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Coming home to Nashville

"Country roads, take me home to the place I belong."

For the longest time, I have felt like my heart has been split in two — the “music” me and the “mother” me.

I don’t recall ever deciding one day that “I think I’ll be a singer.” It’s just always been a part of who I am. As a teenager, I was thinking about the one thing I would never want to change about myself, and it was my voice. It was so intertwined with my identity and what I believed to be my destiny, I couldn’t imagine not having it. When people described me, they would always say, “She sings.” Even the meaning of the name “Carmen” is “song.”

But the “music” me never reached the potential I thought I would. For 10 years, Nashville, Tennessee, and all that happened there — or didn’t — has been a happy yet painful memory. After I found out I was expecting my first son, my record label stopped promoting me. I never released another single. I never went to another awards show. I never went on another multi-city tour, never recorded another full-length album. That life just sort of … ended. I fully embraced my life as a new mother and jumped into that role with two feet. Four kids later, my heart has never felt so full, and yet that little divide between my two lives never felt totally healed.

I thought I would never go back to Nashville.

As an artistic director for the contemporary program at Utah Conservatory of the Performing Arts, we have the opportunity to take our students on tour every year. This year, it happened to be Nashville. And I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. Actually, to be honest, I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to be reminded of the life I almost had.

Several days before leaving, I was in the basement organizing boxes. I came across an old bin filled with "American Idol" memorabilia. Slowly, I pulled out my “Nothin’ Like the Summer” CD, headshots, newspaper articles and magazines documenting my musical journey. Down there in my cold, messy basement next to our old wicker changing table and baby swing, I cried for the “music” me. I missed her.

We flew out on a red-eye and got to Nashville the next morning. A wave of heat and humidity greeted me like an old friend as soon as I stepped outside. The kids were so excited to be in Music City USA and peppered me with questions about the town.

I pointed out the Hotel Preston where I basically lived for three years, the recording studio I recorded my album in, Music Row and so many other familiar places. I took them to a workshop with my friend and songwriter/producer Jason Deere and was reminded of how I wasn’t alone in believing that I didn’t choose to live a life full of creating music — it chose me.

I wondered why I thought I needed to abandon it just because my life had changed. I wondered if it was still latent within me somewhere, waiting for the right time and circumstance to come alive again.

The last day I was in Nashville, we visited the Country Music Hall of Fame museum. I walked past pictures of famous people I used to know and smiled at how strange it felt to be back on the other side of things.

We wandered into the gift shop and were browsing through the albums when one of the kids asked if mine was there. I snorted and said, “Yeah right, that was about 10 years ago and I doubt it was ever here!” As a joke, I walked up to the front and asked the sales clerk behind the counter if they ever sold a CD by an artist named Carmen Rasmusen.

“Who?” he asked.

With a smirk on my face, I turned around and was getting ready to say, “See? I was never that famous,” just as he said, “Actually, we did.”

I froze. “What?”

“Yeah, we did have a CD by that artist. But we sold out.”

“No way,” I said. “Let me see that screen.”

He turned it around and showed me a name — my name — up on the screen with the album title “Nothin’ Like the Summer” next to it.

“We did have it awhile ago, but we have sold out.”

And then something strange happened.

Instead of feeling sadness, I felt an intense feeling of gratitude. Learning that a tiny part of the “music” me was maybe still lingering in Nashville somewhere felt healing. And, after all these years, hopeful.

I thought coming to Nashville would rip open the gap between the two parts of my heart even more, but instead, being there again with a new mindset and different purpose was the stitching I needed to mend it back together.

“Create with a purpose,” Jason told the kids at our workshop. “This ain’t a hobby.”

I am excited to find what my new purpose is, as a mother, who happens to have music constantly pumping through her veins.

"Take me home, country roads."