Janice Kapp Perry: 'The Power of a Simple Song'


"We who have the gospel of Jesus Christ have something to sing about," said music composer Janice Kapp Perry on Friday, Sept. 16, during the Evenings at the Museum lecture held at the Church History Museum.

Sister Perry recalled that Lloyd D. Newell, announcer for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Music and the Spoken Word, said that it didn't matter that one had a perfect voice, just that they had something to sing about.

"A simple gospel truth when it is combined with an appealing melody is one of the greatest teachers we will ever have in our lives," Sister Perry said.

Photo by Caresa Alexander

She quoted President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve who once said, "We are able to feel and learn very quickly through music ... some spiritual things that we would otherwise learn very slowly."

Sister Perry noted that Primary music presents the gospel in a simple and direct way and that it is usually the music from Primary that is remembered more than anything else. She hopes people never outgrow their love for Primary songs and shared stories of "The Power of a Simple Song."

In 1999 Sister Perry and her husband, Doug, were injured in an automobile accident that neither expected to survive. Sister Perry was hemorrhaging in her neck and needed a scan. The pain was so intense that she didn't think she could make it through the 30-minute process. She prayed earnestly to Heavenly Father for His help to get through the scan and to her mind came these words from her song, "A Child's Prayer."

Photo by Caresa Alexander

Pray, he is there;

Speak, he is list'ning.

You are his child;

His love now surrounds you.

"I've always been grateful that there was something there for me to hold onto," said Sister Perry of that experience. "That is why we want to get the Primary songs and the hymns of the Church inside of the family members, working for them so that in moments of temptation or decision those things can come forth and strengthen them."

Photo by Caresa Alexander

Sister Perry has a great love for sports and admits she is competitive. When she was around 40, she had "two lucky breaks." The first break was to her ankle in a sports injury, the second break was the Perrys' television. Brother Perry noted that the injuries were getting serious and suggested she find something else that would give her fulfillment. Soon after that recommendation, the Perrys' bishop asked Sister Perry to write music for their ward road show. As she could not participate in sports and there was no television to watch during her recovery, Sister Perry tuned her focus to writing music. She realized that she loved writing the music to the road show and knew that was what she wanted to do. As a goal, Sister Perry wrote that she wanted to contribute to the music of the Church and she hoped the Primary children would sing one of her songs one day.

Photo by Caresa Alexander

After writing several songs, Craig Jessop, then music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, called and asked if the choir could use "Love Is Spoken Here" as a title song for a new album. Included in the album would be "A Child's Prayer" and "I'm Trying to Be Like Jesus."

"There is some power in writing down a goal," Sister Perry noted.

Brother Perry made another suggestion that would continue to fulfill Sister Perry's goal of contributing music to the Church, but this was one that would take Sister Perry beyond her comfort level; try out for the Tabernacle Choir.

Photo by Caresa Alexander

"I can't do that with this average voice," Sister Parry recalled thinking. But she didn't let the fear overcome her. She completed a written test and sent in a tape of her singing, then heard nothing for two years. In her journal, Sister Perry wrote that she tried out for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and made it two-thirds of the way. She considered it a victory. Soon after that journal entry she received a letter that requested an in-person audition.

"Kicking and screaming," Brother Perry called from the side, as Sister Perry noted that he pulled her though the door to the audition. About 10 days after the audition, Sister Perry received the call to be in the choir. She laughed as she noticed that her name was at the top of a list of new members who would need to be brought up to speed.

"My fears almost kept me from five and a half years of the most glorious musical experience on this earth," Sister Perry said.

Brother and Sister Perry had another glorious experience as they served in the Chile Santiago West Mission.

Photo by Caresa Alexander

They organized a choir in a local area and Sister Perry noted that they had a hard time getting everybody in unison because the group had never had accompaniment. But still the group did their best under the gentle tutelage of the Perrys.

"Hermana, are we as good as the Tabernacle Choir?" Sister Perry recalled one sweet sister's question. "I said, 'I'm sure when we have been singing as long as they have we'll be every bit as good.' I didn't tell her that was [since 1847]."

Sister Perry also led several sing-alongs during the lecture and the audience joined with enthusiasm. Her music continues to touch the lives of many as she brings the simple gospel truth to beloved melodies. She wrote the music for the new Book of Mormon themed song "Two Thousand Stripling Warriors," with lyrics by Bonnie Hart Murray. The song will be printed in the special edition of the October Ensign and Liahona.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed