Now in her early 70s, the woman many consider the "matriarch of Mormon music" sometimes thinks about retiring. But the music won't let her. The songs keep coming. There is still more she finds to say. The passion for it is as strong as ever.
"I guess I'll have to keep writing until I can't," Janice Kapp Perry says. "It's my recreation. What else would I do?"
She comes across something of interest, and words and music seem to come. "I've been writing songs that mean a lot to me. And before I know it, I have enough for a new album." That's how her newest CD, "He Brought Me Light," came about.
It's been a while since she's recorded anything. "The music market has certainly changed. Now it's all downloads; fewer CDs are being released," she says. But while this music is downloadable on most Mormon music sites as well as iTunes and the rest, "we wanted to do a CD. And we have such wonderful singers, such beautiful voices." Vocalists include Daniel Beck, Jenny Frogley, Tammy Simister Robinson, Tanya Barkdull, LaRene Tiney, Johanne Frechette Perry and others. The album was produced by Greg Hansen, "who always works such magic."
It is always exciting, Perry says, to be in the recording studio, to hear something she's written being worked on by other people. "They always bring it to life. It makes you feel your part is minimal."
It's not, of course. But it is something she's been doing for more than 30 years — ever since the sports career she was enjoying got derailed by a broken ankle, and her bishop asked her to write a ward roadshow while she was recovering.
Musical things took off from there. By now, she's written more than a thousand songs, has a hymn in the current LDS hymnbook and 10 songs in the Primary songbook. She's sung with, and written for, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. She's written her own words, but she's also collaborated with a large number of lyricists, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, her cousin Joy Lundberg, musical producer Doug Stewart, hymn writer John Victor Pearson and countless others.
"He Gave Me Light" is the 83rd CD produced by Perry and her musical family, including son Steven Kapp Perry and daughter Lynne Perry Christofferson, who are musicians in their own right; and son John, who works with the production and technical side; as well as collaborations with other artists and musicians.
That total also includes five albums recorded in Spanish, five in Portuguese and five in Japanese.
"No one is more surprised than me that music has taken up so much of my life," she said in 2001 when she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Faith-Centered Music Association. "But I've just loved being involved with it."
That love is evident throughout "He Gave Me Light," which is filled with songs that lift and inspire. The title song is one she wrote for the unveiling of a Liz Lemon Swindle painting, "Jesus Healing Man Blind Since Birth," during a BYU Education Week. "I put myself in the place of a man who has never seen and imagined what it would be like when the first thing he saw was the face of Jesus. I had my heart in the writing of that song more than any in a long time."
But other songs in the collection are equally powerful. "I Will Shine" was inspired by a talk by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf on nourishing women's creative impulses. "Tender Mercies of the Lord" was drawn from Elder David A. Bednar's "moving talk on this subject." "My Father's Faith" was commissioned by Mack Wilberg as a Father's Day song for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and was debuted by the choir in 2010.
"Gentle Savior" was written for "White Star," a musical sequel to "Saturday's Warrior," produced by Doug Stewart. "The Journey" was written at the request of a friend who was awaiting his second kidney transplant and was afraid it would not come in time. (Miraculously, it did.) "Be Not Afraid" is a favorite text written by John Victor Pearson, who passed away in September. "We Belong to the Family of Man" was written "at the request of my stake president, James Toronto, who is the eyes and ears of the church now in Muslim countries. He wanted a new song on brotherhood among people of different faiths."
The CD also includes two songs that are a preview of another project Perry is working on. She came across a collection of traditional hymn tunes from Ireland, Scotland and Wales and is writing new words for the tunes, much in the tradition of hymn-writing in centuries past. "My Faith in Jesus Leads Me On," and "The Song of the Righteous" represent those hymns. There are 14 in all, "and sometime in 2011, we hope to record a whole album of these songs," she says.
Perry is busy on several other projects, as well. She has recently completed a musical presentation for people with special needs that is available as a free download on her website (janicekappperry.com). She is also writing music for a musical fireside on the Book of Mormon. She's working with a relative of songwriter Mickey Hart. "She had written a narrative hymn text, and the church referred her to me, and I loved her work. The Book of Mormon is always in season, but it's surprising how few songs there are. A lot of the text for this is taken directly from the scriptures," Perry says.
Last March, she and her husband, Doug, also went to Japan and Taiwan. "When they invited us to Japan, they said they wanted to do a fireside every night in a different location for two weeks. We said that we were too old to do that, but they told us that a lot of planning had gone into it, and asked us to pray about it. So, we did, and felt we should go." Then people in Taiwan heard they were going to Japan and asked the Perrys to come there.
Doug got very sick about three weeks before they were to leave. But he didn't want to cancel. "He coughed so hard he had ruptured a muscle and was in a great deal of pain — until three days before we left, and the pain just went away," Perry says.
It turned out to be "the trip of a lifetime. We had told them we would need a companion to take care of us; and oh, my, did they take care of us."
Perry had Japanese and Mandarin lyrics romanticized so she could sing them. She wondered if anyone "would come to hear me sing with my old voice. But people came in huge numbers everywhere we went."
There was one moment of panic. As part of her presentation, she does a medley of Primary songs, and invites the audience to sing along. "And then I thought maybe they won't know them. But they did. They sang along just as they do here. I was so touched."
Even more gratifying, she says, "were the people who came up afterward to share stories of how certain songs had helped them in different situations."
It's just amazing to think that something she has done can have meaning to someone else, she says. "That's what you always hope for. And when you find out it does, that's the most rewarding thing of all."1 comment on this story
And that's why she keeps on writing. "I've been blessed to a marvelous extent. And I feel a sense of mission and responsibility to keep going."
It also brings a great deal of happiness and delight. As she advises in a favorite song that is included in an updated version on "He Brought Me Light," "when you have the chance, when you have the choice, surround yourself with joy." It's what Janice Kapp Perry has been doing for herself and others throughout her musical career.