Editor’s Note: The following interview was conducted by Mark Cabaniss of Jubilate Music Group. Mark says “Doing this interview with Mark Blankenship was a true honor and pleasure. Mark’s work as a composer/arranger/producer/publisher and church musician has had a profound influence on my life and career…reaching all the way back to my high school days. Mark encouraged me to follow my dreams when I first spoke to him as a 17-year old, and he has continued to be a source of encouragement and wisdom in my life and career. I am one of countless individuals who has been inspired by his life, career and his music…and I am deeply honored to call him friend and colleague. We’re thrilled at Jubilate Music Group to have his music in our catalog.”
JMG: Mark, you’ve had rich and varied career in the church music publishing industry as a composer, arranger, orchestrator, producer, conductor, and publisher (not to mention your work as a singer on national television with Buryl Red and in the local church). Of all of those varied roles through the years, do you have a favorite one of them all? If so, why?
MB: Needless to say, I enjoyed every minute of it all. Most of my training was in the study of voice, and I received my Master of Music degree in Opera and Song Literature from The University of Texas in Austin. While studying there, I also took some additional course work in composition and arranging, as well as studying orchestration. I was a full-time music and youth minister the entire time I was working on my Master degree, as well as being married and our having a new-born baby daughter Beth.
I began seeing many anthems being published by various evangelical publishers. I said to myself, I think I can do that . . . and I did. So my writing creativity was developing, and building upon my Church Music Degree I received at Oklahoma Baptist University. Since I did not attend seminary, being a pastor’s son, attending OBU, and having Dr. Warren M. Angell as a mentor, gave me be a great foundation for my ministry work in the local church. So I really enjoyed local church music ministry, and then came all the prolific composition, arranging, orchestrating, producing recordings, and being involved in publishing church music.
JMG: What was your first published anthem and how did it come about?
MB: My first arrangement was with Crescendo Press in Dallas (which is no longer in the business). Then I had a few pieces taken by LifeWay (The Baptist Sunday School Board). That followed with a folk-rock collection of songs, which I first wrote for a contemporary high school ensemble at First Baptist Church, Midland, TX, and it was published by Lillenas. There were 10 selections in that collection called “Revelation" and that was influenced in musical style by much of what Ralph Carmichael and Kurt Kaiser had been writing in their youth musicals.
JMG: As a composer, you’ve written dozens and dozens of anthems through the many years…let alone several best-selling musicals (such as “Kneel at the Cross”). But readers probably best know your song (with lyrics by Terry York) titled “Worthy of Worship.” How did that hymn come about?
MB: Genevox had asked Terry York and me to write an Easter musical for the smaller size church. We were in that process when Terry told me that he wanted to end the musical with a song that gave praise to the worthiness of our God. He handed the lyrics to me at Ridgecrest Music Week in June of 1987. I wrote the music to “Worthy of Worship” the day after I returned home from that music conference. The musical “Praise the Risen Savior” was released in 1988.
Sometime in 1988 and 1989 when [the 1991 edition of] The Baptist Hymnal was being put together, Terry came to me and asked that I would put “Worthy of Worship” in a hymn format. I did, and the committee accepted it, and the rest is history. The hymn has been included in many hymnals and has been sung around the world.
JMG: Through the years, you’ve had the wonderful blessing of conducting and hearing countless performances of your work. Can you share a particularly meaningful occasion of one of those performances?
MB: Again, I have enjoyed conducting them all, but I guess three have remained stuck in my mind. The first musical that I wrote (Kneel at the Cross), was written for the large adult choir and orchestra at North Phoenix Baptist Church, where I served for a short time. It was also my first major attempt at orchestration as well. The Lord blessed the performances there as well as when it was published and premiered at Ridgecrest and Glorieta Music Weeks in the summer of 1975. The second musical was the youth musical The Followers, with book and lyrics by Ed Seabough. It was commissioned by and written for the Baptist Youth World Congress in Manila, Philippines in 1979. This was an incredible event and the musical was one of the many highlights of the conference. The third was a commissioned musical for the 50th anniversary of Broadmoor Baptist Church in Shreveport, LA. I wrote both the music and lyrics for Children of God, based on the book of 1 John. It has always been amazing to me at the quality of choirs and orchestras which were found in local churches in 1975 and beyond and Broadmoor Baptist was one of those. There have been more musicals that have come from my pen, but I guess these early three remain strongly in my memory.
JMG: In your many roles in the church music industry, and as an active church musician for decades, you’ve certainly witnessed sweeping changes in worship music. What words of encouragement and tips for success can you offer today’s church music leader of choirs?
MB: I have lived through many of the changes in music experienced by churches across the country. Many have tried to relate church growth or great worship to one style of music or another. Or even that one style or the other will reach more people or help them to worship the Lord in a better way. This subject has been discussed in so many speeches, articles, and books for the last fifty years. I feel there is really no easy answer or solution for a particular church. I think that the local church must allow the Lord Jesus to direct them through their prayers and supplications, and find what is the best direction for that Church to go. They should not just mimic a “growing church” in their city. I personally like most styles of music, and have written in most musical styles used in evangelical churches today. I think that most, but not all churches find the niche for their particular church by doing a blended style of worship music which incorporate most of the musical styles available today, and then may decide to emphasize one musical style over another one.
I must admit that I am disturbed and disappointed by the blatant decision by many worship leaders to not use our rich heritage of great hymnody. There is ALWAYS a time in worship for “Holy, Holy, Holy,” Blessed Assurance," “A Mighty Fortress,” or "Great Is Thy Faithfulness."
JMG: Jubilate Music Group is the publisher of the new “Mark Blankenship Choral Series.” You’ve had choral series devoted to your music in the past. What is your vision and dream for this new series?
MB: I think that good choral music remains for a long time, though not always sung by many churches since the year in which the music was written. I hope that some of my early writings that are not known as well to many churches might still see the light of day if they are reworked and released again for churches to use. I also want to provide some new creative compositions that still reflect my writing style, and hope they will find a place in worship for many churches in all denominations. I am always looking for wonderful lyrics from people I don’t yet know, for excellent lyrics are hard to find.
JMG: Although your bio says you’re retired, I know that’s not quite the case. You’re seemingly as busy and enthusiastic as ever. Tell us about some of your favorite things you’re doing these days.
MB: Through the years I enjoyed racquetball, running, basketball, golf and other sports. But I find that in my "senior years” I enjoy spending more time with my wife Judy (we’ve been married 55 years), and we both love seeing much of the U.S.A. that we have never seen before. We now live near our son Britt and his family in Huntsville, AL. We also enjoy visiting New York City where our daughter Beth and her family live. I find great delight in reading Biblical Commentaries of New Testament books. To read in-depth explanations and insights from wonderful theologians is quite a treat for my soul, and I pray draws me closer to the Lord Jesus Christ whom I worship and serve, and for whom all this music has been written and will be written in future years.