Editor’s Note: Lloyd Larson has become one of most published and performed church music writers of today. A frequently called-upon clinic and conference resource person, Lloyd has been a singer, keyboard player and arranger.
Having earned his B.A. from Anderson University, Anderson, IN, Lloyd next completed his M.C.M. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), Louisville, KY, and completed additional graduate work at SBTS and Ohio State University.
His extensive background in arranging and composing includes arranging music for an internationally broadcast radio program. Also, in 1989, he completed an editorial assignment for a new hymnal, titled Worship the Lord, for the Church of God. Lloyd also co-edited the Hymnal Companion for that hymnal. In addition, he contributed to The Complete Library of Christian Worship, edited by Dr. Robert Webber. He has served as a church music director for decades (a role he continues to this day), which has inevitably informed his artful and well-crafted, yet practical original compositions and arrangements. Lloyd sat down with Jubilate Music Group to discuss his writing, career, and more.
JMG: What and when was your first published piece of music? How did it feel to see your music and name in print for the first time?
LL: My very first publication was a 2-part Advent anthem titled Love Will Be Born. It was published by Beckenhorst Press in 1982 and was a collaborative project with lyricist Mary Kay Beall. Mary Kay and her husband, composer John Carter, lived in Columbus, Ohio where I was living and serving on a church staff at that time. I had the opportunity to meet John and Mary Kay and study with John for a few years. At the time, John was doing adjunct editorial work for Beckenhorst. He introduced me to the legendary composer John Ness Beck, one of the co-founders and President of Beckenhorst. It was an amazing experience for me to see that first piece come into print! Though I had been involved with choirs using published music from my teen years, I had little knowledge of the sequence of steps involved from "idea to publication." I'm forever indebted to John and Mary Kay for their influence as they guided me through the process and introduced me to numerous people who have been instrumental in encouraging me on my journey as a composer.
JMG: What do you enjoy most about the compositional process?
LL: For me each piece involves its own unique journey. I try to avoid thinking "I want this piece to sound like....." That's especially true with sacred choral anthems. Though I'm a composer and love to find a melody, harmonic structure, and rhythmic framework that work, the reason we sing in the context of worship is because of the lyric. As a result, it is essential when I sit down to create music to go with a text that I build a distinctive vehicle (music) that will underscore and create a path by which that lyric is heard in fresh and meaningful ways. I love discovering new ways to express the profound truths of our faith. I love unearthing new treatments to familiar hymn melodies. I love finding a distinctive marriage between a familiar hymn text with a new or different hymn tune than what is typically associated with it. When these moments happen for me in my studio and they impact me in a new way, I've come to believe they will have a similar impact on others as well.
JMG: Who have been the most influential people in your writing career?
LL: I've already mentioned the impact that composer John Carter and his wife, lyricist Mary Kay Beall, had on my early writing career. But there have been many others along the way. I would call them the "giants along my path." The late John Ness Beck and Fred Bock were also strong encouragers in the early years of my career. George and Bill Shorney, Lew Kirby, Jack Schrader, Larry Pugh, Gilbert Martin, and Jean Anne Shafferman along with numerous others have been profound influences in my writing with their input and encouragement. They have seen potential in my work and often pushed me outside of my own comfort zones to try some things I would never have considered. But I would be remiss if I didn't go back and recall the early influence of my mother (my first piano teacher) and my high school and college teachers who encouraged me to explore my interests in writing, even providing me platforms to try out some of my earliest writing endeavors. Writing for "real live singers and instrumentalists" in college and church settings helped me to discover quickly what worked and what didn't work. I've continued to be involved in church work over the years (now 40+ years) which has been essential in shaping my approach as a composer of church music.
JMG: With the changing tides of church music styles over the last few decades, what encouragement can you give to choir directors of today’s church?
LL: I will always be an advocate for church choirs. I strongly believe in them! (And it is not just because I depend on them for my livelihood.) They provide such a unique opportunity for ministry in the local church. The church choir I've directed for the last 25 years is a very tight community. The pastoral staff in our church calls the choir our "largest small group." And I think they're right. We are a community for 40+ people who typically gather a couple of times a week to rehearse and sing in worship. In the process of working on music together, we develop our musicianship while at the same time studying together the truths of our faith through the words that we sing. We are a multi-generation ensemble ranging in age from teens to my eldest bass who is 93 (and the most faithful member I have in the choir!). We regularly pray, cry, and laugh together. We celebrate life achievements and we mourn losses together. We sing every style of music imaginable from the classics to beloved gospel songs with harmonica. (Yes, I have an outstanding harmonica player in my church....so why not?!?!?) There are few, if any, settings in the life of the church where you can live life and faith in such a community. When the day comes that I'm no longer writing choral music or directing choirs, I anticipate singing in a choir. That's how much I believe in them!
JMG: You have a new cantata out this year (with Mark Hayes) titled “Seekers of the Light.” What is the thrust of this work?
