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Episode 136: Prolific songwriter Janice Kapp Perry on sharing her testimony of the Savior through her music

Janice Kapp Perry, who has written numerous Latter-day Saint Primary songs and hymns, shares the story of her life and works on the Church News podcast

Janice Kapp Perry has composed 3,000 songs and hymns beloved by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her well-known repertoire includes Primary hymns, “A Child’s Prayer,” “I Love To See the Temple” and “I’m Trying To Be Like Jesus.”  She started her music career later in life after two lucky breaks — a broken TV and an injury — took her from the sports court to roadshow music writing.

Her work has been featured in the Church hymnbook and Primary songbook and translated and sung around the world. From 1993 to 1999 she performed with The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, often singing her own music. In 2020, Brigham Young University conferred upon her an honorary degree, a Doctor of Christian Service in Music. Her acceptance speech, “Filling the World With Music of Faith,” was posted online due to the pandemic.

Janice Kapp Perry joins this episode of the Church News podcast to discuss the power of music, sharing her testimony of the Savior and the profound lessons she has learned during her remarkable and varied life. 

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Transcript:

Janice Kapp Perry: I know that the Lord will use us, even if we have not much talent, because I didn’t know I had any talent for writing music. And, yet, I followed the direction the Church gave me to write [in] my own little corner of the world. And so I thought, “Oh, great idea.” And I did just that and I started writing songs. Anything that the children can sing in a song will have much more staying power and my heart was just in it. And so, I only knew that they were going to be sung in the primary in our stake. But it did catch on. So my testimony has just never been a question. It’s just this total knowledge, that from everything I hear and feel, and especially when I write about it, I feel it. And it’s me, it’s in me, in me and through me and means everything to me.

1:19  

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Janice Kapp Perry has composed 3,000 songs and hymns beloved by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her well-known repertoire includes primary hymns, “A Child’s Prayer,” “I Love to See the Temple” and “I’m Trying to Be like Jesus.” She joins this episode of the Church News podcast to talk about the power of music, sharing her testimony of the Savior and the lessons she has learned during her remarkable life. Welcome, Sister Perry, to the Church News podcast.

Janice Kapp Perry: Thank you, Sarah.

2:05

Sarah Jane Weaver: It is such a pleasure to have you here. You are one of the women I have looked up to my entire life even though we have never yet met until today.

Janice Kapp Perry: OK, thank you.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I’m hoping that you can just start today and talk to us about how you came to love music, because so many of the people who will be listening to this podcast, came to love music by listening to your music.

2:33  

Janice Kapp Perry: OK, a brief history of the beginning of my life goes like this: I was born in Ogden, [Utah], at a time when the Church was encouraging people to move away and build up Zion. And so three of our families, my mother and her two brothers and their families, all moved to Oregon to do just that. I was just baptized the night before we left; I left all my sins behind in Ogden, and we went to some unknown destination to start a new life.

Our home was always full of music. My parents played in a dance band from the time I can remember — drums and piano — and they played for every single dance in school and Church that I ever attended. So that kind of music was really fun for me. Back then it was waltzes, foxtrots and line dances. But, oh, they were good. They played all over Ogden for a while and then started in Oregon.

Our home was always full of music. My siblings and I were a mixed quartet. And so we loved to sing and play our instruments around the piano. Mother taught me piano and my older brother, Jack, taught me to fast pitch and love every sport. So I pitched for Church and city teams until I was 40. My parents taught us that the main goal was to get good grades and go to BYU and earn a scholarship.

4:10  

Sarah Jane Weaver: I think that’s every parent’s goal for their children.

Janice Kapp Perry: It was, definitely. So, my brother, Jack, was first and he graduated in engineering; my brother Gary in art; my sister, Anne, and I both studied music. Mother taught me, also, to love BYU sports early. We lived on a farm and she would go out in the cold of winter and sit in her car to listen to a static-filled BYU football game. She would warm up the car a little and then turn it off. So she just wouldn’t miss a game. And it was not good reception, but I started going out there with her and I got the same love for BYU sports long before I was there. I became a lifetime BYU sports fan. I have autographed footballs in my office now — six of them — by all the main coaches and all the main quarterbacks who started. My children are wondering which one they’re going to get. So am I.

Bronco Mendenhall invited me to speak to the football team on my 70th birthday. He didn’t know it was, but it was [my birthday]. And that was kind of a real highlight of my life. He gave me a white football signed by him. And at that time, the theme song for the football team was, “We’ll bring the world His truth,” Army of Helaman, and they sang it at their firesides that they did during as his term. They went around and gave firesides.

5:46  

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I hope they sing “Happy Birthday” to you as well.

Janice Kapp Perry: They did after I told them it was my birthday. So I got to know several coaches a little bit and the latest was Kalani Sitake. He spent a whole hour with me in his office, giving me some memorabilia and he said, “I can tell you understand football. Let’s go talk football for a minute.” And he said, “Do you have anything you want to get off your chest?” And I said, “Well, I did wonder in that last game why you went for it on fourth down when it was just not the time you normally would and we didn’t make it.” He said, “You and every other person that loves BYU football wonder about that.” But he was really sweet.

And during my BYU years, I had wonderful music theory teachers — Clawson Cannon and Quentin Nordgren — and I played percussion in the band and sometimes in the orchestra. In a clarinet workshop my sophomore year, there was a handsome returned missionary and just before I was to play my midterm exam on the clarinet, I was sucking on the reed and getting ready to soften it and play. And he nudged me and I said, “What do you want? I’m next. I’m getting ready to play.” And he said, “I was just thinking those lips were made for something better than playing the clarinet.” I promptly forgot everything I knew about the clarinet and squeaked and squawked my way through and went by his office afterwards and said, “Why did you say that right when I was supposed to play?” He said, “I just had to. The moment was there.” So that nice man turned out to be my husband about a year from then, Douglas Perry.

Backtracking a little bit into my in my high school years, I received the Music Directors Award, the Sportsman of the Year Award, Girl of the Year, and I just had to decide what to do at BYU and my mom convinced me that music is a better occupation than sports and it was true. Nothing was happening for BYU sports in the 1950s — ‘56 when I went there. There’s wonderful things now I keep thinking, “Oh, if I had [the teams they have now] back then, I maybe could have played like them on real teams.” And anyway, I did whatever I could in intramurals at BYU, but that was all.

As I mentioned, Doug and I were married in the fall of ‘58 and he had to go into the service. He was going to be drafted at the time of our wedding. So he decided to enlist so he could get a better choice of where to go. He wanted to go to the army language school and study Russian. So we had three years after the end of my sophomore year where he was in the service and I was not at BYU. We had our first child at Fort Ord, Steven. We had one more after his term, back at BYU when he was majoring in Russian. And we had two more boys that were born in Indiana in his graduate school studies. One you met today, that’s John, and the other was Richard and he just lived for eight hours, because they hadn’t solved the Rh factor problem until just after I had already had children and was sensitized to it. So the later ones had to have blood exchanges and extra help. So we have one safely in the Celestial Kingdom and we are working on the others.

After our years in Indiana, in graduate school, we returned to Utah. He had three years in the Army Security Agency. He spent 15 months of them in Japan and I went home with my first child to live with my parents for 15 months. And play ball there on the old city teams and Church teams.

Janice Kapp Perry with her family around the piano at her home in Provo, Utah.
Janice Kapp Perry with her family at her home in Provo, Utah. Janice (seated), her daughter Lynne Christofferson, husband Douglas and her three sons, John, Steve and Robb, Nov. 18, 2004. | Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

10:09  

Sarah Jane Weaver: So you have these amazing kids and this great husband. What has it been like for you to be a wife and a mother?

Janice Kapp Perry: That was pretty much my only goal in coming to BYU, truth be known — find a good husband, start my family. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do in music. I worked in the potato sheds every summer to pay for BYU and my father said, “Well, why don’t you get piano lessons or something in your field?” And I said, “Well, I like working in potato sheds.” And he said, “What are you going to do with the musical training, then, that you’re receiving at BYU? I’m curious.” And I said, “I don’t know really know, Dad, but I do know, I will do something with music and I promise you.” He said, “OK.” And I did not ever get back to school.

