Why can’t Evangelicals and Mormons Share Books & Culture?

An author asked me to review a contract recently, and I was surprised at something the author said. The contract was with one of the larger Mormon publishers, and the author hoped that the book would become a big success in the Christian market in the US through that publisher.

I don’t know where the idea that this was possible came from. I hope that the publisher didn’t tell the author that it could.

I told the author that there was no chance, and it doesn’t look like there will be in the future. In fact, the fact that the author is LDS means the publisher is irrelevant. A Mormon author can’t succeed in the Christian market.

Many Mormons in the arts look for the chance to get their works distributed in the Evangelical Christian market, and don’t understand why it won’t work. Christians are sometimes flabbergasted or offended that Mormons would even try — or, in a few unusual cases, they are ignorant of the gulf between us and surprised when Mormons produce things that don’t fit their views, or after they talk to some of their customers about Mormonism.

The problem is that the Christian market is very suspicious of Mormons. We are considered heretics and anything we do is suspicious. A book by a Mormon must therefore be a way to draw others into our “heresy.”

Sound farfetched? I’m afraid its pretty easy to find evidence of this. An illustration of the problems that can occur can be seen in the case of a book by Baptist preacher Joel Osteen. When one of Osteen’s many books was picked up by Deseretbook.com, Osteen’s critics used it as evidence that his Cristianity was suspect. (see )

Want more personal information? Go into a Christian bookstore and ask what would happen if it became known that a popular book sold in the store was actually written by a Mormon. Or find the most innocuous title by a Mormon publisher, and ask if they would ever carry it. Christian bookstores that will carry books by LDS authors are publishers don’t exist as far as I can see.

For many LDS Church members this seems strange. On most political and lifestyle issues they feel so close to Evangelicals that they assume Evangelicals feel the same. But many, if not most, Evangelicals disagree.

Why? I admit that it does seem strange that Mormons would be so objectionable. Let me see if I can make an analogy that helps explain it. Imagine that a polygamist in Utah wrote a book for the Mormon market. Would any traditional LDS bookstore carry it? Would the LDS public criticize bookstores that did?

I think the situations are comparable. Evangelicals object to Mormons calling themselves Christians, just like we object to polygamists that call themselves Mormons. And Mormons are sensitive to any kind of public participation by polygamists, just like Evangelicals are sensitive to Mormons in their space.

I do how that we don’t treat polygamists the same way that we are treated by many Evangelicals. But, I don’t think it is likely that the LDS market would be hospitable to books by polygamists. Don’t expect the Christian market to look on books from Mormons or from Mormon publishers any differently.

31 thoughts on “Why can’t Evangelicals and Mormons Share Books & Culture?”

  1. What I’m wondering is why this is a bad thing? That we are kept out of one of the kitschy-est, silliest, most trivializing book markets on the planet?

    Big loss for us.

    Boo-hoo.

    Isn’t Deseret Book bad enough?

  2. I had a friend in high school who was Catholic. We would often go into the Christian bookstores to peruse their anti-mormon and anti-catholic sections. We got a big kick out of reading some of the more ridiculous sections to each other. One day as we were walking through the shop, I happened to notice a copy of “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. I noted to my buddy that the author was Mormon, so he took a copy to the front counter and told he thought it was great they were opening their minds and carrying books by mormon authors. The shopkeeper wasn’t very happy to learn that a mormon book had crept into his store. The next time we came back, there wasn’t a copy in the place.

  3. Marcus:

    Great story. Exactly the kind of thing I would expect to see.

    To the extent that Covey has useful information in his books, its kind of “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” Unfortunately, I think that the LDS market does its share of this also.

    Seth R:

    I agree that it is probably not a great loss. But I suppose it depends on who you think your audience is, and why an author writes. If you are writing to proselyte — for missionary reasons, then this may be a bit of a loss. Or, if you are trying to maximize the amount you earn from your books, loosing a venue where they might sell is also a loss.

    Since those really aren’t my goals (or at least not my focus), I agree, its no loss.

    But, unfortunately, not all LDS writers and publishers agree. Many do, in fact, hope that they will spread the gospel through their writing, or earn money from the Christian market, or both.

    I hope that through the above they will get a little dose of the reality that they need.

  4. I’m afraid that I don’t know how to say what I want to in regards to this post without being fairly blunt and contradictory, but I’m afraid a disagree rather strongly with the whole premise of your article.

    You’ve made some bold assumptions based on one stereotype, a stereotype which is sometimes true, but you’ve painted it very broadly: the often-true but not-always notion that Evangelicals are bigoted against Mormons.

