“What Child is This?” is included in the Russian and Latvian hymnbooks as well as the Ukrainian Children’s Songbook. The text was also included in an English MIA songbook in the 1960s and 70s. Well-known to many English speakers by both “What Child is This” and “Greensleeves,” this would be a wonderful addition to your congregation’s Christmas program this year.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed this piece on the 2012 First Presidency Christmas Devotional. If you know the arranger, please let us know in the comments! It starts out with a lovely recorder solo by Daron Bradford. The singing starts at 2:11:
This Christmas carol is available in the LDS Czech-language hymnbook. It also used to be in the old English children’s song book Sing With Me under the title “Carol of the Shepherds.” The Japanese, Portuguese, Samoan, and Spanish children’s books have also had translations of this carol.
I undertook an extensive search for choral arrangements of this carol, and there were surprisingly few! I had to resort to Czech arrangements to find a good recording. This carol is definitely under-represented in the Christmas repertoire, and given its history as part of the LDS tradition, I hope this lovely piece makes a comeback. (My favorite English arrangement can be found here.)
Available only in the French hymnbook, “He Is Born, See the Child Divine” (sometimes referred to as simply “He Is Born”) is a lively, fun, and cheerful Christmas selection. There are numerous translations and harmonization available. The following is the version from the French LDS Hymnbook.
Here is just one option for translation (it’s the version used in the choral performance below):
He is born, see the Child divine!
Sound the oboe, play the bagpipes.
He is born, see the Child divine!
Sing we all our sweetest song.
O’er the ages, passing slow
Did the prophets give us promise;
O’er the ages, passing slow
All the earth awaited this. Refrain.
In a stable he was born,
In a manger was his cradle;
In a stable he was born,
Humble babe of Bethlehem. Refrain.
Come away, ye Orient Kings!
Come and join us in our singing.
Come away, ye Orient Kings!
Come and worship Christ the Lord! Refrain.
This is an arrangement by Robert Wetzler titled “He Is Born.” Read the full review here.
Known in French as “Noël nouvelet” and in English by both “Sing We Now of Christmas” and “Sing We a New Noel,” this is available only in the French hymnbook. The English translation is fairly standard across other denominations’ hymnbooks in which it is included.
I love the energy, the motion, and the minor tonality of this carol. If not done respectfully, it could get a little out of hand for a sacrament meeting. But done right, this could be a wonderful, worshipful addition to your Christmas Program. I recommend Fred Prentice’s arrangement. There are two versions, both SATB, one with a harp/piano part and the other is a cappella. The video below is of the a cappella version. At under two minutes, it goes by quick!
This is a beautiful Christmas hymn known as “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” in its original German. It is included in the Dutch, French, German, Icelandic, and Swedish LDS hymnbooks. According to Wikipedia, “The rose in the text is a symbolic reference to the Virgin Mary, and the hymn makes reference to the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah which in Christian interpretation foretell the Incarnation of Christ, and to the Tree of Jesse, a traditional symbol of the lineage of Jesus.”
There are a few English translations, with the one by Theodore Baker being the most well-known. There is some discrepancy on how to accurately convey the meter of this hymn. The LDS versions are written in 4/4, so I have provided an English version that is written in 4/4 below (for other versions, click here):
If your ward choir has not sung this recently, I encourage you to introduce it to your choir members. It’s a wonderful LDS Christmas hymn that has been hidden right under many of our noses. Because it is unfamiliar to many, you could sing it in the standard hymnbook SATB form (a capella if your choir can do that). There are also many lovely arrangements available for purchase.
(This is an interview that was originally published in 2009 on mormonartist.com. Interview by Ashley Pacini. Posted with permission.)
How did your upbringing make you who you are today?
I grew up in Mesa, Arizona. There are nine children in my family: five boys and four girls. I’m number six. My mom plays the piano and sings a little bit, and my dad sings, but I wouldn’t call us a musical family. I wasn’t heavily involved in music growing up. My mom required us all to take an instrument starting in fifth grade, which we were required to play until we got to high school. Because my two older brothers had both played the trumpet, it wasn’t really a choice, so I picked the trumpet. I played from fifth grade until eighth grade. In eighth grade some friends convinced me to try out for the musical at our junior high, The Wizard of Oz. At the end of the show, the choir director recommended that a friend and I join the choir. We did, and we had a lot of fun. We continued doing it in high school as well.
