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Devotionals

Janice Kapp Perry

Music of Zion

That number was wonderfully done. Thank you. Sometimes when you sit alone in your studio writing, you—well, first of all you wonder if anyone will ever sing the piece you are writing—and you hope it will be done this way [referring to the musical number]. Very sweet. Thank you so much. Thank you for the invitation to speak here today, Adrian, Brother Brooksby. I was one of the ones who did notice that Sister Dunford was playing all of my songs. Probably no one else did, but I do want to give her a personal thank you. That was fun hearing them done on this nice organ.

My husband and I are—I heard some classifications of when you’re young, when you’re medium, when you’re old, and when you’re old old—we’re old old. We’re in that last category. I used to say we were close to 80; now I can say we are 80. So we should retire. And we keep trying to, and then someone calls again, and we think, “One last time.” When I was asked to speak, I thought, “November 10th, that ought to be a good day still.” Ha. If you came around the Point of the Mountain with us this morning you would have seen that it was not a good weather day.

I have noticed through the years as I have grown older that people have expectations of what I might look like or be like. And it’s usually that they thought I would be taller or thinner—they don’t hesitate to say it—or younger. Anyway, we went to a young adult meeting a couple of years ago, and there was a young man from Haiti who said he had grown up on my music and wanted to meet me. So they brought him to meet me, and when they introduced me, he said, “You’re Janice Kapp Perry?”

And I said, “Yes I am. Just out of curiosity, tell me what you were expecting. I can take it.”

And he said, “Well, I don’t know. Julie de Azevedo, maybe?”

And I said, “Young man, as Julie is, I once was. As I am, she will one day be.”

It’s different being this old. We’ll just hang in there and do the best we can.

Last year—our son runs the music business from an office in our home—he went out to get the mail, and when he came back in he said, “Mom, LDS Living magazine has done an extensive survey, and they’ve chosen the coolest LDS women still living.”

And I said, “And? What does that have to do with me?”

He said, “Well, you’re one of them.”

I said, “I am? Can you be cool at 76?”

And he said, “No. I thought you’d like the part about ‘still living.’” Your kids will tell you.

Anyway, we are here. There is a great power in music, and I am always happy to speak about it. Elder Packer said we can learn some spiritual things very quickly through music that otherwise may take us a long time to learn.[1] I have found that true in my life. My gospel memories of Primary are of my testimony starting with music—“I Am A Child of God”[2] and other simple music of the Primary.

We should never outgrow our love for the Primary songs. They are eternal. They’re for all ages. My brother recently led a Church history tour of senior citizens, and he was the music leader on the bus. They were looking for something to do on the last leg of their trip, and someone said, “Let’s all sing the Primary songs we remember.” And those seniors sang for 45 minutes until they arrived at their destination, and they still could have gone on remembering the songs that they learned in their childhood.

That’s how it is. Many of us, just before the Primary Children’s Songbook was published, felt an impression to write children’s music, not knowing why. I certainly did. A lot of my first albums were children’s songs. And then when they said they were forming the Primary Children’s Songbook, the songs were already written, for many of us authors. I think the Lord sometimes directs some lead time for events that are going to happen in the future.

I would like to ask you to sing a little medley of my Primary songs with me, and I’m going to count on you to know them because I don’t have the kind of voice you’d like to hear singing alone. There are six pieces, and we’ll just do one verse of each one. The first one and the last one are the two-part songs for which we usually do one verse, and then sing the next verse, and then we sing the two verses together. But for this time, we will just go straight through, just singing—you choose one verse of that song because we’ll still just go through each song once. I don’t know if you’ve all been to Primary—I’ve got one cheat sheet. I’m counting on the rest of you to know them. Okay, follow me. We start with “A Child’s Prayer,” so choose one part of that.

[“A Child’s Prayer,” Children’s Songbook,p. 12–13.]

 

Heavenly Father, are you really there?

And do you hear and answer ev’ry child’s prayer?

Some say that heaven is far away,

But I feel it close around me as I pray.

Heavenly Father, I remember now

Something that Jesus told disciples long ago:

“Suffer the children to come to me.”

Father, in prayer I’m coming now to thee.

 

Pray, he is there;

Speak, he is list’ning.