    However, it almost makes _you_ sound bigoted, even though you probably aren’t (or are you?). In any case, it doesn’t sound like you meant ill; it doesn’t come across directly ill-willed, but let me see if I can illustrate one possible interpretation of what you said.

    Your assumption here is that the market for Evangelicals is always bigoted and closed off to Mormons. You stated no alternative. For you it’s rather black and white. In other words, it’s impossible for crossover in Mormon and Evangelical literary markets.

    I can’t even begin to tell you how narrow-minded this sounds.

    The irony here is that you only represent one extreme segment of the Evangelical population. In truth, there is a growing contingent of Evangelicals who are utterly turned off by, say, the bigotry that was manifest during the Romney campaign (many of them voted for Romney). If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go look at the state-by-state numbers of Evangelicals that actually voted for Romney.

    Granted, there was also a very vocal segment that was decidedly anti-Mormon during the whole process. But saying this is the complete Evangelical world is a little bit like saying Al-Qaeda represent all of the Muslim world. Also, politics don’t necessarily directly translate into art and literature, but there’s a good precedent here (in Romney) and evidence that translates on at least some level.

    But if you’d like more substantial or better-correlated examples, just have a look at the movie industry. Sure, this one has been hacked to death. I.e., the so-called Mormon Cinema experience has not, by any stretch of the imagination, reached its Zenith. But there _has been_ direct cross over in markets. I think Dutcher’s films represent a good correlation, as does Napolean Dynamite (not a “Christian” or “Mormon” film, per se, but it represents the _culture_ which is significant). Actually, there are numerous examples. Coming at it from another point of view, there has been significant crossover the other way (bet this thought hadn’t even occurred to you) in the examples of Walden Media, Passion of the Christ, and so forth. Significant Christian films crossing over into Mormon circles. This may seem like a different argument, and it certainly is in some measure, but it’s silly to say there isn’t overlap, and this last evidence directly shows the premise of your argument is on shaky ground.

    Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about the book market to address any examples, but I know enough to be confident that there are even better examples in literature.

    But moving beyond evidences: your premise shows a lack of faith. I don’t mean to be so openly vocal, contradictory, and blunt about my differences with your opinion. But I grow _so very tired_ with the lack of faith exhibited among Mormon circles for affecting a continual appeal and substantive presence in not only Christian (sometimes read: Evangelical) circles, but all the world. We MUST believe that we can make a difference, and it starts with those who believe in all that seemingly impossible stuff.

    A word on crossover: I sometimes hate the term, because it sounds compartmentalized, segmented, fragmentary. Rather, I’m interested in _humanity_, which we Mormons are just as much a part of as Evangelicals, and the kind of stuff that really sells has a universal appeal, hence it sells in universal markets. SO in a sense I actually do end up agreeing with the premise of your article, only just on entirely different grounds: that we ought to not be so focused and consumed with so-called Mormon art and/or Evangelical and/or Christian art that we lose sight of the meaning of it all: faith, works, mercy, justice, the fall and atonement, and everything that goes into the wonder of the human experiment. (For that matter, what about the consequences of murder, or the passion of daily living, or the ordinary experiences that make life enjoyable, or the mundane, etc., etc., etc.) So, sure, why produce uniquely “Christian” works in the first place? It’s a good question to ask one’s self when thinking about end product or end market.

  5. Rhapsidiomite,

    The problem is that whether there are nice Evangelicals out there (I happen to know more than a couple) is a bit beside the point of the post.

    We all know that institutions can be hijacked by a small and vocal minority. The anti-Mormon evangelicals need not compose all the evangelical world, or even most of the evangelical world to have a decisive voice in torpedo-ing any Mormon author’s chances.

    What is more, you have to factor in how much the moderates in the evangelical camp really care about the issue.

    So look at it from a Christian bookseller’s point of view. You’ve got a sizeable segment of your customer base that is hostile to Mormon authors, a small segment that are favorable, and a vast majority who simply don’t care about the issue one way or the other.

    How do you act?

    It’s pretty obvious. You ban the Mormon authors. That way, you don’t aggravate the sizeable anti-Mormon constituency, the people who didn’t care before still aren’t going to care, and the people who were favorable to Mormon authors probably don’t care half so intensely as the anti-Mormons did.

    So there you are. No universal bigotry required.

  6. Rhapsidiomite raises the interesting question “why produce uniquely ‘Christian’ works in the first place?” Or in our case, why “Mormon” literature as opposed to just good literature. My husband asks the same question — in fact he made fun of the cover of “Hooligans” because there is a quote about Thayer being one of the finest authors the LDS Church has produced, as if the church deliberately raised and trained him to be a good writer.