11:06  

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, well, your life combines the things so many of us love most, which is BYU athletics, and a love for sports, and everything that is loving and caring for family and then this love of the gospel of Jesus Christ and of music. So about the age of 40, you come to a hinge point in your life where you have played sports. You have been on all these recreation teams and suddenly, you have what I’ve heard you refer to as “two lucky breaks.” Can you tell me what happened and what sort of turns you in a direction where you started composing music?

11:46  

Janice Kapp Perry: Oh yeah. Our TV broke, actually, for quite a while. We didn’t have any distractions. And I was trying to do the same things with my kids to have them learn instruments and sing together and so forth. And the other part was that I broke my ankle playing basketball with my nephew — playing a game, of “Horse” — and I jumped up to make a jump shot. I came down on his ankle, which broke mine. So I was in a cast. And it was very painful.

And this is exactly when I got to writing music, because the next day after I got the cast on, the bishop came by and said, “I’m just check on you. How are you doing?” I said, “Well, I’ll be laid up for a while.” And he said, “Well, that brings me to my next question. While you’re laid up, would you write original music for our roadshow?” I said, “What makes you think I can write music?” He said, “It’s just a feeling. You’ve been going to school at BYU.” And I said, “Well, I’m hurting a little right now. What’s the deadline?” And he said, “Oh there’s time.” And he said, “I want it all music, 15 minutes of music, because that’s what the audience likes. And if we have original music, we get extra points and we want to beat this certain ward.” Nobody knows about that, but it was pretty competitive. It was my brother’s ward.

So I said, “I’ll think about it, but I don’t know.” So my husband got me a manuscript book and some pencils. And he found a way to prop my foot up on something so it wouldn’t hurt so much. And I started writing all the music for the roadshow. And something magic started in me. I just thought, “Oh my gosh, this is fun to not write science for school, but to just write fun music.” He wanted it upbeat. And so I just kept writing, and writing and writing till all the music for the roadshow was done. I said, “You need to get someone else to write the connecting script and to direct it. I am no good at that.” Anyway, we did it and we won first place. We had the award for Best Music and my brother had the award for best (he’s a BYU and Church artist, Gary Kapp) and he got the award for Best Scenery. So we were both happy.

So the second year I did it again — the roadshow. And Merrill Jensen, we all know Merrill, the wonderful arranger for the Church. He was our stake roadshow director. So Merrill said, “It’s time we recorded your music, not the roadshow, not the roadshow, real music.” And I said, “I don’t think we can afford it. How much is it?” He said, “If I go to California, I can do it for $1,000, a rhythm track. And we’ll come back here, Randy Booth’s singers, for Young Ambassadors. You have children in that group. He’ll provide the singers for you.” So he said, “I think I could get him to do it for 10,000.” I said, “Well, I don’t have $10,000. So end of story.” He said, “No, borrow $1,000 from 10 friends for one year and pay them back a little higher interest. I said, “Oh, I can’t do that. What if we couldn’t pay it back?” He said, “I guarantee you will.” I hated it, but I found five people that would do it. And my mother believed for $5,000.

So he went down there and recorded it with a nice rhythm section, came back and it was a 78 LP. And that’s all, at first. And when I put that on and played it, I was just, it was magic to me. I just couldn’t believe it. Randy Booth came in, brought his good singers. He was the vocal coach. .... And we were on our way. The first album was “Where Is Heaven?”  and Steve sang on it. And my oldest son. They’ve all been in Young Ambassadors and at that time it was him. He and his friend, Brad Wilcox. They both sang on the album and Randy helped us all through that.

I forgot to mention the very first thing I did. Writing music for the Church was writing one single song, “I’ll Follow Jesus.” And Doug took the kids and went for the day and I wrote music to it. … And when he came home, I had written the words and the music to “I’ll Follow Jesus.” And I said, “Do you want to hear it?” And he said, “Kids, come on and sit down mom’s written song. We’re gonna listen.” And so they listened all the way through and nobody said anything. And I looked up at my husband and he was wiping tears from his eyes. He said, “That’s the start of something big, Sweetheart. And I’m gonna support you all the way.”