You are his child;

His love now surrounds you.

He hears your prayer;

He loves the children.

Of such is the kingdom, the kingdom of heav’n.

 

[“I Love to See the Temple,” Children’s Songbook,p. 95.]

 

I love to see the temple.

I’m going there someday

To feel the Holy Spirit,

To listen and to pray.

For the temple is a house of God,

A place of love and beauty.

I’ll prepare myself while I am young;

This is my sacred duty.

 

[“The Church of Jesus Christ,” Children’s Songbook,p. 77.]

 

I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I know who I am. I know God’s plan.

I follow him in faith.

I believe in the Savior, Jesus Christ.

I’ll honor his name.

I’ll do what is right;

I’ll follow his light.

His truth I will proclaim.

 

[“I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus,” Children’s Songbook,p. 78–79.]

 

I’m trying to be like Jesus;

I’m following in his ways.

I’m trying to love as he did, in all that I do and say.

At times I am tempted to make a wrong choice,

But I try to listen as the still small voice whispers:

 

“Love one another as Jesus loves you.

Try to show kindness in all that you do.

Be gentle and loving in deed and in thought,

For these are the things Jesus taught.”

 

[“We’ll Bring the World His Truth (Army of Helaman),” Children’s Songbook,p. 172—173.]

 

We have been born, as Nephi of old,

To goodly parents who love the Lord.

We have been taught, and we understand,

That we must do as the Lord commands.

 

We are as the army of Helaman.

We have been taught in our youth.

And we will be the Lord’s missionaries

To bring the world His truth.

 

[“Love is Spoken Here,” Children’s Songbook,p. 190–191.]

 

I see my mother kneeling with our family each day.

I hear the words she whispers as she bows her head to pray.

Her plea to the Father quiets all my fears,

And I am thankful love is spoken here.

 

Mine is a home where ev’ry hour

Is blessed by the strength of priesthood pow’r.

With father and mother leading the way,

Teaching me how to trust and obey;

And the things they teach are crystal clear,

For love is spoken here.

 

I can often feel the Savior near

When love is spoken here.

 

That was great. You were listening in Primary. Oh, that clock is moving much too fast. I’m going to skip on here.

Once—decades ago, really—when we were raising our children, I heard one of the general authorities in conference say that—he gave a list of things that would keep us close together as a family. I was checking those, hoping to get every one of them down, hoping we could add some of those things to our family. When he said to write a family song, that got my attention. I hadn’t written music yet; I started rather late in life. But I did make note of that and think that might be fun to do for our family. We could sing it at home evening, or in the car, or wherever.

But I also was very much into participating in sports. Out on our farm, my brother taught me how to pitch well and how to play sports because I was the only one he had to practice with. And this was something I kept up until I was almost 40 years old, was playing on teams wherever we lived. So I didn’t write the family song while our kids were growing up. I was just too busy doing sports. But I thought—this is unreal, but all of our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren still live in Utah County—and I thought, “I can still write the song. We get together for all the occasions, and we can still have fun with that.”

So I spent a long time writing it. It got kind of complicated. I didn’t know if it was any good or not, but I thought we need to record it, and then we’d know. So I went to my son in his office. He was about 35 then; he is our youngest son. And I said, “John, get your brothers and come to the recording studio tomorrow. We’re going to record our Perry family song.”

He said, “Mom, you remember I don’t sing.”

I said, “Well, did you hear? It’s our family song. We’re all singing.”

And my husband had a voice disorder by then, and he said, “Well, I can’t sing. I only have a three-note range.”

I said, “I took that into account. But we’re all singing.”

John said, “Why do we have to sing?”

I said, “All you boys together will sing this several times—‘We’re Mama’s boys; we’re the back-up singers. We’re Mama’s boys; we’re the back-up choir.’”

And he said, “Is that corny?”

I said, “That’s exactly why we’re recording it, and then we’ll know.”

So we went—all 23 of us went down and recorded our parts. The grandkids had a part too. And the next day, John had the door closed to his office, and I could hear him rewinding and rewinding to hear his part. And I went in and said, “So what do you think, John?”

He said, “My apologies. It was fun.” A ringing endorsement.

