Dec 052011

I gave up on vanity searches awhile back. (In case you’re wondering, “vanity search” refers to typing your own name into a search engine like Google to see what comes up.) I gave up on them for a good reason: sometimes you just don’t want to read what people have to say about you.

This story started last week. My husband and I were each on our own computer (parallel playtime 😉 ) and the conversation went something like this:

Dennis: Well… how does it feel to have your music sung in Westminster Abbey?

Me: Dunno. When you find out, you tell me.

Dennis: No, no… I’m not kidding. Look at this…

It seems my DH had done some vanity-searching on my behalf, and had found that in late November a youth choir presented “Arise and Shine Forth” as part of a service in… **drum roll** …yep, Westminster Abbey.

I was more than a bit surprised (“astonished” describes it better), and pleased (okay, “tickled pea-green” comes to mind here). We visited there a couple of years ago… it’s a magnificent, venerable structure (<--- understatement of the year) and of course we just walked around gaping like the gormless tourists we were. I watched the royal wedding there a few months ago on the internet (blame insomnia... I didn't plan on it) and listened to the gorgeous choir that sang that day. I would never in a million years have dreamed that at some point, some brief moment in time, the harmonies echoing around those vast expanses would be my own. I wish I could have been there to hear it. Now here's where I got stupid. I wondered, "Wow... what else have I missed by shunning vanity searches? If Dennis hadn't looked, I would never have known..." So I crept back to my computer, and surreptitiously, foolishly, idiotically entered my own name into the Google search bar. The results were a miscellaneous lot... sites linking to other sites; lists; lists of lists; a few friends and fellow composers (that conjured a smile); and then... nice little blog in which my name appeared as a synonym for "bad music." It wasn't outright criticism, just an offhand comment in which you could just see the blogger's eyes rolling, and the disgusted look with which the words were typed. I'm going to wear my heart on my sleeve here for just a minute, because I think that some of the Denizens of the Internet who post from the safety and anonymity of their rolly-chairs and their screen-names need to understand exactly what they do. I felt sucker-punched. I did not cry... much... but what I felt was akin to physical pain. (I did shut down the computer and recommit to leaving vanity searches to my husband, so the exercise wasn’t entirely a waste of time.)

I wonder what the blogger wanted to achieve. Did he want to convince me that my poor little contributions to the world of music have shortcomings? No-one knows it better than I. Did he want to demonstrate his superior taste? Probably. Did he want to cause hurt? He succeeded.

Many of us humans are a bit weird. Our sense of self-worth is like a house of cards, each card written over with encouragement or friendship or love… anything positive we can gather out of an overly-negative world. And then somebody comes along and with a single breath or a few keystrokes blows the whole structure to the ground and we have to start building all over again. I don’t know why one such comment can wipe out every positive thing you’ve ever heard, but there it is.

At least I’m in good company. I can’t think of any LDS musician as vocally criticized as Janice Kapp Perry, notwithstanding the real, solid good she’s done in the world (not to mention the fact that “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus” is the best Primary song ever); JRR Tolkien took a lot of public criticism for his flights of fancy (though he gained credibility as the copies started selling); I occasionally haunt a place called Cougarboard where athletes and coaches who work their hearts out for the entertainment of a fickle fan-base are verbally abused by those same fans for even the smallest mistakes.

The standard advice when it comes to critics is “ignore them.” Easier said than done, because I’m as insecure as… well… as the average human being. (Did you know that every time I do something new and send out an update, I want to go curl up in the fetal position and not come out for the rest of the day? It’s true.) My wise husband tells me that just maybe, for me, my insecurity is part of what I have to sacrifice in order to serve. That idea helps.

So what’s the point of this over-long rant? I don’t want sympathy (I’m over it), I’m not begging for compliments, and I don’t want anyone to poor-baby me (unless you want to do it with See’s Lemon Truffles).

Here’s the point: We can criticize and complain all we want in private. We can do it over dinner and teach our kids. We can form our own Friendly Neighborhood Haters’ Club. But hateful comments made on the internet will do no good, and may do great harm. Whether we anticipate it or not, what we say will be read by the people we reference. Since we do not see into each others’ hearts, who knows how much damage is done?

