Editor’s Note: Tom Fettke and Jay Rouse need no introduction to most choral directors around the world. For over 50 years, the development of relevant, practical and dynamic choral music has been Tom’s passion and his profession. Jay is one of the premier choral arrangers in Christian music, and has over three hundred and fifty compositions and arrangements published. Recently, Tom and Jay sat down with Mark Cabaniss of Jubilate Music Group to have a chat about their careers, their first-ever musical collaboration, and more.
MC: Welcome, Tom and Jay, to this roundtable discussion! Gentlemen, to put us and our readers in a Christmas frame of mind, what is your favorite Christmas carol?
TF: That’s a hard question- I have many Christmas carol favorites. A number of the tunes and lyrics are in CITY OF HOPE. If I had to pick one that I have marveled at most down through the years, it would have to be O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM. Mostly because of the profoundly moving lyric. Old Phillips Brooks got every jot and tittle right: heartfelt, picturesque, intense and penetrating.
JR: I have lots of favorites… but one that comes immediately to mind is IN THE BLEAK MID-WINTER. It’s one of my most favorite melodies and it lends itself to gorgeous chord substitutions. I also really like the lyric to the last verse: What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb, if I were a wise man I would do my part, yet what I can I give Him, I will give my heart. Just gorgeous imagery.
MC: What is your favorite Christmas movie or TV special?
JR: Ha! ELF is a long-time Rouse House favorite. We started watching it when the kids were young and we can still basically recite many of our favorite scenes verbatim at any time. If you have not seen it, it’s a Christmas movie must.
TF: A CHRISTMAS STORY- Jan and I watch it 2 or 3 times every year. In regards to a TV special, we always look forward to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra Annual Christmas Concert: Wow!
MC: Tom, how long have you and Jay known each other and when and how did you first meet?
TF: I’m thinking our first encounter has to be on the Church Music workshop circuit- maybe as much as 30 years ago. I always marveled at the reading sessions the he and Randy Vader conducted; they were very inspirational. Jay and I enjoyed a close association when I was a consultant for PraiseGathering and Integrity Music.
MC: Jay, same question.
JR: I feel like I’ve known of Tom since I can remember. As is true for most of us, MAJESTY AND GLORY is one of my favorite choral pieces and I have many memories of playing that song for choirs and being in places where that song is sung. It’s a classic.
MC: Jay, what is your favorite Tom Fettke story?
JR: The first time I worked directly with Tom was on GOD WITH US, a musical we did for another publisher. The creative team behind that work was Tom Fettke, Camp Kirkland, Don Moen, Randy Vader and myself (I’m not sure how I got in that room), but it was a master class in how to put together an evening of worship. Blending styles from so many different genres, incorporating scripture and narration, utilizing solos, trios, writing for a full orchestra… on every front I was able to learn from these amazingly talented musicians and Tom was our quarterback. He led the team and helped fashion an incredible work for the church. Such a wonderful memory.
From that day until now, Tom has been an incredible encourager to me. I never know when my phone’s gonna ring and he’s going to be on the other end with a few jokes to start (it always starts that way and he’s one of the funniest guys I know), followed by words of encouragement about something I’ve recently done or an arrangement he’s heard of mine that touched him. It humbles me every time. I’m really grateful for his friendship.
MC: I’ve known each of you for over 25 years and like many, have such great appreciation of and respect for your work. But this is the first time you’ve ever created a full work together, so it was exciting to see the chemistry of the two of you working together to create CITY OF HOPE. It was like a graceful dance, with each of you contributing to the work and the result is seamlessly integrated, beautiful and exciting. Tom, what was it like working with Jay in this capacity for the first time?
TF: Jay is the “real deal!” I’ve had the opportunity to experience Jay’s personal attributes up close for a couple of decades. He is a very special human being: humble, sensitive, gracious and kind, extremely positive, discerning, and has “the gift of helps.” His passion for creating music that reflects his relationship with his Creator results in arrangements that are both “heartful” and exciting. God has given my friend Jay all the “tools” necessary to create crafted musical scores that choirs and congregations will find uplifting, meaningful, memorable… and accessible. All of Jay’s attributes are on display in CITY OF HOPE. This musical also demonstrates his ability to write in “traditional style.”
MC: Jay, same question!
JR: It’s true, while we’ve worked together through the years on many things, we’ve never done a full project together just the two of us, so this was a treat. Tom was everything I expected him to be. He is a detail person and there is no stone left unturned - I love that and it helps me so much. In many ways, he again was the quarterback. I did my best to catch as many passes as I could and deliver my best and most creative work. This played to both of our strengths and it came together to be a really special project. Can I also say, this is a bucket list opportunity for me, to get to work with Tom. I’m so grateful and I’ve loved every minute.