My older brother, Jack, paid to have it published. My younger brother, Gary, the artist, gave me a picture to put on the front of the cover. One piece of sheet music. I took it around, let’s see, this had to be in the early 70s. I took it around to bookstores and music stores. They had nothing by LDS writers at that time, except Lex de Azevedo, at that time, was doing his show, the biggie, “Saturday’s Warrior,” and my son was in it. He was in the choir and later went on a tour with it. So, he was the only one writing except for a lady in Mesa, Arizona, and all the stores were just wanting something by [Latter-day Saint artists]. There was no one back then. And so I just kept replenishing and reprinting and everything. And we made the money to support one of our son’s missions. And Steve sang on it, so he was helping to support his mission. And that’s how we got started with Merrill’s help. And he arranged everything for us for quite some time and we had several other arrangers.

18:51

Sarah Jane Weaver: I just want to read a few of the words from that song, because I know exactly how your husband felt. When you wrote, “The Lord has blessed me with gospel truth, I have learned his ways in my early youth.” And so much of your music has these gospel truths that have been embedded in so many people’s hearts as they have sung those words. How do you write a song that is a manifestation of your faith? When you write music, how do you decide what to write about?

19:25 

Janice Kapp Perry: I usually do a lot of thinking, away from the piano, about subjects that I love. And many of them that later followed were assignments. And, in fact, most of the children’s songs that I wrote on that album were assignments. But when I actually sit at the piano, well, I kneel at the piano. I know that I need help. And I always can feel a difference if I skip that step. So I don’t know. I wrote the poem sitting down. That’s how I do it now, too. And the music kind of takes shape. And I go to the piano to get it written down. But I don’t know. ....

20:14 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Those words are so beautiful, as are so many of the things that you write. I heard an interview with you years ago, where you said, “We, who have the gospel of Jesus Christ, have something to think about.”

Janice Kapp Perry: Yes.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I love that idea. Can you tell us about what it means to you to celebrate knowing the gospel of Jesus Christ?

20:39  

Janice Kapp Perry: It’s about as happy an occupation as you can be part of. I just came to it kind of gradually, but I felt a great interest in writing children’s songs first. Well, I sent some of my songs into the Church. I’ll have to tell you this, and they said, “We get so much music. We can’t really deal with it. Just brighten your own little corner of the world and if it’s good, we’ll hear about it.” That was Brother Michael Moody, our music chairman, whom I adore, but a close friend. And so I thought, “Oh, great idea.” And I did just that. And I started writing songs as an assignment. Because of the roadshow, I did start getting requests to write songs. It started with some Young Women’s songs, and mostly Primary, and I had had a real inclination to focus on Primary songs, because they’re just short, and I just feel like anything that the children can sing in a song will have much more staying power. And my heart was just in it.

So one of the songs was —one of the first ones was — “I Love to See the Temple.” And our stake Relief Society president, they wanted to have a five minute temple time at the beginning of every Primary that year. And she asked if I would write something that we could sing during that time. And I loved that assignment.

So when I was growing up, we had no temple in Oregon, but when we went as high school students to the temple, it was Idaho Falls. And every time we came around that corner and you see that beautiful temple, the thought just came to my mind, “I love to see the temple.” And I thought, “Oh, I’ll call it that,” because I do. And so I wrote that song. And a lot of my songs won a prize in a Church contest, but I can’t remember all of them; I think that was one of them.

22:51  

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I have traveled all over the world on assignments for the Church News. And I have heard the song, “I Love to See the Temple,” sung in so many different languages, in the Pacific, in Asia, at temples in different European countries and in those respective languages. Did you have any glimpse that the words you were composing would someday be played around the world, very literally?

23:19  

Janice Kapp Perry: I only knew that we were going to be sung in the Primary on our stake, but it did catch on. I think it was published in “The Friend” and that helped. “I Love to See the Temple”: it reminds me of the baby we lost, you know, because we’re sealed in that temple. And we mentioned that he’s ours. And we have that to look forward to. We have one for sure in the Celestial Kingdom.

Robert Barrett, the artist, was our stake, our ward, and before we went on our mission later in life, Doug and I had him paint a picture of all five of our children, with the one in white. They were all teenagers. And so I said, “Create him to fit with them and look like my boys and my husband.” And he’s in a white suit and the others are in dark, and that’s a treasure. So that’s why I love to see the temple. And that phrase, one of the sweetest stories I heard was one of President Gordon B. Hinckley’s daughters was traveling with him and his wife to a dedication of a temple in a foreign land. And she showed me a picture later. I thought she said, “800 Children in white.” I don’t know if that can be right, but it looked like it, singing “I Love to See the Temple” in their language.