During our senior year, seven of us decided to sing an a capella song for the talent show. For some reason people thought we were good and started asking us to perform everywhere. Our a capella group, which we called 2-5-9, ended up being a way bigger deal than we ever intended it to be; we ended up recording five albums and touring the States. We did it before our missions, and then we all went to BYU, so we recorded three more albums after that. I credit that experience—being able to make several albums and do performances—to giving me the confidence and the know-how to be able to go off and do some of my own albums and be able to produce. Other than three years of piano in high school and an orchestration class I audited at BYU, I don’t have a lot of other formal training.
What is Spire Music Company, and how did it get started?
It began when I was in college, probably my second year at BYU; we were still doing the a capella stuff at the time, and I had written one piece called He Is Jesus Christ on my mission at the request of my mission president. When I came home, I translated He Is Jesus Christ from French into English and performed it around here before I went to BYU. When I got to BYU, a few friends who were there recommended that I do He Is Jesus Christ in Utah. The friends actually happened to be in the music program, and they were able to find some good soloists. We started performing He Is Jesus Christ in the Provo Tabernacle and in the de Jong Concert Hall on campus. We were doing performances all the time because people really responded to it. We just had volunteer choirs and volunteer orchestras, and the places were packed. It was really cool to see these things happening.
Because there were so many volunteers, concerts only cost a couple hundred dollars in the beginning. It wasn’t a huge expense, but it kept getting more and more expensive. I really wanted to record an album, but that is extremely expensive when you’ve got a full orchestra and all that involves. So, I had this naive thought: “I should just start a non-profit, because then people would give us donations.” I talked to a couple of friends who agreed. I sent out a letter to a bunch of my friends’ parents, explaining what I would be doing, and asking for donations. A few of those friends’ parents wrote back saying, “Good luck, because this is not going to happen—it’s difficult to do a non-profit.” But we filed with the IRS and got approval. A lot of those friends’ parents were able to write us checks, and we were able to raise a little bit of money. That was the beginning of Spire Music. We started there and nine years later we’re still growing; we’ve proved our naysayers wrong. People have continually responded positively to what we have to offer. It’s been an interesting road.
What kind of music do you write?
I personally don’t have a lot of love for “sacred music” that doesn’t sound sacred. There is a place for that, and obviously there’s a market for it, so more power to those artists. But for me, personally, I respond to sacred music that sounds sacred—that can be performed in sacrament meeting without feeling funny. I feel that there is a want and a need to have something more sacred, and that I can provide it.
At the same time, I like to salt-and-pepper things; I’ll do a sacred project, and then I’ll do something different. As a composer in the sacred niche, I have a love of writing sacred music, but there’s only so much you can write. I played in a rock band in high school and in college a little bit with friends, and I really love that kind of music. I’ve done some film scores, and I’ve also done a musical called Blackbeard. My goal now is to make my money in the secular world and be able to consecrate some of my time to doing some sacred projects as well. Secular music also gives me an outlet. If I were writing sacred music all the time, it would not only get dull, but I wouldn’t have enough topics to deal with. In some ways, I look at it as a really great way to do missionary work. Those who hear my secular music inevitably find my sacred music. It’s cool to see that music in the hands of people who normally wouldn’t ever listen to something like that.
What have been some of the challenges you’ve run into trying to pursue music and composing?
It’s nothing but challenges when it comes down to it. The hard part with the sacred music is that it is difficult to even get your stuff out on the store shelves. I’ve been told that classical music doesn’t sell. We’ve had a distribution deal for a long time, but because of some business things and just the way some things were handled, I pulled back recently, and we’re doing it on our own again, now. There’s good and bad to that, but it is a challenge. For independent artists like me, it’s really just down to word of mouth. In a normal music world, you could do all sorts of marketing things; but in the sacred music world, there’s not really an outlet to get the word out there. In spite of this, we’ve had excellent word of mouth, and we always pack our concerts. We’ve definitely sold a good number of albums of everything we’ve done, and my goal is always, whenever I put money into something, to make every penny of it back. I’ve proven that there are people who thirst after this kind of music. I love that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has their own label and they put out tons of really great music that’s definitely “classical.” They have also proven that there’s a major hunger for what we’re doing. It makes me really happy to see that others are taking on that goal as well.
In addition, there are always financial challenges to getting things done. “Do I charge an admission price or do it for free?” I’d like to do concerts for free, just because I want everybody to be able to come; but sometimes when you spend as much money as you have to, you’ve got to charge an admission price, or else there’s no way you would make it. I’m lucky to have a lot of support from donors to make the concerts possible; but at the same time, those are challenges to overcome. There’s also a really difficult fine line to walk when you’re dealing with sacred stuff, because people are concerned about commercializing sacred things. That’s why I started Spire Music as a non-profit in the first place—I wanted it to feel as pure as possible; I didn’t want it to be a commercial venture. But in the end, the money has to come from somewhere. Even non-profits need money, or they’re not going to last very long. So there are a lot of challenges, but they’re usually overcome through a lot of work and dedication, and they’re usually ultimately worth the pain that we go through.
Who do you see as your audience?
As a composer, I don’t really write with a specific audience in mind. I try to take off my marketer hat when I do that. When I write, it’s not really worth my while to sit down and write unless I enjoy what I’m writing—unless what I’m writing speaks to me. In that sense, I’m writing to myself. If I don’t like it, chances are no one else is going to like it, either. I think we all are very alike in the end. For some reason, the stuff I’ve written seems to appeal to a major cross-section of the population, and that speaks to the power that music can have. It is the marketer’s major no-no to say, “My market is everybody”—you’re supposed to focus on the demographics; but I really love that it does speak to everybody, no matter their age, no matter what kind of music they love. Maybe that’s the Spirit. For some reason, the four year olds all the way up to eighty-five year olds just really soak this up, and I love that, personally.
You play to a certain group commercially, but in the end you hope your stuff goes to everybody. That’s when I feel successful, when someone says, “I hate this kind of thing,” and then they love yours.
How do you prefer to have your music performed?
When I did Blackbeard, it was a fully blown production with costumes, makeup, and sets. There are a lot of stakes and institutes that have done my sacred work like that as well. Sometimes there’ll be a little vignette acted out, and that works; some people feel like that makes it even more powerful. But with sacred music, I tend to like to do it as a concert, where people are in concert dress. I want to get rid of anything that could possibly distract the audience from the message itself. What I’ve found is that there’s so much power in just standing up there and singing your testimony. With the full choir, the full orchestra, and everything, there’s already enough to fill the senses that anything else just gets in the way. So it makes it simpler, and it makes it a little more pure, in my opinion; but that’s just my opinion, again.
Tell us more about Blackbeard.
It’s actually the third musical I’ve done. It happened right before I quit my job; I had just finished Saints and Pioneers, and I was really itching to do something totally different from the things I’d done before. I was watching the History Channel at lunch one day, and they were doing this special on the real pirates of the Caribbean. One of them was Blackbeard. I’d heard the name Blackbeard before, but I didn’t even know if he was a real person or a legend. The ten-minute segment they did on him was fascinating. It was just the greatest story I had ever heard, and I started researching it. It had all the elements of love, and good vs. evil, and pirates, and all this fun stuff, and I said, “Okay, this has to be done. Someone has to make it—it’s such a great story.”
I went down to BYU, and within an hour and a half I had basically flushed out four or five different songs and melodies. Whenever that happens, I think, “Yeah this is something I need to work on.” I quit my job a few months later, because I felt that strongly about working on it. I still do. So, I came back home to Mesa and started working on it. I have a relationship with the college here—they’ve premiered a couple of my other pieces—and they premiered it, and they loved it. This year I rewrote it, changed some things, and produced it myself through Spire. We have done fifteen performances, we’ve spent a gazillion dollars running it, and every time it’s been a great experience. And again, we’ve gotten a great response from it. So we’re trying to raise money to get it to Broadway. I’m really excited about it.
Where do you see yourself in the future?
I just found out that I’ve been accepted to the University of Southern California for their film composition program. That’s always been an ambition of mine; I love to write dramatic music. If that leads to a career in writing for film, that would be wonderful. If it doesn’t, no big deal. I don’t have just one thing that I want to do. I’m not dead set on writing music for film or writing something for Broadway; there is no end-all project for me—I’d love to try it all.
But I will always come back to sacred projects. I’ve made that commitment to myself and to God, and I know my talents are given to me for a reason. There’s just nothing like standing in front of an audience of 2,000 people with a choir and orchestra on the same page presenting something like Joseph Smith the Prophet or He Is Jesus Christ, and turning around to see the audience’s reaction and to hear them afterward express the feelings they had. I just love knowing that, at the end of the day, I did something for somebody that’s positive. I made them forget about their troubles or made them have a stronger testimony of the truth. It’s wonderful to make people’s lives a little better, even if it’s just for a couple of hours.
How does the gospel influence both your art and you as an artist?
