Jeff Bumgardner dreamed of winning a Dove Award by the time he was 40.
Then, the day before his 39th birthday, he did.
“It’s exciting and surreal for me,” he said. “I had dreamed of it happening one day, but just didn’t know how God was going to orchestrate it.”
Bumgardner, along with songwriters Joel Lindsey and Daniel Simpson and arranger Daniel Semsen, were awarded Best Musical by the Gospel Music Association for their work Christ the Redeemer.
“It was really an experiment,” Bumgardner said of the composition. “We were trying to fit in a niche that wasn’t being met.”
Easter 2013 came earlier than usual, which meant choirs didn’t have as much time to prepare their Easter productions, he said.
Bumgardner said he and the other songwriters felt that many of the musicals available to churches were either really simple or very long and elaborate.
They set out to create a “middle of the road” production that could be rehearsed in a short amount of time but still offered “a lot of depth and meat to it musically and lyrically,” he said.
Christ the Redeemer, as an Easter musical, tells Jesus’ story from birth to resurrection through the eyes of an onlooker.
One hymn, Christ the Redeemer, is threaded throughout the musical. Each verse tells a different part of the Easter story.
Another song, Fit for a King, is about Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem riding a donkey while people are singing hosannahs.
“That song is really written from the perspective of someone who may have been in the crowd that day,” Bumgardner said. “So it’s kind of a writing things from that perspective that helps people draw in their mind’s eye what it may have felt like and sounded like and looked like had they been there.”
Always a lover of music, Bumgardner wrote poems and made up melodies as a child. He joined bands and choirs through school, and in college earned a bachelor of arts degree in vocal performance. In seminary, he earned a master’s degree in worship ministry.
“(Music has) always been a part of what I’ve done and who I am,” he said.
Throughout his career, he has written songs that were performed by choirs in the churches where he served. But it wasn’t until he met Lindsey in 2011 that the songwriting aspect of his career really took off.
“Joel was a songwriting hero of mine,” Bumgardner said. “I had the chance to meet him. From that meeting he asked to hear some things that I’d written, so I sent him a couple of things and he invited me to a writing session with him. Next thing I knew, he was calling me asking me to write a musical with him, which became Christ the Redeemer.”
He said he was stunned to have won a Dove Award for his first musical.
“You’re sitting here looking at all of these names and you’re thinking, ‘My name’s on that same list,’ and that’s crazy enough. So I was prepared to just enjoy the evening, but when they called it out I think I was in shock,” he said. “I’m still kind of in shock over it.”
Bumgardner writes songs in multiple genres, including contemporary and traditional urban gospel. A few of his songs have been published and played on local gospel station WGUS, though he said he hasn’t heard them on the radio yet.
But his main job is to minister to the congregation at First Baptist Church of North Augusta through his music.
He said he is thankful for the opportunities the church gives him to travel to Nashville, Tenn., to continue writing songs, which he then brings back to the church.