What exactly does a music producer do?
Being a music producer is only a part-time, occasional calling for me. I am actually a full-time Ph.D. student in Creative Writing at Monash University in Melbourne and I do musical activities on the side. Being a music producer is really about facilitating projects—making things.
All of my music production activities relate to the promotion of Mormon music. This is where my passion lies.
What would be a usual day at work for you?
At the moment I am organizing two concerts in Utah from Melbourne, so the “music producing” part of my day is usually the early part when I wake up and look at the emails that have collected from composers and performers. I then answer any questions that have arisen, collect information for programs, etc. I am working with my son on a website for the LDS Composers’ Trust, an organization being established in the U.S. to promote LDS music and musicians.
How did you first get involved with producing music?
My first professional activity in this area was the production of a CD of new hymns by LDS composers. That was about five or six years ago. I contacted a number of composers I had known or heard about and asked if they still wrote hymns. Thankfully a number of them wrote remarkable hymns and I was able to put together a CD performed by the Sydney Chamber Choir, a professional non-LDS chamber choir who did a wonderful job under the direction of Philip Chu. This project put me in touch with an ever-widening group of composers who have been helpful in later projects.
What made you decide to produce music?
I have always been passionate about Mormon music since my days at Ricks College in the early ’70s as a seventeen-year-old.
I was a music major under Dr. Darwin Wolford and he has been a major central influence on me since, not only because he is a wonderful composer but also because he has always been a “doer”: someone who promotes his own music, is widely published, and is not afraid to take on projects that help other LDS composers.
At Ricks I also met Dr. LaMar Barrus, whose oratorio “Ode to Libertad” inspired me to understand that LDS music was more than hymns in the hymnbook and hymn arrangements sung at stake conference. LDS composers could and did write every type of concert music.
This was my starting point, but of course I had to come home, serve a mission (in Australia Perth), and start a family after that.
What is your personal music background?
Really, my background is fairly thin. I took piano lessons for a number of years from the age of ten. As I mentioned, I was briefly a music major at Ricks (BYU–I) and at the University of Sydney following my mission.
Most of my musical training, however, has come through church involvement as ward or stake organist and working with choir directors until I became a choir director myself. I have served in every music calling in the Church—most recently as Primary pianist in our ward, where I also accompany the choir.
I do some hymn arranging as well, but nothing special. I am a great listener to music. I always have the classical music station playing in the car and love to hear new pieces.
Do you have a favorite instrument?
I love all instruments—each has a place. I love the voice because one can set poetry to music and portray deep emotions through that combination of music and text. The organ is an extraordinary instrument when well played. Every instrument can be beautiful if given the right music and performer.
What type of music do you generally produce?
I only produce LDS music as this is my area of interest. There are wonderful music producers out there in the Church and the world who can bring together whatever resources they wish, but I feel that there is a need for someone to stand up for the Mormon concert music composer and work with them to promote their music and make it available to a wider audience in and outside of the Church.
My goal is to take Mormon music to the world!
What are some of the more memorable things you’ve produced?
As I mentioned earlier, the LDS hymns CD was the first thing I worked on. Last year I decided to do something more adventurous and so I began working with the Melbourne Chamber Choir and its director Faye Dumont on a concert that was a series of “reflections” on the hymn text of “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” You can learn more about this project at our website.
In the end we had sixteen composers involved who volunteered their talents to create this evening of extraordinary music. These included one non-LDS composer, Dr. Elliott Gyger of the University of Melbourne, who wrote an extraordinary work featuring marimba and harp in the accompaniment to the choral setting.
What has been one of your greatest challenges with producing?
As with anything that involves people and funding, it is usually the challenge of finding the resources to make things happen. I have been fortunate in having had great support from professional and amateur musicians alike.
This is one reason why the LDS Composers’ Trust is so important to me—it will provide, over time, a source of funds to permit future ventures.
Who are some of your musical influences?
I find my inspiration in all sorts of places. I love the great choral music of Bach and Handel and other Baroque composers, but I have recently discovered the music of Morten Lauridsen which is just wonderful.
I have an attachment to virtuoso performance. It can be thrilling to hear someone play a piece of music as though their very life depended on it.
The more I get to know LDS composers from around the world, the more they inspire and uplift me. Every day I seem to come across someone new and I love the learning, the constant surprises that come about as you continue to explore music.
What are your goals as a music producer?
Taking Mormon music to the world! On the LDS Composers’ Trust website, I have set out clear goals for the Trust that include the discovery, collecting, performing, and recording of LDS concert music.
Do you have a favorite project? If so, which one and why?