LL: "Light" is a metaphor for goodness and God's presence throughout scripture. As people of faith, we are always on this journey to experience more of the "light of Christ" as we seek out His will and presence in our daily living. And this was true for the earliest followers of Christ, even those who first saw and recognized Him as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. They were guided by light (bright angelic hosts and celestial stars) to the Promised Child. We are all seekers of light when it comes to understanding our faith or life in general. And it is an on-going journey. We will never "arrive" until we reach our final destination, our heavenly home. As a result, Seekers of the Light is an appropriate title and thrust, it seems to me, for recalling the pilgrimages of the earliest worshipers of Christ while at the same time uniting us with those worshipers in our own journeys as we seek to understand and know this One who called Himself the "light of the world." (John 8:12) It was a pleasure to collaborate with my long-time friend and colleague, Mark Hayes, on this project. I've been a fan of Mark's music over the years, having used a ton of his music in my own ministry. So to partner with him on a project like this is a special treat for me. It is certainly my prayer that this cantata will impact and encourage directors, choirs, and congregations as they prepare and present it in the coming months!
JMG: Is there a writing project you have yet to tackle or hope to accomplish?
LL: I always have an on-going list of projects which I hope to tackle at some point down the road. The list is longer than I'll ever get done in this life-time (kind of like my "to do" list of home projects that I'm wanting to tackle!). It is a grass-catcher list of ideas that has been spawned by a line in a sermon, or a passage of scripture, or a brief idea that has surfaced from a hymn text. I probably won't divulge too much of that here. (I mean I don't want Joe Martin, Mark Hayes, or Mary McDonald stealing my ideas!! Ha!) One of the areas I'd love to pursue a bit more is to occasionally do a musical project outside of Christmas or Easter themes. As much as I love doing extended works on those themes, it is nice to have the opportunity to develop an extended work in other thematic directions. The reality, though, is that we who are church composers don't get that opportunity too often simply because of the nature of our core market. I did recently have an opportunity to do a large commission project based on a group of Psalms which was truly a challenging and gratifying experience.
JMG: Do you have a story of something you’ve written?
LL: On December 14, 2012, I happened to be working on a lyric by Susan Boersma. Susan is a fabulous lyricist and had created a lyric based on Revelation 22:5 that I had asked her to consider. That particular day - a Friday - was the day a lone gunman burst into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and senselessly took the lives of twenty young children and six adult staff members in a matter of minutes. On that day, the words I was setting became deeply personal and hopeful in what was a very dark moment for many in that community and beyond: Into the valley of shadows, under the veil of gray, God calls the good and faithful, then guides us on the way. Through the valley of shadows, lost in the dark of night, our God goes before us to lead us to the light. There will be no more night! No need for lamp or ray of sun, the Lamb will be the light. There will be no more night! No need to fast, to watch, to weep around the throne so bright. That anthem, Dwell in the Light Forevermore, holds a special place in my heart because of the circumstances which surrounded its creation.
JMG: “Getting to Know….Lloyd Larson” - Our “Lightning Round” of quick questions and answers:
- What is on your summer reading list?
- The Next Person You Meet in Heaven (Mitch Albom)
- Unshakable Hope (Max Lucado)
- The Reckoning (John Grisham)
- Vanishing Grace (Philip Yancey)
- What types of music do you listen to most?
LL: I try to listen to a little bit of everything, from the classics to outstanding (and current) choral writers. I love jazz and big band sounds. My wife and I just this week went to an outdoor Drum and Bugle competition (DCI) in a nearby community, something we enjoy doing when the opportunity affords itself. I'm a big John Williams fan with some of his classic movie themes. As a teenager, I was a big "Chicago" fan, and many of those melodies are rooted deep in my memory. I'm not sure I have a favorite genre per se. I'm pretty eclectic in my tastes.
- What is your favorite vacation spot?
LL: As a kid growing up in central Illinois, my family often vacationed on a lake in northern Wisconsin. I fell in love with the northwoods in those years. And I still love them! Most summers will find my wife, Marci, and I carving out a few days between summer travel commitments to spend some time on a northern Minnesota lake somewhere enjoying some quiet time. That's on our schedule for later this summer. It is often a small "mom & pop" resort or modest cabin somewhere where the biggest agenda of the day may be "Should we grill out or drive into town and find a restaurant for dinner this evening?" We enjoy the quiet beautiful scenery, some fishing, reading, and a lot of down-time. It is wonderful way to recharge!
- What is your favorite summertime frozen treat?
LL: One of my biggest disappointments in recent years is that it appears that every DQ in the upper midwest has discontinued the Snickers Blizzard. This was my favorite for years! But I must have been in the minority. So I've been exploring other chocolate-influenced Blizzard options. I haven't landed on a new favorite as of yet. But I'm working on it. Stay tuned!
JMG: Thank you, Lloyd, for spending some time with us so our readers can get to know you a bit better. Your contributions to church music are immeasurable, and your music not only enriches lives but most importantly, is building God’s Kingdom. Blessings to you in the years ahead, and we look forward to more exciting music creations from you!