When Dan Belzer began writing songs a few years back, he had no intention of creating an album or becoming the next famous praise singer, he said. He had written music before, but mostly for himself. This time was different.

“I’d written some stuff before, but never as a project,” said Belzer, a Cando, N.D., native who still has family ties to the farming community in southern Towner County.

“I was just writing songs; they mean something to me,” he said “I didn’t edit myself much -- I just sort of trusted that what came out was OK. I felt God was leading me down this path. I would just write these (songs) and keep going. I let myself keep going on it.

“The songs came out pretty quickly and easily,” he said. “That was fun.”

It has led to the release of his first album, “Living in the Light,” featuring praise and worship songs -- performed in a contemporary, acoustic style -- that he hopes will “make listeners calmer and give them some peace."

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“If that happens, it’s the best kind of reward I could get from it," he said.

Based on feedback he’s received from listeners of all ages, he’s accomplished that.

“One of my cousins, who’s been listening to the album daily for a few months, said: ‘It gives me hope and helps me cope,’ ” Belzer said. “That works for me. That makes me happy.”

From Cando to L.A.

Belzer,grew up as the seventh of eight children in Terry and Babe Belzer’s musical family in Cando. After graduation from Cando High School in 1984, he went on to earn a bachelor's degree in theater, with a music minor, from Drake University.

“I’ve always been a pianist and accompanist and music director -- that’s what my work-study jobs were in college, playing for voice students and the choir,” he said.

Now in his 21st year as a faculty member in the UCLA theater department, he’s also the pianist for several churches and, until COVID-19 hit, played one night a week at an Italian restaurant in L.A. He plays for Broadway shows and national tour groups when they’re auditioning in Los Angeles and has toured extensively with performance groups throughout Europe.

Belzer also shares his talents with folks back home, returning often to his hometown in the summer to direct musical revues -- with anyone and everyone who’s interested in participating, from high schoolers to an 80-year-old “who’s my mom,” and every decade in between, he said.

“I say, ‘Just show up, and we’ll make it work,’ ” he said. “It’s so refreshing.”

He never knows exactly what local talent will step forward -- he’s seen retired people, farmers, teachers, doctors, nurses and a minister volunteer to perform.

The shows are presented in the town’s 105-year-old Audi Theatre, which has been well maintained, according to Belzer, who plays the grand piano that was installed there the year the theater was built.

Early influences

Growing up in Cando, Belzer said, a vocal music teacher throughout his school years, Kathy Mohs, influenced his interest in music.

“I sang all through school,” he said. “I just really liked her and I was really involved in everything, and that’s how I started accompanying in fifth grade at school. And so, I really did learn my accompanying skills in school, starting from fifth grade.”

At home, his mom, Babe Belzer, influenced all her children musically.

“My mom is very musical,” he said. “We all were in band, we all were in choir at some point, and we all had to take piano lessons -- except my oldest brother” -- for as long as they were interested.

“At home, we sang a lot, so I was often having to sight-read a lot -- just, ‘hey, let’s sing this, play this, sing this’ -- so my sight-reading has always been really good,” said Belzer.

His mom had the greatest impact on nurturing his love of music and performing.

“One of my earliest memories,” he recalled, “is when I was probably 5 years old, sitting on the piano bench beside my mom, looking up at her as she played and sang, ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him,’ which was a popular song on the radio at the time.”

“The most influential person, without a doubt, has been my mom,” he said. “(She was) 100% supportive of me and my artistic endeavors since day one. She is the one who had me start playing at church while I was in grade school. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing today were it not for her complete support and encouragement always.”

For about 40 years, Babe Belzer directed the youth choir at the local Catholic church until her retirement from that position a few years ago, he said.

About the album

Belzer has been “a music minister pretty much my whole life, playing in churches,” he said.

“I’ve been doing this kind of music my whole life. I love religious music, all forms of it -- classic and contemporary, and praise and worship music. I’ve always liked that -- we listened to Sandi Patti a lot growing up, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, people like that,” Belzer said. “I was writing some more and, before you knew it, I had six or seven songs and I thought, well, why am I just going to write these, I need to do something with them .... It seems like that’s what I’m supposed to do right now. So I kept going with it.”

And now he’s adding his voice to the community of contemporary Christian musicians. On the full-length album, “Living in the Light,” he’s joined by a backup singer, Kelsey Lee Smith, one of his former students at UCLA.

“She’s great; she adds so much to it," said Belzer, adding that he hopes more people in his home state will hear his album. “I’m excited to share my music with my roots. I’ve had such positive feedback from people from Cando and so it’s nice to connect it back there, so I really appreciate that.”

The album is available on digital platforms including Apple Music, iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Music, YouTube and ReverbNation.