24:51  

Sarah Jane Weaver: What a beautiful, beautiful imagery. I think one of the other songs that I’ve heard in other countries and children sing in different lands, is “A Child’s Prayer.” Can you tell us how that song came about?

25:08  

Janice Kapp Perry: As a little background: I had written a song like it for adults, because right when I started writing music, my hand curled up like this, and my wrist pulled down and I couldn’t play. And I had a really bad year, till I got used to it and found ways around it and had blessings that it would be well, according to my faith. I really tried, but I’ve learned something about faith from some of the 40 doctors that I went to, to try to find a solution for my hand already — 40 of the specialists for hands and then just osteopath specialists, and then quacks that thought they could heal anything. I tried them all, 40 of them. And I went to the hospital at University of Utah for a week. Every one of them said, “If you stick with me, you know, for a little time we can solve this.” And every one of them said, at the end, “We can’t solve it and you’ll have to just live with it. We don’t even know what it is, or why it happens.”

I think I know, but I had been typing hard for university students and professors at three different universities, Indiana, and BYU and Utah State, where we lived. And it was hard typing long dissertations. I think it’s repetitive strains. And one day, I just couldn’t hold that hand up and I couldn’t control these fingers. I thought, “I’m done.” So here’s how I still kind of play the piano like this. But I don’t have to play in public. There’s plenty of people that can do that. I just kind of go slow or something to get it written down.

And so I wrote this song called, “Lord, Are You There? Do you hear my prayer?” And it’s a two part song for adults. And it was comforting me. I wanted [the Lord] to come for me, I guess and what He might say to me. And so I thought, “Why not do something like that for children, because they’re just learning to pray and they may wonder if Heavenly Father is really there.” And so I thought, “Oh, that will be the first line — ‘Heavenly Father, are you really there?’” And I don’t know. I just had my heart in that song so much. And it’s been sung more than any other songs of mine.

27:50 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well you have 10 Children Songs in the Church’s “Children’s Songbook,” as well as so many hymns.

27:59 

Janice Kapp Perry: The song, “A Child’s Prayer,” just people go through things. And somehow it just hit a spot with everyone. A few years ago, LDS Living Magazine did a vast survey of the 100 most popular LDS songs of all time. And I thought, “Oh, I wish mine would make it, make somewhere there. Someone called me up and said, “Did you know that ‘A Child’s Prayer’ is number one?” And I said, “Number one?” I said, “That can’t be. I know all the other beautiful music that’s been written.” And she said, “Well call up the magazine and see.” I did call them. I said, “My friend, was she joking?” She said, “That was number one.” She said, “Indeed, it was, won by a landslide.” And later when I was in the Tabernacle Choir, they asked me to write a page that would come before the song, an introduction to it. Craig Jessup asked me to write it. And so I did write that and they recorded it with that additional. And when they sang it. Well, I heard the Tabernacle Choir singing my little song. I couldn’t even sing. I was moving my mouth, but I couldn’t sing. And I was just praying the camera wasn’t on me and I found out later it was.

29:31  

Sarah Jane Weaver: What an amazing moment. There’s this song that comes from your own hardship. You have a hand that’s not working the way you want. You can’t do what you want to do, which is play music. And a song becomes a prayer and then it has such global impact that it becomes everyone’s favorite song. I’m delighted also that you mentioned you were in the choir. You served in the choir. 

Janice Kapp Perry: I was there from ‘93 to ‘99.

30:00 

Sarah Jane Weaver: Tell us about that experience.

Janice Kapp Perry: I always wanted to try out, but I just thought, “No, I don’t have that kind of voice, but I sight read music. I know, that’s part of it.” And I just didn’t and didn’t. And then I was in a swimming pool one day with Myra Riplinger, the assistant director’s wife, Don Riplinger. And I said, “Ah, I’m just so tempted to try for the choir.” And she said, “Do it, do it.” She said, “They really need sight readers and I know you can do that well.” And so I thought about it. I found what you had to do. I passed the written test. And went up with about 70 other people. Then they said, “The next step will be the in-person audition.” I said to my husband, “I’m not going. My voice is so ordinary.” And he said, “Well, you don’t know. They don’t like voices that stand out.” He said, “They like blendy voices and you have one.” And I said, “OK, will you go with me?” And I got up there, I heard this beautiful voice auditioning before me. And I said, “I am not going in now. Let’s just go.” And “This was a pipe dream.” And he said, “You are here and you are going through with it.” And they opened the door right then and he pushed me through it and came in with me.