Well, I’m going to share our family song with you. I wouldn’t try to sing a beautiful song, but I will sing just a fun one with you. And it’s because I hope that, whatever family you are in now or in the future, you will write such a song. It need not be complicated. One lady said, “I’ll take your song, ‘I Belong to the Church of Jesus Christ,’[3] and we’ll sing, ‘We belong to the family of Spencer Price.’” So it can be that easy.

When we first got married in ’58,

I told the Lord I’d appreciate

A few fine sons who could sing act

He gave me four, though he took one back.

 

We’re Mama’s boys; we’re the back-up singers,

We’re Mama’s boys; we’re the back-up choir.

Well, I asked for a daughter to sing with me,

One with a knack for harmony.

I knew we could have ourselves some fun.

He heard my prayer and gave me one.

 

Sing a little song with me in harmony,

Sing a little song to make me smile.

When the boys got married to a singer too

Our family chorus just grew and grew.

Our daughter married more than a pretty face,

She found her a man with a fine deep bass.

 

Bum, bum-ba-bum, Ba-bum,

Bum, ba-bum, ba-bum. Ba-bum.

 

Well, the grandkids came, and they sang along

Their love for music was good and strong.

They were boys and girls who could feel the beat.

They clapped their hands, and they sang so sweet.

 

Clap, clap our hands. We’ve got rhythm.

Clap, clap our hands. We’ve got style.

It’s been 57 years, and it seems quite strange,

Grandpa says he’s got just a 3-note range,

So I wrote him a line that’s simple and true.

He sings it to me and says,

 

“I love you.”

 

Now we count our blessings and sing along.

We love the rhythm of our family song.

We’ll all be singing till the day we die,

When our heavenly choir will be multiplied.

 

I know my husband like a book, but some days I don’t know what page he is on. You know, this relationship between spouses is all important. Plan well for it. Maybe some of you already have a spouse, but I could never succeed without his support. He’s been willing to go anywhere, do anything. He has set up the sound hundreds of times, literally, and all over the world. And I never need to ask if he is willing to go. I just know he is.

Supporting each other in our talents and our interests in life—to mutually support each other—is one of the greatest gifts that we can give to our spouse. I write what he calls my “scribble music.” I can only write with a pencil; I don’t know the computer stuff. But he has learned the systems for engraving it and preparing it for publication. And what he brings back to me after the scribble copy I give him is beautiful. Anyway, this is a sweet thing.

Every time I’m with college students I can’t help but remember when I first met him at BYU. He was back from a mission to France, and I was a second-year music student at BYU. And I noticed him because he was in four of my music classes. I didn’t have any signals that he had noticed me back. So the semester just went on, and it got toward the time when we were both in a clarinet workshop, and I was the next person up. And honestly, I promise you this is the first line he ever used with me. He nudged me, and I said, “What do you want? I’m next.” I was kind of nervous.

He said, “I was just thinking. Those lips look like they are made for something better than playing the clarinet.” [Brother Perry stands up and kisses Sister Perry. Lots of applause and laughter.] I won’t be telling that again. Or . . . maybe I will. Okay, moving on. I still can’t believe he did that.

There’s an important message I want to leave with you, if I can gather myself. Okay.  I heard Elder M. Russell Ballard say something that really affected me. And I’m sure you heard it too; it hasn’t even been that long ago, but maybe a couple of years, I can’t remember. He said there is one simple daily practice that can make a difference for every member of the Church. “In your morning prayer each new day, ask Heavenly Father to guide you to recognize an opportunity to serve one of His precious children. Then go throughout the day with your heart full of faith and love, looking for someone to help. . . . If you do this, your spiritual sensitivities will be enlarged and you will discover opportunities to serve that you never before realized were possible.”[4]

I tried to absorb that message, and I fully was intending to do it, but I hadn’t decided on just who I would visit yet. At that time our bishop, Rex Cannon, gave us a boost in that direction when he talked about raising our personal bar in the area of service. At the beginning of each year he gave us definite challenges that he wanted us to carry out during the year. And this time he said, “Thoughtfully and prayerfully think of someone in the ward who is in need and do one thing for them that requires a definite sacrifice on your part.”