Okay, I know it’s hopeless. I’m preaching to the choir again. But this is just one more plea for internet civility. No, internet kindess. No, better yet, internet Christianity. In the words of one of the most Christian men who ever lived, “We can all be a little kinder, a little more generous, a little more thoughtful of one another.” (Gordon B. Hinckley)

Oct 102011

You know, I thought I was done. It had taken a good year’s worth of work to put together an Easter cantata (which isn’t ready to upload yet, btw, but will be soon), and I had dotted the last quarter note and added the final barline. I really thought I was done. Shows what I know.

"Precious in His Sight" -- Greg Olsen

“Precious in His Sight” — Greg Olsen

This song started singing at me, and I knew there was one more. (In a way, it was kinda like deciding I was done having kids and realizing there was another one waiting. 🙂 ) So I started scribbling, and “A Place In His Arms” was the result.

The story of how Jesus blessed the little children they brought to Him is one that I especially loved as a child. I took a bit of delight in the idea that the grownups thought the kids had no business taking the Savior’s time, and had to learn otherwise. As an adult, the story has taken on a deeper (and kinder) meaning as I’ve learned some beautiful lessons from my own kids and the children I’m privileged to work with in Primary. I’m very grateful that the Savior taught us to value our children, and to be humble and teachable as they are.

As real as the incidents in the Savior’s life were, they all seem to serve as parables as well. Jesus took the little children in His arms and blessed them… one by one… individually… giving me the assurance that there’s also a place in His arms for me.

I’m always grateful when a song comes this quickly–even if it means I’m not really done when I think I am. As a side note, the children’s version of this song was awarded a “Grand Prize” in the annual Church music submission this year. I seriously considered calling the music office to ask if they’d made a mistake–it’s so very simple and not at all what I assumed a grand prize-winner would look like. Shows what I know.

Jun 292011
As a sort of happy birthday present in honor of the US Independence Day coming up next week, today I’m posting a new song titled “Bless This Land.”


The music was composed by Michael Moody, former chairman of the LDS church’s music committee, and current president of the Papeete Tahiti Temple. (How does one sign up for that assignment?!? 😉 ) Though he is worlds above me in ability and education and experience, for years Michael has encouraged me in songwriting, and it’s mostly due to his influence that I began offering my music publicly. He’s an amazing musician and a great man and I appreciate his kindness in composing the beautiful setting for these lyrics.


The vocalist on the demo recording is Annabelle Smith, a beautiful young wife, mother and talented lady who lives here in Colorado Springs. She performed beautifully as a narrator in our recent Easter program, and was kind enough to lend her lovely voice to this new song.

The lyrics….

As I watched the highly-publicized reaction of a small subset of my fellow Americans to the death of the terrorist Osama Bin Laden, I really had to wonder about the US press. Why choose to present a picture to the world of a tiny, attention-seeking minority that so poorly represented the way most of us feel?

I live in Colorado. I saw no one celebrating in the streets here. We heard the news, looked at each other and said… “Wow.” The mood was somber, resigned, perhaps a little melancholy at the necessity of such actions… anything but celebratory.

There were no TV crews here.

I believe that our Heavenly Father loves every nation, every people, and every individual. Acts of war are sometimes necessary to defend our freedom, our peace and our families, but they are never a cause for celebration.

It’s not a popular opinion, but I dislike Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films. In spite of their beautiful scenery and epic scope, they ruined my favorite character from the books, and being the loyal little soul that I am, I cannot forgive them. It was Faramir who said this:

War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend…

I guess Faramir was just too noble and upright and good to be portrayed properly. I know many “Faramirs” today… men and women in uniform who love the country they serve enough to die for it, but do not love war or violence. My son-in-law is one of them. They will be the ones celebrating in the streets when the time comes that “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” On that occasion I’ll happily join them.

I love my country as I hope you love yours. In writing the lyrics to “Bless This Land,” it occurred to me that certainly if we can “learn war,” we can “learn peace.” And so, the prayer to God, our Father, to “teach us peace.”

Happy birthday America. Barbecue in the backyard, eat watermelon, watch fireworks, and teach your kids peace.