By Darla Isackson

A noteworthy event last Friday, June 18th, 2004, brought together an audience of more than 2,000 musicians and spectators. Yes, there were numerous sweeping spotlights, and award after award presented by celebrities. Yes, there were tuxedos, formals, glamour, and pizzazz. But it wasn’t the Grammy, the Emmys, or the Academy Awards. Instead, it was Mormondom’s own “Pearl Awards” presented by the FCMA (Faith Centered Music Association). It was a long way from Hollywood, but a crew of 75 volunteers collectively logged almost 9,000 hours of work to transform Cottonwood High School‘s concert hall into a dazzling, state-of-the-art video production arena.

What is the FCMA?

The FCMA is a nonprofit foundation that unites musicians and recording artists who are “dedicated to raising quality and awareness of uplifting and faith promoting music within the values-oriented community.” The FCMA also seeks to “grow and expand the audience that listens to and purchases this compelling genre of music.”

Jeff Simpson is the founder of the FCMA. His “day job” is President and CEO of Excel Entertainment Group; he volunteers as executive director of the FCMA. He said,  “The Pearl Awards recognize excellence across a broad spectrum of musical excellence . . . Winning a Pearl Award declares an artist or work the very best in faith-centered music.”

What Happened at the Pearl Awards This Year?

The Seventh Annual Pearl Awards gala–originally presented on Friday June 18th, is scheduled for TV airing on July 11 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. on SLC’s Channel 4. Viewers will share the excitement of awards that were given in nine categories: Sacred, Inspirational, Contemporary, Instrumental, Holiday, Concept or Thematic, Musical Presentation or Soundtrack, Compilation, and individual Merit Awards for musicians, engineers, designers, etc. In addition to the music awards,The Legacy Award, for lifetime achievement was presented to Robert Cundick, the only living Tabernacle organist Emeritus. He received The Legacy Award for his visibility and contributions to the LDS music industry. Cundick played for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for 26 years.

Local actor/entertainer Scott Carpenter, an entertaining emcee, kept the audience from getting impatient during the lengthy set-ups between filming of musical numbers. During filming he bantered with presenters, who ranged from “American Idol” contender Carmen Rasmussen to Mormon legend Crawford Gates. Many stars of LDS-oriented movies, such as Kam Heskin and Orlando Seale of  Pride and Prejudice also acted as presenters.

Energetic performances by Greg Simpson, Jenny Phillips, Sam Payne, Jessie Clark Funk, Eclipse, Katherine Nelson, Brett Raymond and Friends of Martin’s Cove seemed widely spaced by award announcements and stand-up comedy.

Behind the Scenes

I enjoyed being “behind the scenes”–experiencing the several hours of set up, audience coaching, and filming that it took to tape the show. I watched the winners come into the press room and have their pictures taken in the glow of victory, and I chatted with several of them. What did it feel like to be with these performers and others involved in this unusual segment of the music industry whose stated purpose is to build faith?  I think I could best express the ambiance with three E’s:  excitement, electricity, and enthusiasm. The very air seemed charged with an unusual optimism.

Why Does It All Matter?

I talked to Merrill Jensen shortly after he accepted the award for best Sacred/Classical Instrumental Album.  Soft spoken, self-effacing, Merrill seems somehow unaware of his great contributions to the arts.

He talked about his current project–not with hype, but with something akin to reverence. Merrill Jensen and Margaret Smoot are making the classic Hugh B. Brown story “Profile of a Prophet” into a full-length musical production! Merrill said that Margaret has written an incredible script and lyrics–and knowing Merrill’s work, the music he puts with it will be amazing.

It Matters Because . . .

This project, and others with a similarly lofty focus, answer the question “Why does it matter?” in regard to most of the music given awards on this special night. It matters because music has a special power to communicate important messages to the heart–or actually to the feeling and emotion part of the brain, if we want to be more technically accurate. Gospel “facts” are processed by the left side of the brain–the part that catalogues information, the part that makes it possible for a gospel student to come up with the right answer when he is asked, “what book comes after Alma in the Book of Mormon?”

However, testimony–the feeling part of the gospel–can be built and faith strengthened by messages that come through artistic and musical presentations that touch our emotions. Our feelings about gospel topics influence our behavior far more than the facts we know. My testimony has been strengthened so many times by songs and productions that bring to life scriptural characters or that focus on amazing real-life gospel stories or on compelling gospel concepts. I believe such productions, when done well, hopefully guided by the Spirit, can exert an immeasurable influence for good.

Another Shining Example

David Pliler, who accepted an award in behalf of himself and absent Sam Cardon, said that the songs for their award winning album in the category of Presentation or Soundtrack, called By the Hand of Mormon is actually a precursor of a full-scale production on the life of Mormon and Moroni. What an amazing project!

