Emma Nissen may only be 23 years old and at the beginning of her music career, but she’s already well on her way to becoming a household name within the Latter-day Saint community.
Her second single, “Hear Him,” came out in June and already has over 250,000 streams on Spotify. The music video was released in July and has over 7,000 views and climbing. She released two more singles, “Light” and “Gotta Have Faith,” within the next few months and is preparing for an album release in the new year.
Emma grew up surrounded by music but never imagined just how much it would affect her life. Her father, Brian Nissen, brought a theatrical element to her childhood with his singing and storytelling—he wrote the script for the hit-animated movie The Swan Princess as well as episodes of the Animated Stories from the New Testament (formerly known as The Living Scriptures). He showed Emma how music helps to tell a story. Her mother instilled a love for classical music in Emma and all her siblings, and orchestrated piano lessons for all of them.
“Music was a constant. And it was a way that we all felt love from and for each other. I think it was a big thing that brought us together,” Emma says.
Even her older brother Simon became involved in Emma’s musical education. While studying for his bachelor’s in choral education, he took time to sit with his little sister, showing her how chords work together and how to transform a piece so that everything worked in harmony.
It was only natural then for Emma to pursue a vocal performance major at college. But soon after arriving, she had the startling impression that she needed to serve a mission. It seemed like the worst time for her to go; leaving could mean losing her vocal scholarship, losing the friendships she’d built, and losing all the time she had already put into her voice training.
Emma seriously considered her options and felt she would need a perfect window of opportunity in order to be a missionary. So she vowed that if God would open that window for her, she’d seize the opportunity and serve a mission.
To her surprise, her opportunity came when a cyst was discovered on her left vocal cord that would require surgery. It only took Emma a few moments after hearing the news before she realized what a blessing this was—now she could go on a mission while she let her vocal cords heal.
“I was flooded with the Spirit, that it was a confirmation like, Alright, here’s your window,” Emma says. And so she left for a mission in Sweden, where she would discover a spiritual gift for songwriting and create the songs that would become her first two singles.
Emma described the writing process as an idea coming to her in a rush of revelation. On her mission, she would be pondering a scriptural topic, and then think, “That could be a song.” So she would get to a piano as fast as she could and compose for an hour or so till the song was ready.
This process was miraculous to Emma because she’d never experienced anything like it before. She says “Prior to this, I had never written a song. I had said ‘Hmm, writing, not for me.’ I tried it maybe once or twice. Nuh-uh, it was gross. It just was not a talent that I possessed. And I was totally OK with that.”
Nevertheless, she found herself writing song after song every time she received the prompting to find a piano and set gospel messages to music.
“If you've seen The Best Two Years, when they’re praying for someone to call them and in the middle of the prayer, the phone rings, and they look up to the heavens; that was how it felt every single time I wrote a song,” says Emma.
“I knew that the songs were inspired by God because there’s no way that I all of a sudden had a talent to write music overnight,” Emma says. “I recognized very fully that there was no way that this was me, or only me.”
Having returned home, Emma continues to share her gift with the world. She’s released four singles on Spotify and plans to release an album in the new year. Working with Deseret Book, she shares the gospel through song and loves every minute of it, including speaking and performing at firesides and youth camps.
Check out Emma’s “Hear Him” music video and let her soulful voice invite the spirit into your life today. Of the song she says, “I remember sitting at the top of Sweden, trying to tune into what the Lord had in store for me and how I could potentially bless the lives of others. It was astounding that as I opened my heart to let God prevail and tried my hardest to hear Him, I was filled with immense peace, hope, and direction. I hope this song can be a reminder to #HearHim as you continue through this sometimes turbulent life.”