The beginning of my songwriting career happened during the same year that Elder Boyd K. Packer gave his landmark address “The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord” at a twelve-stake fireside at Brigham Young University in 1976. His words went directly to my heart and gave me hope that I might make a contribution to the music of the church. He mentioned that the greatest hymns and anthems had not been composed yet and posed the question, “When they are produced, who will produce them?” Then he assured us that “Inspiration can come to those whose talents are barely adequate, and their contribution will be felt for generations. “(1)
Elder Packer further stated that, “When it is done, it will be done by one who has yearned and tried and longed fervently to do so.” I knew I had a longing in my heart to write music that would be useful in the church, and thus his words were encouraging to me. The words and music to “I Am a Child of God”—so simple and yet so profound—had inspired me through many years and I had set two goals for myself: 1) To add to the simple music of the church, and 2) To write a song that would be sung by Primary children someday. Once again, Elder Packer’s words confirmed for me that these were worthy goals, and gave me the courage to pursue them, when he said:
Some of our most gifted people struggle to produce a work of art, hoping that it will be described by the world as masterpiece! monumental! epic! when in truth the simple, compelling theme of “I Am a Child of God” has moved and will move more souls to salvation than would such a work were they to succeed. (2)
I and other composers in the church seemed to feel an impression to write children’s music during the years before the Children’s Songbook came to light. It felt as though the Lord was preparing the way so the music would be ready when needed. Several of my children’s songs that were later published in this songbook were written for events or purposes in my own stake, and others were written to enter church songwriting contests. A few were written at the request of the committee compiling the songbook.
A few of my children’s songs hold a very special place in my heart, and “A Child’s Prayer” is one of them. We are all human and occasionally wonder in difficult moments if the Lord is really there to hear and answer our prayers. During a moment of frustration over a seemingly unanswered prayer, I wrote the song “Lord, Are You There,” and a short time later I wrote a child’s version of the song, ”A Child’s Prayer.” People often ask me which is my favorite of all the songs I have written and I never hesitate in naming this song. I thought it might be interesting to outline the evolution of this song through three decades of time.
Recorded on One of Our Children’s Albums
We first recorded “A Child’s Prayer” in 1987. The child’s part was sung by little Jonathan Best, and the adult part was sung by our daughter, Lynne Perry (Christofferson). Right from the beginning people seemed to gravitate toward that song, which seemed to help them through trials. The many letters we received were heartwarming. To know something you have written has been meaningful to others is every songwriter’s hope.
Published in the Primary Children’s Songbook
“A Child’s Prayer” was printed in one of the church magazines after their Annual Songwriting Contest. Later when it was chosen for the Primary Children’s Songbook it was translated into many languages. It seemed that people everywhere responded to the question, “Heavenly Father, are you really there?” because we all have those moments when our faith lags and heaven seems far away. I hope they also feel an affirmation of faith in the closing words, “Pray, He is there! Speak, He is list’ning! You are His child, His love now surrounds you.”
Recorded by Pianist Marvin Goldstein
In 1995, pianist Marvin Goldstein, a popular Education Week performer at BYU, and a Jewish convert to the church recorded an instrumental version of “A Child’s Prayer” accompanied by full orchestra. I love his style and this is one of my favorite versions of the song. As one Education Week attendee said after one of his concerts, “We may not actually hear the words to this song as he plays so eloquently, but we know the words and they are running through our minds with great power as he plays.” Marvin tells in his classes how the Primary songs of the church (including this one) first touched his heart and led him to investigate the gospel sincerely and eventually join the church.
Sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
The song seemed to grow in popularity through a decade of time and was eventually sung by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on their weekly broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word during the time I was a member of the choir (1993-1999). Craig Jessop, Associate Choir Director, asked me to write a few bars of introduction to the song, and this new part was added at the beginning of the song, for the first time. I was overwhelmed with emotion to think my simple song was being sung by this marvelous choir and hoped the camera would not focus on my tear-filled eyes.
Recorded by Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Later, in 2005, the choir recorded three of my Primary songs on the album “Love Is Spoken Here:” The title song, plus ”I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus,” and also “A Child’s Prayer.” I could never have imagined this when I began with such simple expectations two decades earlier. Truly, my joy was full!
I have written this article for a few reasons: 1) To thank Elder Packer for his guidance at a critical time in my songwriting, 2) To encourage others who feel as I did, that their talents are “barely adequate,” to take heart and go forward with a determination to share their art and music freely and feel the Lord blessing their sincere efforts, 3) To thank talented artists and instrumentalists who have enhanced my simple songs so beautifully, 4) To thank those who created the Children’s Songbook—a work of true art and inspiration—for including “A Child’s Prayer,” and 5) To thank the Lord for personal trials from which this song sprang, and also for moments of inspiration I have felt in my writing that confirm He is there, that He is listening, that I am His child, and that His love surrounds me.
Story of “A Child’s Prayer” Filmed for YouTube
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is branching out in many areas, increasing their visibility through different social media sites. In 2013 they sent Eric Malizia, one of their film specialists, to my home to film the stories behind seven of my songs that have been performed by the choir. I wasn’t totally comfortable with the lights and cameras but Eric was patient and helpful. His efforts have now been posted on YouTube so I will include here the story behind “A Child’s Prayer.”
Janice Kapp Perry: Composer, author, lecturer
(1) Elder Boyd K. Packer, “The Arts and the Spirit of the Lord,” fireside talk given at Brigham Young University, 1 February 1976.