    But it does raise the question of why we are trying to produce the great Mormon author or composer. And I think, for all our cynicism and analysis of the church in a bright and sometimes harsh light, the truth is it is very much an act of faith.

    President John Taylor taught, “You mark my words, and write them down and see if they do not come to pass. You will see the day that Zion will be far ahead of the outside world in everything pertaining to learning of every kind as we are today in regard to religious matters. God expects Zion to become the praise and glory of the whole earth, so that kings hearing of her fame will come and gaze upon her glory.” (Sept. 1857)

    Spencer W. Kimball said, “Members of the Church should be peers or superiors to any others in natural ability, extended training, plus the Holy Spirit which should bring them light and truth….Take a Handel with his purposeful effort, his superb talent, his earnest desire to properly depict the story, and give him inward vision of the whole true story and revelation, and what a master you have!” (Ensign July 1977)

    Elder Orson F. Whitney: “We shall yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own [meaning the LDS church]. God’s ammunition is not exhausted. His highest spirits are held in reserve for the latter times. In God’s name and by His help we will build up a literature whose tops will touch the heaven, though its foundation may now be low on the earth.”

    So we try, to prove that what these prophets and apostles have said really is true, and that we as artists and authors and composers really can create this amazing body of work that truly inspires. Because fundamentally, we believe we know the truth, we believe we have the gift of the Holy Ghost to guide us, and we believe God has blessed us with our talents precisely so that we can be the latter-day Shakepeares and Miltons foretold.

    But with that belief and desire to excel comes a warning to beware of pride, and the world certainly seems to be pushing that pride down on a regular basis — we won’t sell your book if you’re Mormon, and Deseret Book holds the monopoly on the Mormon market and won’t publish anything too intellectual or probing. Quite a challenge.

    But I still believe in the vision, and I still look for the great Mormon author, even if my husband teases me for it. BTW, for the great Mormon composer look no further than Mack Wilberg. The world doesn’t seem to care he’s Mormon, his work is so amazing. He’s more popular outside the church than in. Maybe our authors can learn from him….

  7. Kent, on further review, I realized that you were probably speaking a little more off the cuff, with perhaps a bit of an absolutist tone, and not making broad statements about future crossover possibilities with regards to Evangelicals and Mormons. You were speaking in practicalities of a very narrow, specific category, “Christian Bookstores,” and, well, I guess I do agree with you on the current state of affairs, frustrating as they may be. I interpreted your comments as more generalized to Evangelicals and Mormons.

    My apologies. 🙂

    I do think, tho’, that many of my points stand, and, as President Hinckley was wont to say, we haven’t even scratched the surface.

    Take Meilstrup’s comment (#6) as a springboard, a good rehash of some of the comments made by past prophets/apostles. Now, this is subjective to a degree, but I would not call Mack Wilberg “_the_ great Mormon composer.” (Articles make a difference: “the” vs. “a.” Though perhaps, Kelly, you meant this in a generalized way, which makes sense, but still, even to that point…) A wonderful arranger? Yes. A decent composer? Certainly. A Rachmaninov, Copeland, Dvorak or Takemitsu? No. Why?

    Well, admittedly it is a subjective question to a degree. Also, don’t read this as a criticism of Wilberg’s contribution to the body of Mormon works. Rather, I think it’s a realistic assessment.

    One problem is paradigm. It seems we’re coming from the wrong angle. We hear all these quotes (I have long loved the John Taylor one), we ruminate on them, we interpret them to mean something, and I often think our approach to understanding what can and will happen is far too narrow or just altogether off target.

    As one example, in context, many of our attempts at “breaking through” are centered around popular culture, or “pop,” if you will. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m as much a fan of Brooke White and David Archuleta as the average Joe, but the Mormon window on the world is a bit narrow in one sense, and defines itself to what the market will bear. Entirely understandable, given that people have to put food on the table.

    In another context, somehow, especially in Mormon circles, much of it all seems too conspicuous and self-centered. We define, and define, and define, and over define until we’ve focused so much on what we can and will become that we forget that it’s about all of humanity, and producing “great Mormon artists” and “great Mormon art” is more a byproduct of the endeavor, rather than an end to itself.

    I get a bit indignant about it, admittedly, because I hear so much talk that just seems a little lacking in vision. We sometimes talk about the whole thing in just the wrong way. At a certain level, all this talk of what it means to be a Mormon artist or what it means to produce Mormon art becomes noise to my ears. Not that I don’t think the talk is important. But so much of it seems so narrow minded.