Last year I got the amazing opportunity to do Joseph Smith the Prophet at the Salt Lake Tabernacle. President Monson, President Uchtdorf, and Elder Nelson were there and had an amazing experience. Just before that, I met with the head of music at the Church, David Warner, and he said to me, “You know, we have to be careful as artists, because we have a power that God and Satan both know is extremely powerful: to be able to influence people through music. Satan knows that, and he will go after us really hard.” The gospel influences what you write and how you write. I’ve thought about the potential for difficulty, especially when I’m doing secular stuff. If I bring something to Broadway and producers suggest the pirate should be swearing more, or there should be anything more like that, I’ll be able to say, “You know what? We don’t have to have that in there to make it an interesting show, and to make it marketable.” You have to be able to say, “We can create something that’s not vulgar.” I haven’t really run up against that because I’ve produced all my own shows, but I know that those sorts of debates will come up in the future.
At the same time, I get the benefit of being able to perform sacred stuff, and I don’t want to get rid of the power of the music itself. There’s an additional layer of power in that what we’re presenting is truth, and what we’re presenting is supported by the Spirit. The feelings you experience performing that kind of music are just otherworldly. It’s so much more emotional than something about a pirate could be, no matter how much drama you throw into it. You just experience it on another level. And because it’s so satisfying, I’ll always come back and do sacred music.
How do you see your work helping to build the kingdom?
I’m pretty dang lucky in that regard. Missionary work as a missionary was really difficult, and I’m not the best member missionary. What’s amazing is that I can do what I love, and the Lord has given me a talent to help build others’ testimonies. Sometimes it’s difficult when I’m writing sacred stuff, because there are times you’re just not feeling it, if you know what I mean. I might be in the middle of writing something about Joseph Smith or the pioneers, and my testimony might be a little weak about it, so I try to borrow strength from others, or just do my best in studying. But when you get up and perform it and you feel the Spirit there, it resonates; and I know it does with other people, too. I’ve had thousands of people share with me experiences they’ve had. This is such an easy way for me to be able to share the gospel with people—to put on a show and invite people to it—because it’s entertaining and not threatening. They come and they have this experience, and it’s just so undeniably powerful for them. They leave, and their lives are changed. I’m really blessed to be able to share the gospel that way and to not have to knock doors anymore. To go from my mission, where I knocked on hundreds of doors a day and didn’t have anyone talk to me, to filling an auditorium with 3,000 captivated audience members and spending an hour with them sharing my testimony through music—it changes their lives in ways that knocking on a door would never have accomplished. I don’t have a clue how many people have benefited from what I’ve done, but I know it’s a lot, and that, to me, makes my life more worthwhile. It’s a unique blessing to be able to do that.
Are you interested in writing a children’s song for the Church’s recently announced new songbook for children? In this interview the prolific LDS children’s song writer Vanja Watkins said that a dissertation written by one of her former professors helped her immensely with her song writing process. Criteria for Selection of Children’s Songs in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Lue S. Groesbeck was written in 1966 but is still applicable today.
The following are 19 criteria that a panel of Church leaders, Church musicians, and non-LDS musicians felt were important to consider when writing children’s songs. These were later used to select music for Church publications:
Is the range of the song suitable for children’s voices?
Does the melody begin on a scale degree that will establish tonality and be comfortable to sing?
Does the melody create patterns of tension and release through careful use of the active scale tones and their resolutions?
Are large skips followed be a reversal of direction?
Are skips of augmented or diminished intervals and extensive use of chromatics avoided?
Does the melody fit the expressive meaning of the text?
Are high tones and sustained tones of the melody on extensible vowels of the text?
Does the melody complement the mood of the text?
Does the form of the melody contain a balance of repetition and contrast in its melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic movement?
Are musical phrases clearly defined by an appropriate cadence?
Does the length of the phrases permit children to breath normally?
Does the rhythm of the melody match the rhythm of the text?
Does the tempo of the rhythm change with the general emotional trend of the text?
Are extremes in dynamics avoided?
If dynamics are used, do they follow the emotional curve of the words?
Is the harmonic motion of two-part songs confined to the common practices used in oblique or parallel motion? (examples: descants, rounds, thirds, or sixths)
Does the accompaniment reinforce the expressive qualities of the melody?
Does the accompaniment involve the common usage of the 18th and 19th century voice leading?
Does the song represent a skillful and intelligent use of all poetic and melodic qualities?
These criteria contain a lot of musical jargon. We would love to explain any of them in more depth if you would like more clarification. Please comment below or send us a message through or contact page. We look forward to hearing from you!
(This is an interview that was originally published in 2011 on mormonartist.net. Interview by Myrna Layton. Posted with permission.)
What was the first song that you wrote?
The first thing that I wrote was just for my son Steve to sing in church. He said, “I’ve been asked to sing in sacrament meeting and I don’t like anything.” The only pieces then by Church authors were kind of old-fashioned and he was fifteen.
So one day when Doug and the kids left, I decided to try to write one. I wrote a poem called “I’ll Follow Jesus” and wrote the music before they got home. Steve liked it and sang it in sacrament meeting.
And I thought, Oh, that was fun, I want to keep on. I just started writing. I had my training at BYU earlier, but I had been so heavy into sports my whole life until that point, that if I had any extra time I was pitching softball or playing volleyball or racquetball.
About that time I had an injury that was kind of serious. I was getting older—I was almost forty—and my husband felt like maybe I shouldn’t play ball anymore. He had been very supportive, but my injuries were getting more serious.
While I had my foot in a cast from a broken ankle from playing basketball, the bishop asked me to write our ward roadshow music. It just sounded like a fun challenge. I did it. I knew by then that I wanted to write music and that it was time for a change. So I just looked at that little piece “I Am a Child of God”—how much I loved it, how much it helped my testimony—and I set a goal to add to the simple music of the Church.
I happened to get a lot of assignments right then to write children’s music in my own ward or stake, so I did that. And then the stake Young Women started asking me to write a theme song for them every year, so I did that. And then the women for Relief Society.
Right now I am totally immersed in writing a Book of Mormon musical fireside that choirs can put on. It’s an hour long, and it’s for CES choirs and youth choirs. Sometimes I’ve written musical stage plays—we’ve toured the U.S. for three years. That’s how I got started: just writing that roadshow and writing a song for my own son to sing in sacrament meeting.
How did it morph from that to having songs in the Children’s Songbook?
That’s a good question, because I think a lot of people felt impressed to write children’s music before the new Primary book in the 1980s. We didn’t know it was coming—we just felt that impression to write.
In my case, when I had several songs written, I sent them to the Church and said, “Does the Church have any use for these?” They get so many things, and the Church music chairman wrote back and said, “Just brighten your own little corner of the world. Work with your family, your ward, and your stake.” So that’s exactly what I did. He said, “If they should have value, we’ll hear about them.” And that’s what happened, too. People who I wrote the songs for sent them in to the church and said, “This really worked well for us. All the Primary children should sing this.” That’s how it started.
I think other people were sending them in, and—I don’t know—they started looking at them seriously, and when they had the Children’s Songbook, they used all the ones that I had written. Plus they asked me to write a few more for it, so there are ten in the Primary book. And that was a big part of what I did at first.
Elder Maxwell said not too long before he passed away, “Back in my day, we used to sing ‘Little Purple Pansies,’ but these are the latter days, and now we’re singing ‘I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus.’ We’ve got to get serious.” Without a doubt, six of my Primary songs are what I am best known for.
And then I started writing for Young Women every year and sent some of them in. We did a Young Women’s album. Then Ardeth Kapp asked me to write the theme song for the values. That was really kind of a turning point, where I focused on Young Women for quite a while. I wrote a song for every value after I did “I Walk by Faith.”
Then the Primary, just before our mission, asked me to write two more songs for them: “Holding Hands Around the World” and “I’ll Follow Him in Faith.”
I thought, well, the General Relief Society has never asked me to write a song for them. Then they did—just after I thought it! Sister Parkin asked me to write a new song for women and it was sung on two satellite broadcasts: “When I Feel His Love.” They did it two years in a row for some reason.
When you write for the Church, you have extra help. It just really happens. It’s sweet when you get those assignments, but they are few and far between.
Do you ever get writer’s block?
Yes, almost all the time. The lyrics are the hardest part for me. I’ll spend a week or two, sometimes, writing the lyrics, and then two hours writing the music—because when you are writing the words, the music is taking shape in your mind, too.
So that’s usually the way that you do it? You approach the words first?
Most people do. Unless you have the words, how do you know what kind of music to write?
There are a few people, like my sister, who do the music first. But she doesn’t write her own words—someone else does. Maybe that’s why it works that way.
You and your husband served a Spanish-speaking mission. Was it a music mission?
It was a proselyting mission in Santiago, Chile, and there were three aspects of it. We visited inactives, because Elder Holland was there stressing that at the same time. And my husband was in leadership in the district.
