Listening to God’s voice and setting it to music


pagingsamuel-webThe five members of the rock band Paging Samuel (from left to right, J.D. Hull, Nate Harlow, Paul Forsyth, Scott Johnston, and Bill Earley) at a recent performance at the Burlap & Bean in Newtown Square, Pa.

BROOKHAVEN, Pa. — Here in the living room apartment of its lead singer on a Monday night, huddled together on couches and chairs with their instruments, the five members of Paging Samuel practice one of their newer songs, “Given and Received.”

“The world is a battered wasteland full of sorrows/But love freely given and received, transforms yesterdays into tomorrow,” sings Paul Forsyth as his bandmates — J.D. Hull on rhythm guitar and background vocals; Nate Harlow on bass; Bill Earley on lead guitar and violin; and Scott Johnston on percussion — complete the rest of the tune.

Paging Samuel, formed in the summer of 2009, is “an awesome example of how completely different people can come together, and play for God,” explains Harlow, 27 years old, from Cherry Hill.

The band gets its name from God’s calling to Samuel in 1 Samuel 3:1-14, when Samuel is awakened by God’s voice. After realizing that the voice he hears is not that of his father, Eli, but God, Samuel responds with, “Speak, for thy servant is listening.”

As Forsyth puts it, the band knows that “God speaks, and we try to listen.” And then, they try to put his message to music.

In 2009, Forsyth, now 36, was looking to start a band centered on the message of Jesus. Having been a soloist at weddings, and a cantor for his local church, Forsyth had the vocal capability, but no musical accompaniment.

Enter J.D. Hull, now 31, who performed in jazz bands in high school and college and played guitar every Sunday for his church.

The two met during a Catholic young adult gathering, and realized their mutual love of music and the faith.

Originally formed as a trio, with Forsyth, Hull, and a mutual friend on drums, Paging Samuel went through different incarnations before settling on its current five-man roster.

The band has played at such venues as The Bus Stop Café in Pitman; the Burlap and Bean in Newtown Square, Pa.; the Barrington Coffee House; and the diocesan Charismatic Conference in Wildwood this past fall.

Counting Christian bands like Jars of Clay, Matt Maher, and Casting Crowns, and more popular performers such as The Beatles, Stevie Ray Vaughan and The Who as influences, the quintet plays a mix of rock and folk material.

All but one of the members is Catholic (Earley is non-denominational), but each one feels pulled toward expressing its tenets.

“There is nothing more inspiring, than to share God’s love for us,” said Earley, 27, from Cherry Hill.

“I already knew Nate, who was in the band. I heard them before, and was impressed. I was excited to play with them,” he said.

Hull, as one of the principal songwriters with Forsyth, realized that one of the only ways for him “to listen to songs that I wanted to hear, was to write them.”

“Our music is a positive alternative to the stuff you hear in the secular world,” he said.

Percussionist Johnston, 44, agrees, saying that the band’s music comes from the belief that “we’re all called to help each other, lift each other up to the grandeur and beauty. Any move to a positive direction, is a move toward Christ.”

“We hope that a window of grace opens (for our listeners), in such a way that in the beginning our music is subtle, but bears fruit later on,” said Johnston.

In addition to “Given and Received,” the band has been putting the finishing touches on a new song, “Motorhome,” focusing on innocence and youth:

Youth is fast and furious,

It’s like a breath you take then it’s gone.

Many never take account of it until it’s too late to be counted on.

Outside the band, all five of the members are working or in school. Forsyth works at a nursing home; Hull works for a circulation company; Johnston teaches religious education at a parish in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia; Harlow is a student at Arcadia University, completing a dual master’s in peace and conflict resolution, and public health; and Earley teaches violin.

When they all get together for practice or a show, however, it’s all about the music.

“We are a band of believers,” says Forsyth. “We play with that conviction, we want to share it with people.”

With an upcoming gig at Forsyth’s workplace, and other tentative shows scheduled, Paging Samuel soon hopes to get into a recording studio and share their music with a larger audience.

Until then, the quintet will keep listening for God’s voice, and put inspiration to sheet music.

For more information on Paging Samuel, visit their facebook page at