Little did I know what a significant, life-changing experiment this would be for me.  In our business, sometimes we have to be aware of the bottom line. If we don’t make enough money from a recording, we can’t do the next one. So we have to have income, or we cannot continue producing our music for others. So, sometimes we have to think about that. In what we do, many times there are awards and recognitions, things that President Hinckley said are poison to the soul.[5] And so I have always heeded his advice and tried to appreciate the kind things that people say to us but not remember them tomorrow and dwell on them. In the end we are all the same.

When I was trying to decide who to visit, I thought long and hard about what had really brought me joy during the last decade of my life. And I thought of several experiences, and I wrote them down—the experiences that were really joyful to me and stayed with me. As I looked over that list, they had nothing—nothing—to do with money, awards, recognition. It wasn’t even in the ballpark.

My decision of who to visit was easy. It was Marie, a friend of about 30 years who was 90 years old and was blind from macular degeneration. She accepted this with grace and was doing the best she could, but at the time of the bishop’s challenge, she was no longer well enough to come to church. And I thought, for sure I could go over. So I called Marie one day and said, “Could I come and read to you for an afternoon?”

She said—her response surprised me—she said, “Oh, I would love that. You’ll never know. I can’t see the TV, I can’t see a book to read. There’s just very little you can do. I can’t see to play the piano.”

So I asked her to choose the book, and she chose kind of a scholarly book. It was called Light in the Wilderness by M. Catherine Thomas.[6] It’s a book I loved, but it’s a little scholarly, and I was surprised she chose it. I went there, we talked. We talked about our children first and then our grandchildren, and then I read to her. I just saw her nodding her head. She would ask questions. She would add something to what I was reading. I thought, “This was really nice. She can’t see these words, and I can. I need to come every week and read to her.”

Marie always sat in a chair as I came, week after week, on Wednesday at 1:00. The skin on her lower legs and feet was always red and dry, and I thought it must be uncomfortable. I asked her one day, “I’ve had a little experience with therapeutic massage. Would you mind if I got some hand lotion and just rubbed it on your legs and your feet?”

She said, “That might really feel good. I can’t reach that far down anymore.”

We did that every week. So we went from a half hour visit to an hour. And then I noticed—I was there just after lunch time, and it didn’t seem like she and her husband had ever had lunch. So I said, “Can I make some soup next time, and then we’ll visit first?”

And then her husband joined us and enjoyed the lunch with us. And he said, “Those foot massages sure look nice.”

I just felt a little uncomfortable, but I said, “Well, Mel, did you want a foot rub too?”

He said, “Well, if you have time.” So I rubbed both of their feet that day, and I thought about it while I was working with him—he was sitting there day after day watching his wife die. He needed care as much as she did.

The last day I went—I don’t know how long we did this, five or six months—I felt like it would be the last time I would see her. And when I got there, she was sitting in a wheelchair with her head down, and she wasn’t speaking at all. I didn’t know if she was conscious. But I whispered in her ear to see if I could rub her feet. I knew I couldn’t read to her.

She said, “Not today.”

I said, “Well, why would that be, Marie? I know you enjoy it.”

She said, “No one was here to help me shower today, and my feet may not be perfectly clean.”

I said, “Well, that doesn’t bother me, but if you are worried about it, can I get some warm water and a nice soft rag and I’ll wash your leg and feet and then do it.”

She just gave a little half-hearted nod. When I got the things from the kitchen, I came in and knelt on a little pillow on the floor in front of her, wringed out the rag with warm water, and started washing Marie’s feet. I don’t think I’ve ever had a feeling come over me like I had at that moment—like I was doing the most important thing in the world at that moment and that I needed my heart to be changed so I could continue this, to find others to serve, because that was the real happiness of life.

I knew as the tears rolled down my cheeks—I was glad she couldn’t see me—I knew I was feeling something at least akin to what the Savior felt when he performed that ordinance for His disciples. It was necessary to cement their relationship.

As I finished that day, I knew it was the last time, I was pretty sure. I wept as I left. I gave her a kiss and told her I would see her next week, and she said, “Maybe.” Marie passed away two days later.