31:34  

Sarah Jane Weaver: And the rest is history, because from 1993 to 1999 you performed with the choir.

Janice Kapp Perry: When I first came to the choir, they sent me down to work with JoAnn Ottley for a few weeks, down under the [Tabernacle] where they were rehearsing. And she helped me, but I said to her, “JoAnn, how did I get in a choir level with me?” And she said, “Oh, well, you have a true voice. And they don’t like vibratos. Your sight reading was spot on and that’s really important.” So she said, “Just be at peace and enjoy the experience.” And I did for six years, still wondering how I got there.

32:19  

Sarah Jane Weaver: What I love about you, Sister Perry, is that you have this name that is recognized by so many in the Church. Yet you seem like your nature is a little bit shy.

Janice Kapp Perry: Yeah, it is. I feel very ordinary and it’s been hard to deal with some of the things that came along with it.

32:42  

Sarah Jane Weaver: So, for all of us who feel ordinary, you have led this life, where you just sort of did the next thing that someone asked you to do

Janice Kapp Perry: That’s exactly right

Sarah Jane Weaver: And accomplish something very extraordinary.

Janice Kapp Perry: Well, you are asking me about that. I’m going to change the subject.

33:06 

Sarah Jane Weaver: OK, I’ll, I’ll change the subject, but BYU did honor you a few years ago with an honorary doctorate, acknowledging that what you have done has touched people in an extraordinary way. Now, this is a school that you love their sports, you listened to their football games as a child in Oregon from the car with your mom. Recall what it was like at that moment to stand up at BYU and get that recognition.

33:33 

Janice Kapp Perry: Well, it was kind of an ordinary experience that turned into something more. President Kevin Worthen lives two houses north of us. I had my second stroke and was just home from the hospital and my speech was coming along, but not too well. And I needed a walker to walk. He said, “Can we come over and visit you for a minute?” And I thought, “Well, that’s really nice for them to come over and visit me with all they have to do.” And we talked for quite a while and he asked how I was. He said, “But I’m really here on official business.” I said, “Really? What could that be?” And he said, “BYU wants to award you an honorary doctor degree for your service and music.” And I was dumbfounded. I, said, “Did I hear right?” I said, “How did that happen?” He said, “Your son John wrote to us and he said, ‘Do you ever give just an honorary degree from BYU?’” And he said, “Well, yes, we sometimes do.” He said, he just meant a regular degree. Kelvin said, “The committee was just meeting to decide on a person to receive the honorary doctorate degree and so I sent it over to them. And they came back, saying that you were the one they chose.” I mean, I just cried. I just thought, “Well, BYU, I love you.”

I mean, they’ve been so good to me that they did a 90 minute video of my life. They have. I don’t know, I’ve loved BYU, always. And I said, “But realistically, you see how I am right now? Do I have to do anything at graduation?” He said, “You just need to walk up there and receive your award and give a speech. We want you to prepare a talk of some length.” And I said, “Right now I couldn’t walk up there and I couldn’t speak clearly enough.” He said, “It’s a couple of months away. I bet you’ll be better.” And I first heard about that. And I finally wrote the talk. I thought, “Am I going to use a walker to go up there? No.” I did write it and got it all already. And I had heard graduation was canceled for COVID. And I called their office and said, “I don’t have to speak, do I?” And they said, “No, but write to talk. We do want to publish it.” I said, “Well, I’ve done that.” “Yeah, that will be good. I can hand it to you.”

36:27  

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I’ll tell you what we are going to do. We will link to that talk from this podcast copy. And we’ll also include some pictures of you and President Kevin Worthen when he presents you with the honorary degree.