    Now, to be sure, it does seem like something is percolating. I feel that there is a fair amount of really good artists who are working really hard to not be so self-oriented, and somewhere there’s going to be a bit of a watershed break. I think the finest works along those lines are the ones that don’t pretend to be anything other than art, and the fact that somebody _is_ Mormon or has _created_ something with a Mormon theme becomes almost a bit of a moot point — something that supersedes the vocal minority, like, say, Evangelical bookstores — and takes on its own paradigm and power.

    It’s a difficult mantra to figure out: how to become the light of the world without seeming arrogant, narrow, self-absorbed, or “popular.” But it’s my mantra, as best I can, and to be fair, I think the original post speaks to all this a little better than I at first realized.

  8. Kelly (#6):
    The question ‘ “why produce uniquely “˜Christian’ works in the first place?” Or in our case, why “Mormon” literature as opposed to just good literature.’ is nonsensical, in my view. As Mormons or Christians we can’t help but produce ‘Mormon’ or ‘Christian’ works! Artistic production COMES from your culture. If you are Mormon, what you produce is ‘Mormon.’ Unless you somehow take Mormon culture out of your life and memory (I don’t think this is possible), your are will ALWAYS be informed by your Mormon experience. I coverd this some time ago in my post about Why we need Mormon Culture.

    Your husband’s question is a little different, in my view he is asking why we highlight the affiliation of an author with the LDS Church. This is a complex question, one I haven’t yet tried to address. Off the top of my head, I suspect that this has something to do with our cultural identity — the same thing that leads us to root for our favorite sports team or express our pride in where we live or went to high school. If I’m right, then it is at least human for us to want to identify with other Mormons and believe that their accomplishments are somehow connected with us.

    As for producing “the great Mormon author or composer,” I wonder if the predictions you cite aren’t simply predictions, and not goals or suggestions that we create the “great Mormon novel.” I do believe that we will have great Mormon authors and composers, but I don’t think that these can be manufactured. Other than encouraging Mormons to write, what could anyone do to make this happen?

    In fact, I don’t know of ANY great work of art where the author or creator sat down to create a great work (perhaps I’m just ill-informed). Usually, they were just trying to create a work that they were happy about and would pay the bills.

    IMO, forcing the issue isn’t likely to work.

  9. Rhapsidiomite (#8):
    I’m still not sure, even with your latest comment, that I’ve made my position completely clear. Yes, my comments were focused on the practicalities of the Christian market, but there is a lot more involved than just Christian stores. Here are some observations that I think may make things clearer:

    1. As I tried to make clear in the post, LDS Bookstores are just as bad about these kinds of issues as Christian stores — they just exclude different material. If you look through my posts here, you’ll see that I’ve been quite critical of LDS stores and their narrow view of what they should carry.

    2. My point is also that Mormon publishers have no presence in the Christian market — and they aren’t trying to get their books into Christain stores. While I think its nearly impossible, given the state of the Christian market, I also think that Mormon publishers aren’t trying to get into other markets.

    3. In your earlier comment, you may be right about my lack of faith — but it is a lack of faith in the Mormon and Christian markets as they stand now. I believe that without substantial changes in how these markets are run, they will continue to be marginalized.

    I do agree with your assessment of Mack Wilberg. I’m no expert on composers, but I hesitate to accept critical acclaim if I don’t know what the critic knows of modern composers like the widely acclaimed Philip Glass. I also hesitate because Mormons are so woefully ignorant of our own cultural history, and Mormons who have had past critical acclaim, like Rowan Taylor, Galen Hatten, Crawford Gates, Leroy Robertson and perhaps even LaMont Young.

  10. OK, in defense of Mack Wilberg, perhaps I went a little far in naming him “the” great Mormon composer, rather than “a” great composer, but then, I’d like to think I’m picky about what I call great. Mack Wilberg is simply the best composer we have out there right now. Is he proficient at hymn arranging? Absolutely. But that’s not what I was thinking about when I made my statement. He has written a number of original compositions, of which I suspect Mormons as a whole are utterly unaware. While at Brigham Young University, he wrote an original piece for soprano solo (with choir and orchestral background) called “I’ll Speak the Honors of My King” which, while hovering around a vague tonal center, was not exactly tonal. It is the sort of piece my mother would cringe to hear, because it’s not sleepily tonal like much of our music. That doesn’t mean it isn’t beautiful, though.