I’m supposed to say something noteworthy. I just want to say that I recommend our bishop’s challenge to you: to thoughtfully and prayerfully think of someone around you who is in need and do something for them that is a sacrifice. And you will experience a whole new depth of meaning in your life. You will come to crave those experiences, as I did.

When I worked with her, I couldn’t help but think when of that song from Les Misérables  that has this line: “To love another person is to see the face of God.”[7] That’s how I felt it was for me.

After she passed away, I didn’t visit anyone for a while, and I thought, “No. I can’t forget what I have learned. Who do I visit?” Right across the street was a neighbor my age who had traveled the world, a wonderful, productive person in her life who was now bound to her home, on oxygen with blood clots in her lungs. And I had not thought yet to go and visit her every week.

When I started doing that, she said, “Oh, come every week, please. You bring the world to me.” And her testimony and the things that we talk about bring the Spirit to me.

My greatest joy in song writing is bearing testimony of Jesus Christ. I would think that 75% or more of my songs do that in some fashion. I testify that the Lord will magnify our talents as we try. My talent was simple. I just wrote down a goal when I started to add to the simple music of the Church, and I wrote a specific goal that I hope the Primary children someday would sing one of my songs.

That’s how it starts. And Elder Ballard said it’s important to write it down, and to put what we write where we can see it.[8] Our subconscious will start working, and the universe will start turning in our favor to accomplish the thing that we want to do, if it’s a worthy goal. I testify that through small and simple means, especially acts of service, we can bring about great results in our own lives and in others’ lives.

I testify with all my heart that music is one of the tools that gets the gospel inside of us and working. I testify that we can build the kingdom through our talents. Our talents bring us happiness and give us focus in life, and it’s through our talents that we serve others. It’s all important that we find the things that God has blessed us with—the abilities—and use them in the service of others.

Before we sing, I’d just like to close with my testimony that I know God lives, and that He loves us, and that He’ll bless our efforts to build the kingdom through our talents.

Now, I’d like you to all sing with me again. It’s just a simple version of the EFY medley that we don’t need to learn. You’ll be singing with our family on the recording, and when I’m conducting, the women will sing the first verse of “As Sisters in Zion.”[9] When my husband is conducting, it will be “Army of Helaman.”[10] Then we’ll sing all together. At the end, we’ll cut you off, and you’ll just hear a little final tag with our children singing.

We’ve loved being here with you today, to feel your spirit. We wish you the best in all of the important things that you are pursuing. You’re right at the beginning, and I can testify to you that in spite of all the ups and downs in life, it’s a good life. Some people think that we may have the charmed life. Trust me, we have had sorrows too that we wondered if we could ever recover from. Keep your eye on the prize—life eternal—and it will all be worth it. You’ll learn all you need as you go along to win that prize. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

As sisters in Zion, we’ll all work together;

The blessings of God on our labors we’ll seek.

We’ll build up his kingdom with earnest endeavor;

We’ll comfort the weary and strengthen the weak.

 

We have been born, as Nephi of old,

To goodly parents who love the Lord.

We have been taught, and we understand,

That we must do as the Lord commands.

 

We are as the army of Helaman.

We have been taught in our youth.

And we will be the Lord’s missionaries

To bring the world his truth.

 

As sisters in Zion,

To bring the world his truth.

 

[1] Boyd K. Packer, “The Arts and Spirit of the Lord,” BYU Speeches, Feb. 1, 1976.

[2] “I am a Child of God,” Children’s Songbook, p. 2–3.

[3] “The Church of Jesus Christ,” Children’s Songbook, p. 77.

[4] M. Russell Ballard, “Be Anxiously Engaged,” Oct. 2012 General Conference.

[5] See Sheri L. Dew, Go Forward with Faith: The Biography of Gordon B. Hinckley. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1996, ix.

[6] M. Catherine Thomas, Light in the Wilderness: Explorations in the Spiritual Life, Utah: Amalphi Publishing, 2008.

[7] Herbert Kretzmer, “Epilogue (Finale),” Les Misérables (musical).

[8] See M. Russell Ballard, “Do Things That Make a Difference,” Ensign, Jun. 1983.

[9] “As Sisters in Zion,” Hymns, no. 309.

[10] “We’ll Bring the World His Truth (Army of Helaman),” Children’s Songbook, 172–173.

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