I personally don’t get excited about music created with the sound and the jarring beat of contemporary rock artists, only replacing  “bad” lyrics with wholesome ones. It feels like putting new wine in old bottles. However, I feel an immense enthusiasm for the kind of projects that Merrill Jensen and David Pliler told me about.

Sacred Music

Another category that gets my vote without reservation is sacred music–defined by a presenter as “appropriate for sacrament meeting.” I spoke with Michael R. Hicks, arranger of the award winning sacred recording “Be Still My Soul” performed and produced by the group called “Eclipse.” The song was one of the live presentations for the evening–and a highlight for me, since it is one of my favorites. This kind of music matters for obvious reasons–it invites the Spirit and speaks peace to the soul. Oh, that more of our music-listening hours were in this genre!

Michael said he has always loved the industry and remembers thinking early in his life, “I’d love to write music!” Now he has been living that dream for seven years, writing and arranging music. Michael Hicks said the greatest thrill for him is the first time he hears one of his compositions or arrangements performed.  Michael is the arranger who was inspired to put two well-known, beloved songs together in an arrangement that is quickly becoming a classic: “As Sisters in Zion” and “Army of Helaman.” My son came home from a youth conference at BYU with this arrangement last summer; he told us what a great experience he had singing the song with so many other young people. We immediately sang it together, and I felt my spirits lifted by a mile! 

I had always thought that the artist found songs they liked and went to an arranger and asked them to arrange them. But Michael said it usually happens the other way around–the arranger or composer goes after the artist or group he thinks will do the best job with an arrangement or composition he has ready for production.

On the Cutting Edge

Clive Romney is on the cutting edge of the new sounds in Mormon music. Enoch Train is producing new sounds that appeal to them as musicians, and doing it well, hoping the audience will follow. Considering the four nominations and two awards they won, I have to say their plan is working! Daron Bradford, their woodwind player also won the award for the studio musician of the year. Daron plays in the Orchestra at Temple Square which means he contributes to every Mormon Tabernacle Choir recording, and shares in the honors they received: four Pearl awards!

Clive was raised as the third or nine children in a very musical family. His mom was a piano teacher, all his relatives and siblings involved in music. He started in folk, then went into popular. Enoch Train has folk in its center but is developed in a classical way. Clive is a full-time musician who also serves as a bishop!

What is Happening in Mormon Music?

When I asked Clive what is happening in this explosive industry, I could quickly see this was a subject he could talk about for hours. He said that so much is happening in so many different genres, in so many different areas of the world, with so many different people that it would take a whole series of articles to tell about it. 

Who Is Making Waves?

He said there are hundreds of LDS musicians making a difference, but he would mention a few that would give us the flavor. Many excellent LDS entertainers are not targeting the LDS audience but when members hear they are members, the fact endears them to that segment of their listeners. Many performing artists like Ryan Shupe, winner of the Best Contemporary Album, present entertaining songs that are fun and uplifting, but not necessarily faith-centered. They are trying to provide value- based entertainment with a wide appeal. Carmen Rasmussen–talented singer and composer is also in this category.

Others produce mostly sacrament meeting appropriate sacred LDS music–the Tabernacle Choir, which now has its own label–is an excellent example of this category. George Dyer, winner of the “Best Male Recording Artist of the Year” also produces sacred albums for the LDS market, and has a full-fledged opera singing career in the mainstream music arena.

All shades and colors in between can be found in the LDS camp. Clive Romney mentioned Sherie–folk singer extraordinairre, and Nancy Hansen–both of whom write tremendously melodic material with popular appeal. The music of Jessie Clark, winner of Best Female Recording Artist of the Year and Best New Artist of the Year is categorized as popular and contemporary but inspirational–a pop sound with inspirational lyrics.  Romney said that to be exhaustive we would have to mention hundreds of others who are creatively contributing fine work in the LDS music community, including excellent film scores.

How Has the LDS Music Industry Changed in the Last Decade?

Two particularly important changes stand out:

. Quality is steadily improving. Most people agree that the LDS film and music industry should be wholesome, uplifting, and competitive in quality to that of the mainstream music and film industries. Clive Romney said, “We can’t use a good message as an excuse for poor quality.” He thinks the quality is getting better and better and that Jeff Simpson and the FCMA have become major forces in encouraging quality. For the Pearl awards every musician knows that their finest peers will be their judges. All who cast votes for the awards are top musicians and record producers–people who do music for a living and are competent to judge. When a musicians know that their material will be critically reviewed by such discriminating judges, they tend not to let it out of sight until it is the very best they can do.