BYU President Kevin J Worthen awards Janice Kapp Perry with the Honorary Doctor of Christian Service in Music award in her kitchen.
BYU President Kevin J Worthen awards Janice Kapp Perry with the Honorary Doctor of Christian Service in Music award in her kitchen in April 2020. | Courtesy Janice Kapp Perry

Janice Kapp Perry: I love that picture.

Sarah Jane Weaver: I love that picture too.

Janice Kapp Perry: He’s got gloves on and a mask.

36:47  

Sarah Jane Weaver: It was such a hard time, but that picture became a bright light for many of us. Tell us about some of the struggles you’ve had with your health. It had to be frustrating to try and recover after having a stroke.

37:03 

Janice Kapp Perry: The first stroke I had was just out of the blue. I’d watched the 24th of July parade on TV and came in to write some music and all of a sudden, something just came down. And I called for my husband and John who were both there and John lifted me onto the bed and called ... the ambulance. And I don’t remember much after that; I was in the hospital for some time learning to try to walk and talk. And finally I came home and Doug got me, a walker with wheels and one that you can sit down on if you can’t make it any farther. And I said “Oh, I can’t use that yet.” And he said, “Yes, you can, because you’ve got feeling in your hands and the bottom of your feet.” They said that made all a difference in my being able to walk. But it left me with a right leg that is numb, except there’s some feeling on the bottom.

I just gradually recovered. And a few years later, John and I were planning to go on a trip together to do firesides in Panama and Chile where he served our mission and where his mission companion was a mission president now in Vina del Mar. So I prepared all my talks in Spanish. And we were ready to go to do three or four firesides for the Church and the missionaries. It was going to be their Christmas program. And I think it was just three or four days before I had my second stroke. I was all alone that time at night, and I was watching TV and I realized something was wrong. I was past the point where I could call anyone. I had my phone on my lap. I tried to dial it. I could get one number, eight, nothing else. I couldn’t even remember what it was. And then when I remembered what, the eight was gone, and I just knew I was there for the night. So it was about 10pm to 10am. I knew John would be coming to work. And when he found me. I was there. It wasn’t terrible, you know, it was I just knew I was in trouble. 

But I was kind of in and out, in and out, not in a lot of pain. And when he found me, he said I was unconscious, kind of half on half off the couch. And he knew immediately what had happened. So he called 911. I don’t remember, then, anything for that day, nothing. But then I went to the hospital, and they did all our tests with me unconscious. And my kids were taking turns and staying six hours at a time with me. And the first thing I knew, the next morning, I was conscious of hearing and understanding what was going on. And it was the doctor saying, “Does your mother have an Advanced Directive?” And I thought, “Oh, I hope they know I do, because this would be an easy way to go, not hurting.” And they all said, “Yes, she does and she wants it honored.” ...

And so they said, “Well, then that is what we’ll do; she can’t speak or move, so we’ll just get palliative care. And I thought, “This is perfect. This is perfect.” And then the next morning, my son, Robert, was sitting with me. It was his turn. And he said, “Mom, are you awake?” And I said, “Maybe.” He said, “You moved your leg a little and you moved your hand.” He said, “See if you can do it again” And I did. And he said, “I’m going to call a doctor. And he said this is different. Let’s get you right up to the therapy ward. And we’ll have six hours of therapy for speech and walking and the balance. And we’ll just keep you here till you’re on your way.” I was coming out of it, you know to avoid where I could do it. So, a week in the hospital there and I, the day I came home was when [BYU President] Kevin [Worthen] came over.

41:44  

Sarah Jane Weaver: Wow, well, a lot of hard work, and probably a lot of prayers on your behalf had to result in a place where you wouldn’t know [you had had a stroke] today.

Janice Kapp Perry: I can tell a little in my speech here but not too bad.

42:01

Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, Sister Perry, you work with your son, John, and you have for many years. That has to have been a great blessing in your life.

42:09 

Janice Kapp Perry: Yes, he’s at a certain point, he just took over our business completely, but it’s always been a family business, like my husband. His degrees are in Russian and then he was in data processing, because computers came along. He left his job and he learned to engrave all the music. And I just, from then on, all I had to do was hand him my music and it was prepared for publication and he loved it and three of our kids have recorded our albums. We record 11 of Steve’s albums, and three of my daughter, Lynne’s. And then John just came over into completely the business part, because I was filling orders and not having any time to write. Takes care of the tax, the advertising, the promotional, all of our records for 30 years.

