Ask Janice Kapp Perry who her favorite LDS Church president is, and she might say David O. McKay. "He was the one I grew up with. He presided with such dignity. He was just what I thought a prophet should be."
Or, maybe she will say Gordon B. Hinckley. "He has so many qualities that I admire so much."
Or, maybe it would be George Albert Smith. "He was such a peacemaker and friend to all."
More likely, however, Perry will say it is impossible to choose a favorite because each one has so many things to love. She has recently been involved in a song-writing project that includes a Primary song for each of the presidents.
In researching the lives of the prophets, "it was amazing for me to realize anew how each prophet seemed to be just the right man for the challenges of his day," she says. "I got caught up in the project and just loved the time I spent writing on it. I couldn't wait to finish one and move on to the next."
Those songs, plus one that names each of the men all in one, have been compiled into a CD and piano/vocal songbook called "Let's Sing About Latter-Day Prophets."
The impetus for the project actually came from a friend who lives in North Carolina, says Perry. "She wanted their Primary children to be able to sing about all the modern-day prophets once a month in sacrament meeting. She asked if I would consider writing a children's song about each of the 15 prophets."
That call came at a time Perry had not been writing much music due to health concerns she had a stroke in July 2006.
"This really interested me and was a way for me to maybe get back into the writing mode," she says.
The singing project in North Carolina eventually fell through, "but by then I was hooked," Perry says. "I thought, 'I'm not quitting, this is too much fun.' I took them all one by one, and it was a wonderful experience."
It also became a true family project. Perry's son Steve and daughter, Lynne Christofferson, arranged and recorded the songs in Steve's home studio.
As Perry wrote the songs, she knew she needed to aim for variety, so they would not all sound alike. David O. McKay's song, for example, has a Scottish flavor because of his Scottish roots. Brigham Young's song is more western.
"Their arrangements are enchanting," says Perry with a mother's pride and a musician's ear. "The songs have all been produced in a unique way that seems to capture the interest of the children who have heard it so far."
And that is what she hopes for. So many of today's children have grown up just knowing Gordon B. Hinckley, she notes.
"They don't know as much about the earlier prophets because they've only lived with this one," she says. "I tried to include some of the main accomplishments and things they were all known for in each song."
Although it comes first in line, the Joseph Smith song was actually the last one she did. "I thought, 'how can I do justice to him?' His song talks about the restoration and is one of the more serious songs."
On the other hand, Brigham Young's song "was a lot of fun," Perry says.
Each of the men had amazing lives and offered a lot to write about. John Taylor was such a man of faith and service, Perry says. Wilford Woodruff kept copious journals that helped preserve the history of the early church.
Some of the songs include quirky little things. "Did you know that Lorenzo Snow was the shortest of all the prophets?" Perry says. "But he always seemed so tall. He was called 'a mighty man on earth."'
Perry says she didn't know much about Joseph F. Smith before starting the project.
"But in many ways his song is my favorite," she says. "He had so much suffering in his life; he was 5 when his father, Hyrum, was killed, and then he came across the plains with his mother. But he was so tenderhearted."
Heber J. Grant has always been a role model for her, says Perry. "He never said 'can't.' He wanted to sing well, play baseball and have good penmanship, and he practiced and practiced until he could. That has inspired me many times."
George Albert Smith was the prophet when church membership hit the million mark. Harold B. Lee was president for only a short time, but "was such a leader in the welfare system," Perry says. "He wanted us to help the 'least of them.' And President Kimball offered us so much practical advice. His song is very upbeat."
She focused on the great service Ezra Taft Benson gave to his country, and how beloved Howard W. Hunter was for his kindness and gentleness.
"And, of course, I couldn't cover everything President Hinckley has done," she says. "So, I talk of some of his great qualities."
The CD cover and the song book feature paintings of each man by Robert T. Barrett.
"Those paintings hang at BYU and are just wonderful," says Perry. "We were so pleased that Robert let us use them."
Perry had such fun with this project that she's already thinking about others maybe Book of Mormon heroes or gospel teachings because she also has a firm conviction of the power of music in helping children learn and remember.
"I think back to Primary, and what I remember are the songs every song," she says. "If you set something to music, it stays with you longer, penetrates deeper."
Over the years she's received numerous letters from children and parents about how some of her songs touched their lives how in a moment of temptation, "I'm Trying To Be Like Jesus" helped, or how when there was contention in the home, "Love Is Spoken Here" brought peace."Music can do that," she says. "It goes deep into your heart and can always be with you."
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