. Great Strides in Breadth and Variety–Whereas LDS music used to be criticized because it “all sounded alike” we now hear widely divergent sounds in almost every genre. Take, for example, instrumental hymn albums–We have the beautiful traditional sounds of Jenny Oaks Baker’s violin and Lex de Azevedo’s orchestra, contrasted with Enoch Train’s American folk-centered world music (ethnically enriched music from all over the world). Then we have the Fiddlesticks group, who do Celtic and British music that is modal rather than major or minor, the mellow sounds of Todd McCabe and April Moriardy piano and violin, and Cate Todd and Amy Osmond harp and violin. Absolutely no one can say that these songs “all sound the same!”

So, Let’s Cut to the Chase: Who Won All Those Awards?

Well, here is the list of the best of the best this year.

1.  Sacred Recording
             “Be Still My Soul,” from the album I Know He Lives; performed by Eclipse; arranged by Eclipse and Michael Hicks; produced by Eclipse.

2.  Inspirational Recording
            “Clay in His Hands,” from the album Clay in His Hands; performed by Jessie Clark Funk; written by Jenny Jordan Frogley; produced by Greg Hansen.

3.  Inspirational/Contemporary Instrumental Recording
            Ein Feste Burg,” from the album Shall We Gather; performed by Enoch Train; arranged by Clive Romney; produced by Enoch Train.

4.  Contemporary Recording
            “Go Bring Them In,” from the album Bring Them In: Celebrating the Spirit of Trek; performed by Friends of Martin,s Cove; written by Don Stirling, Nancy Hanson, and Sam Cardon; produced by Sam Cardon.

5.   Sacred/Classical Instrumental Recording
            “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” from the album The Light Divine; performed by Jenny Oaks Baker; Arranged by David Zabriskie; produced by Kenny Hodges.

6.   Inspirational Album
            Clay in His Hands, Jessie Clark Funk; produced by Greg Hansen. 

7.   Sacred Album 
            Consider the Lilies, Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square; produced by Mack Wilberg, Barlow Bradford, Bruce Leek, and Fred Vogler.

8.   Contemporary Album
            Hey, Hey, Hey; Ryan Shupe and the Rubberband; produced by Jason Deere.

9.   Inspirational/Contemporary Instrumental Album

            Shall We Gather, Enoch Train; produced by Enoch Train. 

10.  Sacred/Classical Instrumental Album
           High on the Mountain Top, Merrill Jenson; produced by Merrill Jenson and Tyler Castleton. 

11.  Musical Presentation/Soundtrack

            By the Hand of Mormon: Selections from the Original Music Production, Sam Cardon and David Pliler; produced by Sam Cardon

12.   Themed/Concept Album
            Bring Them in: Celebrating the Spirit of Trek, Friends of
Martin Cove; produced by Don Stirling, Earl Madsen, and Sam Cardon.

13.  Producer
            Tyler Castleton

14.  Songwriter
            Ryan Shupe

15.   Female Recording Artist
            Jessie Clark Funk

16.    Instrumental Recording Artist
            Jenny Oaks Baker

17.    Lifetime Achievement Award
            Robert Cundick

18.    Male Recording Artist
            George Dyer

19.  Group Recording Artist
            Mormon Tabernacle Choir

20.  New Artist
            Jessie Clark Funk

21.   Performing Artist
            Mormon Tabernacle Choir

22.   Holiday Recorded Song
            “This Year,” from the album Three Kings; performed by Eclipse; written by Shane Taylor, Patrick Rose, and Chuck Poll; produced by Eclipse.

23.   Holiday Album
            Three Kings; performed by Eclipse; written by Shane Taylor, Patrick Rose, and Chuck Poll; produced by Eclipse.

24.   Compilation Album
            True to the Faith: Songs of Courage, Inspiration and Faith in Jesus Christ; Inspirational Music Showcase/Sounds of Zion

25.   Arranger
            Tyler Castleton

26.   Studio Musician
            Daron Bradford

27.   Studio Vocalist
           April Meservy

28.   Engineer
            Guy Randle

29.   Designer
            Barry Hansen; Bring Them In: Celebrating the Spirit of Trek

30.   Radio Show
            Steven Kapp Perry, Sounds of the Sabbath, KOSY 106.5

31.   Record Label
            Mormon Tabernacle Choir

32.   Retail Manager
            Kay Curtiss, This Is The Place, Kensington, Maryland

Jeff Simpson summarized it well, “The evening was a huge success. It’s always bigger and better than anyone expects.” To share in the fun, don’t forget to tune your set to Channel 4 on July 11th at 6:00 p.m.!