43:04  

Sarah Jane Weaver: And the past five years would have been a unique time for you, as well, because you lost your husband.

43:12 

Janice Kapp Perry: Yes, that’s major. He wasn’t sick very long. He’d, you know, engraved all our music for years after he finished his profession and this became his profession. But just gradually, during the six months period, he started losing his ability to remember how to do it. He had to call people who knew to help him and then one day he said, “I can’t do it for you anymore.” And that was very sad for him and me. We had a wonderful friend, Brent Jorgensen, who stepped up and said, “I’m going to take all of Doug’s files. And I can find anything you want at anytime and I’ll engrave your music.” So people have helped us all along the way.

Songwriter Janice Kapp Perry, sits at her piano in her home in Provo, Utah.
Songwriter Janice Kapp Perry, sits at her piano in her home in Provo, Utah, on Oct. 20, 2004. | Keith Johnson, Deseret News

44:02  

Sarah Jane Weaver: What I would love to talk to you about — kind of as we wind up — is why you chose to use music as a way to share your testimony.

44:13  

Janice Kapp Perry: Oh when you set something to music, it goes deeper into your heart; It has a great staying power. It makes it all different than just reading your poem. If I read you my lyrics to “A Child’s Prayer,” how much would that mean compared to hearing the singing the music? Yeah, I don’t know. I’ve always loved sacred music. This is an example of what a song means .... But I wrote, “I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ.” And I heard a lot of letters, or got a lot of letters about it, but one lady wrote and said, “I took my little girl to a shoe store to get shoes. And I let her wear patent leather. And while she was trying on shoes, the clerk said, ‘Those are pretty shoes, where do you wear them?’ She said, ‘to Church.’ And he said, ‘What Church is that?’ And she looked up at her mom, and she was five or six years old, and her mom said, ‘Remember the song?’ And she said, ‘Oh, I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.’” Well, that’s the power of music. She couldn’t remember the name of the Church, but she remembered it when it was set to music.

45:37 

Sarah Jane Weaver: I loved that the next line to that is, “I know who I am and I know God’s plan.” What an amazing thing that has been, kind of, imprinted in the hearts of our children, because of the work you’ve done. We have a tradition when we have people on the Church News podcast. And we always ask them the same question. And the question that I want to ask you today is, “What do you know now?” So Sister Perry, “What do you know now, after writing so many songs that have helped people and strengthened their faith?”

46:12  

Janice Kapp Perry: I know that the Lord will use us, even if we have not much talent, because I didn’t know I had any talent for writing music. And yet, as I followed the direction the Church gave me to write for my own little corner of the world, as they put it, [i learned] everyone can make a contribution. Because I had no special talent at that time, but everything I tried, helped me to progress. I even, eventually, recorded an album of me singing my favorite songs online. And it’s pretty good, because I’d been in the choir awhile, so it was, at least at the peak of my voice. And I never thought I would do that, but I love singing. I love singing my songs.

But, I have never wavered from my testimony of the gospel. We lived on that little farm in Oregon and we didn’t even have our own scriptures and the kids didn’t. And my mother taught us from Emma Marr Petersen’s book, “Children’s stories of the Book of Mormon.” And she read them with such passion and testified of them and sometimes she cried. And we believed her hook line and sinker. Never have any of her children strayed in the least from their full testimony of the gospel — from her and from my father, who was a good Church leader and a hard working farmer as I grew up. And Mother wrote many road shows, always won first prize. So, I inherited that too.

But when I hear people losing their testimony, I just feel like, “Pray, read, just have it revealed to you for certain, because it will be if you’re seeking earnestly.” And I still reread the Book of Mormon just over and over and all the scriptures. And now I read them in — I’m reading “Jesus the Christ,” just finishing in Spanish, because I really learned to love that language. We have eight of our albums in Spanish by native singers that are wonderful. So, a matter of testimony has just never been a question. It’s just this total knowledge that from everything I hear and feel. And especially when I write about it, I feel it. And it’s me, it’s in me — in me, and through me — and means everything to me.

49:15  

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on TheChurchNews.com.

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