But then we started developing choirs and teaching music classes, keyboard, and conducting, and I’d say for the last nine months of our mission, that was pretty much what it was, just getting all the music into them that we could.
Because they didn’t have keyboards, they’d developed their own way of singing the hymns, which was interesting. When they asked us to form a choir, we could hardly get them singing unison, because they would sing it a cappella in a low key, and they couldn’t go low enough, so they would invent a melody, and they had kind of settled on it.
We got keyboards in all the classes and graduated twenty-four from our conducting course and our keyboard course. By the time we left, all the wards in two stakes there had people who were playing the simplified hymns and conducting. And we had four choirs that we developed—a youth choir, a young adult choir, a district choir, and a missionary choir. It was just our mission from then on.
And then we came back here and we missed it so much that we just begged for a call to a Spanish ward here, so we were there three years and we did the same thing—we taught the conducting course and the piano course, and we developed a nice ward choir, which was really exciting. They love to sing! You tell them there is a choir practice, and you’ve got forty people there without batting an eye. That’s not how it is here.
When we were going to leave that ward, and I knew we were going to be released, I thought “Who is going to play for primary?”, because I had done it. So I chose four really sharp little kids—they were about eight and ten years old—and I told their parents, I will give them free lessons from the Church course if you will make sure that they come every week and that they are prepared. I won’t charge you anything. I will even buy their music.
So I simplified the eight pieces for the Primary program, and at the end of that year, those four students played for the whole sacrament meeting program. They just played very confidently. It was one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever done, and I don’t mean monetarily. This is three years later and they are playing right from the hymnbook, and the Primary songbook. Some of them are in English wards now, but they are playing for sacrament meeting and for the Primary program. In fact, they were even featured on the front of the Church News. I just love those four kids so much. They are like my own grandchildren. I’d still like to be on another mission somewhere doing that—teaching music. We’ll see how our health is.
Did your work on your mission and in the Spanish ward have anything to do with your songs being translated into Spanish?
Several years before we left on our mission, we realized that Spanish was the coming language here. And they had none of their own LDS music. We hadn’t thought about our mission being Spanish yet.
So, we just hired a wonderful translator from the Church, Omar Canals, and we had translated and recorded four albums in Spanish before our mission, using all-native singers. There is a wealth of really wonderful singers in Spanish here—we really have good vocalists.
After the mission, we knew we needed to continue, because we knew their need of it there. And so we’ve done four more albums. We market them here somewhat, but we also take them down—we have people in Mexico, Chile, and some other places that market them at a very low price for their people. The albums pay for themselves, and that’s all that we care about. We don’t try to profit from them. We use our same English soundtrack so it’s not as expensive, we just add the singers.
Yes, our hearts are in things Spanish. I go to the Spanish temple session every Saturday, just to keep up, and I read my Spanish Book of Mormon every night. I read the Liahona, all the talks in Spanish, between each conference. Sometimes we give firesides here, too, in Spanish, because Doug is fluent in Spanish. I recorded just one album in English where I did the singing, which was an act of bravery, but later, I did it in Spanish, after our mission, too. We hope to keep getting more things in Spanish.
Are any of your songs more dear to your heart than others?
Oh, I definitely have my favorites. I think the one that means the very most to me is “A Child’s Prayer.” It’s the one I get the most reaction from other people, too. There are days in everyone’s life, when you feel like, “Heavenly Father, are you really there? Do you hear my prayers?” I hope it is answered well in that piece that, yes, when you pray, he is there. When I first wrote that song, I wrote it in first person—the Lord was saying, “Pray, I am here.” Then I thought that it was going to limit who could sing it. The Church wanted me to change it, too—they said to have it be like a parent answering the child: “Pray, he is there.” That was a good suggestion.
I love the Primary songs. “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus” means a lot to me.
“The Test” means a lot to me, too. I lost the use of my left hand when I started writing music. My three middle fingers pull under and the wrist pulls down when I try to play, so I went to forty specialists, and no one had an answer for it—they just didn’t know. So I’ve had to play that way for about thirty years.
The last person I went to was a blind doctor and I kept complaining to him. He was an osteopath, trying to figure out some kind of physical therapy. One day I realized the irony of my complaining to a blind man. He said, “Well, I wanted to help your hand, but I guess I can’t. But I can help you learn to accept it more gracefully, and to know that someday there will be a restoration, whether it be in this life or the next.” He helped me so much that I wrote the song for him. “Please tell me, friend, why are you blind? Why doesn’t he who worked miracles send light into your eyes?” And then his reply, “Didn’t he say he sent us to be tested?”
