(Note from Carolyn: I’m taking a break from my regular health and eating column to feature my good friends the Lewis Family. For those of you who love or are curious about the popular herbal detox drink we share here at Meridian, we’re staring a series of monthly phone calls with Dr. Miller where you can ask questions, hear committed Meridian users share their experiences, win free product and more! Our first phone call is this Wednesday, September 24 at 9:00 PM EST. ClickHERE for details.)
It’s been a year and a half since Justin Wayne Lewis (32) was the toast of Salt Lake City after winning the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s “Conduct the Choir” Facebook contest in 2012. (You can read my detailed article published here at Meridian 2013 about it in the link at the bottom of this article.)
It’s been a busy 20 months since then! His wife Jenny (29) has retired her military career as a violist in the United States Army Strolling Strings to stay at home with their children, and they have relocated to Yorktown, Virginia where Justin is now serving as a military band conductor and the Primary chorister of the Yorktown Ward, Newport News Stake. They’ve purchased and renovated a lovely home, had a darling new baby girl (Cora Jade, better known as “Juicy” who is now 9 months) started their sons Jackson (age 4) on the cello and Josiah (age 3) on the viola, and recorded their first CD through Deseret Book with the Capitol String Quartet. “Walk Beside Me- A Classical Take on LDS Children’s Favorites” was released on September 9, 2014 and was in the top three best-selling CDs at Deseret Book within the first week.
Oh, and in their spare time they also created a Youtube video of the family and their quartet that captures their love of service through music and deed that will surely go viral.
I am blessed to be personally well-acquainted with them as they lived in my Ward (The Springfield Ward of the Annandale Virginia Stake where their two little boys were born) until their move to Yorktown shortly after the Tabernacle Choir performance. For the years they were with us, it was always within their intrinsic kindly nature and their artistic passion to share their musical gifts whenever possible with any age group. We experienced it most often, however, with special arrangements of Primary songs for children’s baptisms, the annual Primary musical program, or to help showcase a budding musician by doing a duet of a Primary Song in Sacrament Meeting. Even for non-musicians it was always exciting and amazing to hear what they could do with a Primary song that was already indelibly printed in your heart and mind.
I’ll never forget how the entire congregation, especially small children, hushed when Justin and/or Jenny walked up to play because not only was it a privilege to listen, but the expression of love and devotion on their faces is also a gift. The ultimate, near celestial experience, of hearing them with Primary music was at the funeral for the unexpected death of a toddler where they joined their gifts with another professional string musician in our ward and played “Jesus Wants Me for A Sunbeam” in a tender, classical arrangement that was arranged by Justin for the occasion.
Oh, what a healing balm and a day-lifter beautiful music given as a gift can be, and oh, what opportunities arise for artists when a passion for sharing and building Zion is the foundation for performing whenever possible.
Where did this drive come from? Justin elaborates, “We were both raised in the Church and taught to
serve with our music from very early on.” (I detailed this in my first article that is included as a link at the bottom.) Then a wedding gift in the form of a book from Jenny’s viola teacher (Dr. David Dalton at BYU) included a talk by Boyd K. Packer, “The Arts and The Spirit of the Lord.” In it Packer talks at length about our talents in the arts being true gifts and how they are given to us to build the Kingdom. “This just felt so familiar and so right, but here it was in words from an Apostle! We have spent a lot of time talking about it, and it has been the inspiration for a lot that we do.”
In 2011, Haleigh Vance (a violinist in the quartet and a long-time childhood friend of Jenny’s) approached the Lewis’ about recording an album together. Jenny’s cousin, Richard Tolbert, had arranged a suite of primary songs and they all thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try and record them. “We just had so much fun with them,” says Justin. They recorded their demo album and sent it off to Shadow Mountain Records, the premier record label of Deseret Book.
“We got the polite, ‘Thank you for your interest’ email, but then didn’t hear anything for a while.” Several months later, however, they were contacted again by Deseret Book and slowly the project started to take form.
Shadow Mountain commissioned six talented arrangers (Merrill Jenson, Daniel Omer, Richard Tolbert, Michael Vance, Regan Brough and Justin himself) to arrange songs for the CD, and flew out Tyler Castleton, a celebrated music producer, songwriter and composer, to produce the album in Springfield, Virginia.
“I love the creativity in the arrangements,” says Justin. “For example ‘Saturday’ starts just how we all want our Saturdays to be: organized and disciplined and we know what the day is all about.