Every new project is a new baby and one cannot love one above another, but I am heavily involved in the LDS Composers’ Trust concerts in Provo and Salt Lake City on the 23rd and 24th of September, and these are taking up all of my time at the moment.
This will be an outstanding concert with my friend from Texas, pianist Martha Dudgeon, anchoring the concert with a raft of new LDS music for the piano. We also have Professor April Clayton, who teaches flute at BYU, and Zachary Van Houten, composer and French horn player, involved. Ruth Ellis, a well-known soprano, will be singing, and I am delighted to have composer Marie Nelson performing one of her own works accompanying Susan Goodfellow on flute.
Are there any pivotal moments in your childhood that led you to where you are now?
I began piano lessons at ten and had just begun to appreciate the vastness of music. I remember my piano teacher taking a group of students to see Bach’s “St. Matthew’s Passion” in Christ Church Anglican (Episcopalian) Cathedral in Newcastle, NSW, when I was just starting out on piano. It was a magical experience in that vast space of the cathedral and I have been a lover of Bach ever since.
How were you converted to the Church?
My parents and I joined the Church when I was thirteen. A colleague of my father’s at work had introduced him to the gospel and we had the missionaries over to teach us the discussions as they were back in the late 1960s, on a flannel board. They asked us to read the Book of Mormon and pray and, as a child, I did that and received a witness that remains with me more than forty years later.
My parents were always active Church members, as are my sisters and their families. We were part of a pioneering generation in the Church in Australia, which has grown so much in the intervening years.
We had to travel to New Zealand to be sealed in the temple and now we have a temple here in Melbourne less than an hour away.
What sort of difficulties do you face being an active and practicing member of the Church in the music industry?
As I am not a commercial music producer and only work on LDS-based projects, I have really had no difficulties. I have found non-LDS musicians in Australia to be very helpful and supportive of the projects I have endeavoured to undertake here.
I also try to work within the Church wherever I live in Australia to “push the boundaries” a little and make musicians in the Church aware of the vast resources and music that are available to them, rather than doing the same old things year after year.
With the “Come, Come, Ye Saints” concert, I gathered a small regional choir together from among interested LDS singers and we performed some of the items with the Melbourne Chamber Choir at the Melba Hall of the University of Melbourne.
That was a unique experience for most of them and it was a wonderful event.
Who is one of the more memorable artists that you’ve been able to work with?
I have been blessed to work with inspired and inspiring composers—individuals such as the late Robert Manookin, who taught at BYU for many years inspired me to see the sacred in the music.
Rowan Taylor from Los Angeles has also been a great influence. He was a passionate and devoted composer who just never stopped writing, but at the same time he was a faithful Church member, fulfilling his callings and humbly using his talents at every turn.
What do you feel is the most important characteristic in a finished musical product?
In a concert of LDS music, or in a recording, the goal is always to feel the Spirit in the finished product and perhaps to be “stretched” a little bit by the experience.
Are there any unique challenges in being a Latter-day Saint in Australia?
Because the Church in Australia is still quite small, there are some challenges in a lack of understanding from others. We are perceived as a “fringe” religion by the religious mainstream in Australia, but individual Latter-day Saints have made great strides in all aspects of Australian life and so more and more people are overcoming prejudices because they know someone personally who is LDS and has had a positive influence on their lives.
I would describe the Church in Australia as “mature,” just as it is in the U.S. People are now second- and third-generation Latter-day Saints. They have served missions and married in the temple. Church programs operate well in most wards and Church leadership is of a high standard. We have outstanding leaders in my home stake in Melbourne, and I always feel that the Church is in good hands here.
Are there any particular artists you would like to work with but haven’t yet?
I met Mack Wilberg briefly earlier this year and was able to pass on to him the sheet music and recording of the “Reflections on Come, Come, Ye Saints” concert. There are a couple of works that were a part of that project that I would love to hear the Tabernacle Choir perform. Now that would be a memorable experience!
How do you see your work progressing the kingdom?
I would hope that by promoting the music of Mormon composers and performers, I am progressing the kingdom.
I love the spirit that is attached to each of the events I facilitate—helping composers get works performed or encouraging them to use their talents and give them some public recognition. Music is one of the great carriers of the Spirit into people’s lives, whether it is sacred or secular music. It touches hearts and can change lives and I love being involved in that process.
Do you have a particular scripture or quote that comes to mind in relationship to the work you do?
I have always been inspired by President Kimball’s “Vision of the Arts.” I can see it slowly coming to pass in each of the arts.
One of the great lines from our hymns always rings out to me: “Join the great throng, Psaltery, organ and song, Sounding in glad adoration.” That is what I am trying to achieve. ❧