Seeing himself as a bridge between people and religions, and music as a way to make a connection, Brother Pew tells of being asked to say a few words before the premiere last summer of his choral piece in Latin, “Pater Noster,” based on the Lord’s Prayer. Knowing he faced a liberal and not particularly religious audience, “I told them we may believe different things and that’s OK, but I invited them to experience my personal feeling of yearning as we listened together for three minutes.” He wasn’t sure what the reaction would be, but comments afterward demonstrated that “I had let them experience the piece on a spiritual level, despite our differences.”
Even with time and experience, composing music doesn’t come easily for Brother Pew. “It’s like learning to walk again with each new piece,” he said. “You are creating your own little universe, a new one, fresh, each time.” It must be original yet accessible. For liturgical service, it needs to be “somewhat simple so the choir and even, in some instances, the congregation can sing it.” His operas are more dramatic and written in a contemporary style, as he is “trying to find new paths for myself through sound.”
Regardless of what he composes, Brother Pew believes music can be a spiritual bridge. “That human connection, the divine in all of us, is there.”
He and his wife, the former Janae Hansen, a violinist, recently added a fourth child to their family. They have lived in the Cincinnati area since 2007. Some of the LDS music Brother Pew writes includes “a bit more challenging” yet appropriate violin-piano hymn arrangements that he and his wife can play in sacrament meeting. He also considers his voice one of his main instruments and appreciates being able to write major choral works.
“To write anthems on the words of Christ from the scriptures is a wonderful opportunity,” he said, referencing a Latin mass he wrote in Poland, which was performed in a major event broadcast nationwide. He said that afterward, the priest told him, “Your music helped me to pray.”
Brother Pew said, “That meant more to me than any award — that people felt something. Those black dots I wrote on a page went into a voice, across a cathedral and down into someone’s heart.”