So, personally, that song means a lot to me. I wasn’t even going to put it on a CD, and then someone said, “Oh you should do it—everyone has trials.” I do three verses on different subjects: the first one is about him, the second verse is about me and many others who pray for healing and it doesn’t come, and the third is someone who loses a loved one. There was an LDS station here at that time, and they’d have the LDS hit parade, and it was number one for almost two years. So it really filled a need for somebody. It did me. I wrote it to help me understand.
And then I had a stroke in 2006 which affected my right arm and leg. I still can’t even feel when my foot’s on the pedal for sure, but I do have feeling in my extremities—my arm and leg are numb, but my fingers are fine, and I’ve just developed a way to play. It looks weird—people comment on it, “Is that a new technique?”
What about music for the non-LDS audience?
We did one album of gospel music, where we made sure we didn’t put anything strictly LDS into it, and that was fun too. It was “My God is Love.”
Earlier I did a collaboration with Greg Hansen, in which really I did nothing, but I took all the old gospel songs—somehow I grew up knowing them, many of them from the Baptist hymnbook, and some others—and he orchestrated them and had people sing all those old-time religion pieces. That’s still an album that people enjoy. It’s not for just our Church—we didn’t put anything on it that conflicted with our beliefs, but most things don’t.
The patriotic albums really hold a special place in my heart. I loved writing them. And they’ve probably been sung at bigger places than any others. “Heal Our Land” was sung at George Bush’s second inauguration by a black minister at the National Prayer breakfast. It was even sung on the Oprah show on 9/11. And the Mormon Tabernacle has done it, too, arranged by Mack Wilberg. I love the patriotic songs.
Are you satisfied with what you’ve done with your talent?
Yes, I am, except that I want to keep going.
You know, the music business has really changed. Many composers and people involved in any aspect of the music business have really been affected severely, like everyone else in the economy. With digital downloads and people burning discs for friends, and Deseret Books promoting primarily their own artists, we haven’t even been able to record for a couple of years.
I started applying for grants. I did get one grant that allowed me to record a brand new album at the end of last year. I just really feel good about that. I am working on a grant to cover this project we’re working on, trying to have faith, because we have our things out on digital downloads and that helps a little bit, but it doesn’t provide the income to pay for your next project. It just doesn’t.
So I’m trying to do things now with no thought of making income or profit. But I’m having to find a way to get them financed. And to me, they can just be a gift. We can retire—we are in our seventies, and we’ve been wise in saving our retirement, so we can just quit. But if I can get a grant to continue—and I have gotten one—then I will continue, because what else would I do? It’s what I love. And it’s what my husband loves. This morning he took my scribbled copy of a new arrangement of a Book of Mormon piece for this project down to his office, and he entered it in the computer—they call it engraving—and engraved it beautifully for publication. And this is what we love, so much that we will continue doing it, even if it’s a donation somewhere. That will be fine. We’re trying to do more of just donating whatever we can, for the Church, or to these piano students. Just whatever we can, which is fine, but I won’t quit writing. I hope I have another decade to write.
There have been so many albums made during the last few years that are one-time albums, because they can never recover the costs for them. With ours, we started when almost no one was writing, just Lex de Azevedo and I, essentially, and it was a novelty to have music out by LDS composers. People bought it, and it made it possible for us to do another and another and another. We have almost eighty albums and it was never a problem for us to finance them, because we recovered the money and went on to the next one.
We can never do that now. We’re all having to try to find other things to do. People buy CDs if they see them there in the store—they won’t special order, how will they even know about it if they don’t see it? People need to be able to see that something is available, and then they do impulse buying. We do all the advertising that we can afford to do, and so we recover partial cost on that album. I wish that stores would carry even our top twenty. Before things changed, even our first album was still selling after thirty years, but if the albums aren’t there on display in the LDS bookstores, then … we’re done. People buy what they see. It is really hard.
One thing that helps us to get things out expeditiously is that our son John works for us full-time. He does all the business side of things. I write the music, my husband takes it down and prepares it for publication, and John designs the covers and does all the duplication, the publishing, distribution, taxes—everything that the business entails. We have it all right here, so all we need to do is take our master to have the CDs duplicated. It helps us that we’ve always had our family totally involved in it. We’ve done eleven different albums for our son Steve and two for our daughter Lynne, who is a wonderful writer/composer. So it’s very much a family thing, where everybody has the talents to get a whole project done. We used to have to go to a design artist for the covers, but John now does it all on his computer. It’s really beautiful.