MC: Tom, you’ve created music and musicals for the church – much of it now legendary – for the church for over 40 years. Musicals aren’t as widely used as they once were. Why do you think this is, and what encouragement can you give to directors to perform them nowadays?
TF: Tough and complicated question. Let me just list some possible answers:
- The use of choirs, as a tool for worship, is declining.
- Budgets no longer allow for the purchase of a seasonal, one-time use product. The use of the choir library is becoming more prevalent.
- The internet is supplying many choral music needs.
- For a number of reasons the availability of qualified (or interested) persons to lead-and people to participate in a choir program is declining.
- Our colleges, universities and seminaries are continuing to neglect offering courses that train and motivate music students to lead and participate in church music programs.
- The advent of the “praise team” in place of a volunteer choir is prevalent.
- The music industry is overproducing the number of choir cantatas and musicals given the decline of the number of choirs.
- The constituencies that are in favor of using cantatas or musicals are hard-pressed to find one that “grabs” them. We believe CITY OF HOPE has the characteristics to do that. Jay and I would love for the readers of this interview to check it out. It conveys the message of HOPE so relevant and needed in these crazy times we are living in.
MC: Jay, what is the overall message of CITY OF HOPE and what makes this new musical unique among the many others out there?
JR: Considering all that we’ve been through as a world since Tom and I first began working on this project, I know God’s had His hand on the entire process. Hope. As we begin to make our way out of this time of separation and distancing, there is no real way that’s possible without the foundation of hope that can only be found in the person of Christ. Ephesians 1:18 comes to mind: "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
God knew we would need to be singing about hope this Christmas and that’s the core message of this musical.
MC: Tom, what are you most pleased about this new musical?
TF: A number of my all-time favorite carol melodies and lyrics are included, clothed in new, colorful and/or elegant musical robes. Rose Aspinall created a narrative that is beautifully married to and supports the musical central theme; they are picturesque and heartfelt. Mike Lawrence’s orchestrations are incredible, colorful, and yet perfectly tailored to the volunteer church orchestra. I love CITY OF HOPE because it feels like Christmas, a celebration of our Savior’s birth that includes both Christmas “fireworks” and moments of reflection and worship.
MC: Jay, likewise?
JR: Sure - I always find myself amazed at what God creates through our surrendered gifts. Tom and I had a lot of ideas as to what this work was going to be. Some of those became a reality and in the end, look and sound much the way we dreamed them to be. But as well, and thankfully, there are a handful of things that happened that we could never have predicted or “thought up,” even on our best day. Those are the moments where God graciously allows His anointing to change the direction of a work and turn it something that is far beyond any of our individual or collective abilities. This always brings me to my knees and reminds me of God’s goodness.
MC: Tom, on the personal side of things, you and Jan recently moved from Nashville to Georgia. How is your new life in a new area, and what are you enjoying most about it?
TF: We moved to a suburb of Savannah to be close to family: David, my eldest son, lives on Tybee Island, a beach community west of Savannah. Grandchildren and great grandchildren live close and our kids have a dog (Goldendoodle) that is more fun than we can handle.
MC: Jay, your wife Amy and family are long-time residents of Anderson, Indiana. And Amy is one of my all-time favorite studio singers and soloists. Did you grow up in Indiana?
JR: We do love Indiana and we’ve been here many years. We are proud Hoosiers. That said, my heart will always be in Florida. I was born in Miami and lived most of my life, until college, in central Florida. My high school sat in the middle of an orange grove and the beach was our weekend getaway for most of my childhood. Siesta Key is favorite place in the whole world and I still have palm trees as my computer screensaver. It’s deep in my heart. I hope to live there again someday. We’ll see. O, and by the way, Amy sends her greetings and always loves singing on your recording sessions. She is my favorite studio singer, hands down!
MC: Thanks to Amy and my greetings to her too! Gentlemen...is there anything else would you like to add to today’s discussion?
JR: Just a big thank you to you, Mark, and all of the amazing staff at Jubilate Music Group. You guys make it easy and I could not be more thankful to partner with you this year.
TF: Jay and I are grateful to you, Mark, and Jubilate Music Group for granting us the resources and support to have such an enjoyable and fulfilling creative experience. Soli Deo Gloria!
MC: Thank you both, for those words of appreciation and support. I have been at this for 30 years and am grateful every day for what I do. I am honored to work with truly world-class talents such as the two of you, and having you as great friends all these years is the best and most beautiful part. I really appreciate your time today for this sit-down to discuss CITY OF HOPE and more. Our prayer at Jubilate Music Group is that this cantata will provide a focal point on the theme of the new and abiding hope that Christ’s incarnation brings to us then, now, and always. Thank you for sharing your substantial gifts with the world, and with us at Jubilate Music Group. Keep up your wonderful work, and we’ll keep eagerly anticipating your next God-honoring creative gifts.
Browse Tom Fettke's publications here.
Browse Jay Rouse's publications here.