Recently, Liam Salziger, Production Manager of Jubilate Music Group, sat down to speak with composer/arranger Ellen Woods Bryce.
LS: Thank you for your time today, Ellen! You’ve written a lot of music and lyrics through the years. How did you get started as a composer?
EWB: I’d have to say it began with a childhood that was filled with all kinds of musical experiences—piano lessons at age 7, singing in children’s choirs at church, and writing my first melodies in high school. I studied music education in college, and wrote my first real song during my last semester there. That desire to create music grew, and eventually I decided to study composition at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
LS: With a lot of ancestry websites out there and seeming high interest in that topic these days, you were a bit ahead of your time when you first wrote this musical in the 1980s. We’re thrilled to offer FAMILY TREE in a new, updated version. What originally led you to choose the topic of family/ancestry and being a part God’s Family Tree?
EWB: In the 1980’s, while working as an assistant music editor, that company needed someone to write a children’s musical quickly, because the original writer had a scheduling conflict. So, they asked me to do it. I was young and single, with no experience in leading, or writing for, children’s choirs. I was terrified!
I knew that you should “write what you know” so I drew on my own childhood memories, and as a child I was very close to my grandparents. I was always fascinated by the stories they would tell about what it was like when they were young. I learned about my family tree from them.
My parents and grandparents were strong Christians who modeled what it means to follow Jesus, and I had great teaching at church. When I was 9 years old, I realized I needed a personal relationship with Christ. I put my trust in Him, and my pastor and parents explained that being a Christian meant that I was now a part of God’s family.
LS: By touching on the topics of adoption, divorce, communication, and over-scheduled kids in a children’s musical, you were really ahead of your time in this manner as well. What compelled you to incorporate those important things?
EWB: In writing Family Tree, I tried to touch on a few of things that families go through. No family is perfect—we argue, we fight, we sometimes say hurtful things. I also looked at some of the really difficult things, like divorce, and tried to think how they might seem through the eyes of a child. Oh, and since I have a cousin who is adopted, I thought about how that might feel, about how wonderful it is to be chosen, and what the Bible says about how God chose us in Christ.
LS: What is the overriding message you want the children who present the musical and the audiences who hear it to walk away with?
EWB: I want kids—and parents—to know that God loves them! He cares about our families, about what we’re going through, and—no matter what our situation is—God understands. He has provided a way—through his Son, Jesus Christ—for us to experience forgiveness, and to become a part of His own family.
LS: Thank you, Ellen. We’re excited about “Family Tree” and honored to have your work in our catalog. We look forward to more exciting projects in the future!
Click here to learn more about Ellen Woods Bryce.
Click here to visit the "Family Tree" product page.