I just have such a feeling about what the music means to people. After literally thousands of letters saying “this song helped me in this situation, this song helped me come back to the Church,” it’s just constant—you get a sense of mission. And that’s the reason I don’t want to stop. There will always be a need for people to have good music that uplifts them. I hope we can find a way to keep going.
When I started out, here is my goal that I wrote down: “I hope someday the Primary children will sing one of my songs.” That was my goal.
A couple of years ago Craig Jessop called from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and said, “Would it be alright if we used your song ‘Love Is Spoken Here’ as the title song for our new album? And we’ll also put ‘I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus’ and ‘A Child’s Prayer’ on it. Would that be alright?” I said, “Craig, I’ve got to share with you my original goal: it was that the Primary children would someday sing one of my songs. I could never have imagined this!” I write for Meridian Magazine, and this year I wrote on setting goals and how it helped me to write down and have that thought in my mind and work toward it. I was just dumbfounded to think I had come that far—to have the title song on a Mormon Tabernacle Choir album!
I love just writing about my experiences in my own life, because when you have experienced something, you can be pretty sure that a whole lot of other people have, too. And when you write about something real in your life, there is a difference from if you sit down and try to write a nice song.
I’ve done five little volumes of hymns in the last while. My husband said one day, “I feel strongly that you should write a hundred hymns.” I was dumbfounded, and I said, “How about one hymn? They’re hard. They’re different. You’ve got to get all the voice leadings and…” and he said, “I’m just telling you. It’s up to you—take it or leave it.” I was singing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and a friend, John Pearson, started giving me his poetry, which was really hymn text poetry. He and I wrote eighty hymns together, and sadly, he passed away last September of colon cancer, and so that’s the end of that. I think he was the best hymn text writer in the church. Man, I miss his beautiful writing. But we have these five little hymnbooks, each with thirty-five hymns, so I’ve gone way over the hundred, and we keep the price really low so that choirs can afford them.
I loved writing hymns. I’m kind of through with that phase, and now I’m doing this hour-long Book of Mormon program with a sister from Colorado who is writing the lyrics—very scriptural lyrics—and Merrill Jenson is going to record it. I finished the last arrangement this morning just before you got here.
So, different times I like to go different directions—they’re all good.
This hymn will be familiar to Danish, French, Japanese, Portuguese, and Spanish-speaking saints. In English it has gone by a few names including “Unanswered Yet?,” “The Prayer,” and “Sometime, Somewhere.” The lyrics are very lovely, although not exactly typical of those in our current (1985) hymnbook. Here is an English version from Deseret Sunday School Songs (1909):
You’ll note that this version is not written in four-part harmony. This setting and the four-part version that eventually made it into the foreign language hymnbooks leave a lot of be desired, in my opinion. The chromatic portion in the last line of the first page (see above) is an odd choice given the lyrics. Here is a recording of the current Spanish version:
LDS composer Rob Gardner has married the lyrics to a new setting that has echos of the original melody. It is set as a song with orchestral accompaniment (and is quite lovely, if I may say). It better reflects the feeling of the lyrics (again, all in my opinion).
What are your thoughts on the lyrics and the hymn tune? Do you think this hymn should be included in the upcoming hymnbook? Perhaps you are the one to write a new four-part setting. We’d love to hear your comments.
Michael Moody was chairman of the 1985 Hymnbook Executive Committee. In this audio interview by The Mormon Channel for their program Conversations, he discusses his experience on the committee, as well as other events from his life. We’ve broken down the 90-minute interview to help you find the sections you are most interested in:
Missionary Service: 3:40
University Studies: 7:25
Musical Christmas Cards: 9:18
“He Sent His Son” 11:48
Performance of “He Sent His Son” 16:36
Mabel Jones Gabbott and “In Humility Our Savior” 19:55
The 1970s Hymnbook Committees 21:28
The 1985 Hymnbook Executive Committee 22:35
Criteria for choosing new hymns 28:11
“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” 33:28
Performance of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” 35:32
Hymns new to the 1985 Hymnbook 38:58
“Called to Serve” almost didn’t make it in 40:34
Performance of “Called to Serve” 42:50
“Where Can I Turn for Peace?” 45:05
Performance of “Where Can I Turn for Peace?” 45:51
“Love One Another” 49:40
Children’s songs in the hymnbook 51:26
“Hark, All Ye Nations” 52:03
The shelf-life of a hymnbook and foreign language hymnbooks 54:19
Brother Moody’s feelings about the power of music 57:14