monk Tom Renaud's new album, ‘Walk Till Morning,’ features songs he's written over the last 20 years.

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Tom Renaud closed his eyes and strummed his guitar. As his deep voice rang out, Renaud’s wife, stepson and producer sat around him listening to him sing:

“You may be an artist or a poet, you may be a husband or a wife, we all hold a promise for the future, we all hunger for life.”

They are the lyrics to “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Dreams,” one of 14 original contemporary folk songs on Tom Renaud’s newest album “Walk Till Morning.”

Renaud’s lyrics express his belief there is a part of life that most everyone shares — a feeling that all are made for bigger things. 

“We all have this extraordinary dimension inside of us that is longing to be explored that shows the crossover to the spiritual; something bigger than us,” he said.

The Santa Clarita resident had years to get in touch with his spiritual foundation.  He was a monk for 25 years. He lived in wilderness areas of Colorado, Nova Scotia and Ireland.

He didn’t grow up in a deeply rooted Catholic setting, but he always felt a tug toward a religious vocation.

“I always had this religious bent in me,” he said. “I always wanted to do something following God in some way, and serving him.”

At age 29, he found the Spiritual Life Institute, a Roman Catholic, ecumenical community of vowed men and women.

The ministry offered him a “step back from real life,” he said.

Renaud delved into an atmosphere of solitude, simplicity and prayer.

It was through this environment that he fostered a love for nature’s beauty and his creativity.

He learned construction, carpentry and woodcarving as he helped build monasteries to live in. The musician, who began songwriting in college, also spent much of his time with a guitar. Inspired by the wilderness around him, the people he met and God, Renaud played music on a regular basis.

“I was trying to be tuned into to how (God) works in the world,” he said. “I loved the silence and solitude of the life because I’m a creative person. I was able to write a lot of songs in that silence and solitude.” 

In 1998, Renaud met a Nova Scotian folk duo, Evans and Doherty. He made a recording with the pair that received national airplay in Canada, according to his website.

In 2005, Renaud decided to leave the Spiritual Life Institute and essentially came to California with nothing but a small amount of money and some teaching job prospects.

“I left the monastery with nothing. I had no credit rating, very little money and a rattle trap of a car,” he said. “I had to start from scratch.”

He received a job teaching special education in at Valley View Elementary School, where he met his wife Lee Kurimoto.

Music continues to be his favorite work and spirituality remains a major aspect of his life, he said.

“I’ve tried to transplant that spiritual aspect into what I’m doing now,” he said. “My music reflects that spirituality.”
Renaud’s 9-year-old stepson, Evan, also has mind for creativity. He writes stories, sings in a choir and makes short movies using stop motion, he said. 

“I just like creating things from my imagination, putting them on paper and making them into a movie,” he said.
Renaud, 57, recently finished recording his “Walk Till Morning” album with producer Steve Leavitt. The record is a collection of songs he has written over the past 20 years, inspired by God, nature, his family and people he has met.

“It’s spiritual without being preachy,” Leavitt said. “That’s one of the things that drew me to Tom’s music.”

Renaud hopes that his CD will bridge a gap between the secular and spiritual. That through his music, others can tap into “a sense that there are many dimensions to life and to our world and that’s a good thing,” he said.

Renaud’s album “Walk Till Morning” can be found at www.tomrenaud.com or www.cdbaby.com/Artist/TomRenaud.

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