    More importantly to me, though, is that Wilberg’s music has “soul” to it, if I may borrow the phrase. In his “Requiem” the emotions ebb and flow, and his “O Nata Lux” has tone clusters creating a soft tension that only resolves at the very end — which tension tugs at your heart as well.

    Having done my senior thesis on the Schoenberg Requiem, which is a work of mathematical genius but would not be soothing at a funeral (sorry, that’s my personal opinion), let me just say it is such a relief to get all the over-intellectual and less soul-filled music into the past and return a little to music that remembers it has an audience — that music is not just a math problem or a science experiment understandable only by the elite few. I am grateful for the things composers have tried, and I even really like a select few pieces that have come out of the last century (Henry Cowell’s “The Banshee” can give you delightful nightmares), and I can tell Wilberg has learned well from them.

    And yes, his works have been performed by symphonies and choruses from Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Cambridge England, Sweden, etc. Name another LDS composer whose works get that kind of notice outside Salt Lake City. His talent has and will be recognized worldwide, even if all Mormons know of him is what he tastefully prepares for General Conference.

  11. Kelly (#12) wrote:
    “Name another LDS composer whose works get that kind of notice outside Salt Lake City.”

    OK, how about the names I mentioned above? It doesn’t sound lik you would care for the works of LaMonte Young, but I think several of those I mentioned at the end of #11 have gotten some notice outside of Utah.

    And if you are willing to look at young, avant-guarde composers, how about Lisa DeSpain? or Christian Asplund? or Lansing McLoskey? None of these three even lives in Utah, from what I understand.

    I have nothing against Mack Wilberg. You could be right that he has a great reputation.

    What I’d like to know, before I accept your premise, is what in your background qualifies you to make this judgement? And what kind of study of LDS composers have you undertaken that makes you certain of your statement?

    I freely admit that I’m not qualified to judge — but then I’m not making a judgement, just throwing out names of LDS composers that I’ve heard of and that have had some critical success outside of Mormonism. The critics I know tell me these people are very good, perhaps of the level that you say Wilberg is at. Please tell me if I’m wrong.

    [FWIW, about the only thing I have any certainty about in music is that we’ve done rather well, at least in one case, in music performance. Pianist Grant Johannesen had a reputation second only to Van Cliburn, from what I’m told. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Mormons have no idea about him and his reputation. I’ll have to write about that some time.]

  12. I liked Requiem as well. Haven’t heard of Kent’s artists. But then again, it’s possible that I wouldn’t have known Wilberg if I hadn’t grown up within spitting distance of BYU campus and attended his Christmas concerts each year as kind of a family tradition.

  13. Seth R. wrote:
    “Haven’t heard of Kent’s artists.”

    This is exactly my point. If you haven’t heard of them, its kind of hard to judge who is good and who isn’t. Right?

  14. Evangelicals will flip if they read pd mallamo’s story, “Sign of the Gun.”

    Chambridge University’s veneral journal _Chanta_ has just published lds writer PD Mallamo’s short story “Sign of the Gun” on its website:

    http://www.granta.com

    scroll down to “New Voices”

    Mallamo’s story was picked for Granta’s FIRST “New Voices” feature on its website.

    The story has an LDS woman character.
    It’s rough and tough theme with a gentle, compassionate ending.

    It is definitely worth the read.

    Mallamo wrote the cover story “Anythang Will Do,” in _Sunstone_ a few issues back.

  15. Kent:
    I didn’t realize I needed a degree to have an opinion or pass judgment. But yes, I have a B.A. in music from BYU. Piano was my instrument, but I started out as a music theory/composition major. I studied theory and composition with Michael Hicks, Stephen Jones, Dr. Sargent, Gaylen Hatton (on your list), Thomas Durham, Jack Boss (not LDS).

    I thoroughly enjoyed 16th and 18th century counterpoint and orchestration, and even loved Schenkerian analysis, but I really disliked my composition classes. The main reason for that is that we were required to write using serial techniques, creating new sounds in computer labs (not anything like a current instrument), and similar things. I know the techniques used by modern composers, and by and large I’m not so impressed. I walked out of my composition classes disliking everything I wrote, but loving everything I wrote for counterpoint. Which means deep down in my soul, I love tonality. I would liken the love of atonality in the 20th century to the obsession with atheism in that same century — but perhaps that is a story for another day.

    As to a detailed study of LDS composers, I only know the ones who I have met personally, learned from, or whose music I am able to buy recordings of. Yes, I could know more, but I’m no slouch.

    Having said all this, I also went to bed last night thinking that perhaps I have derailed the whole point of the discussion here, which was about LDS authors trying to get carried in book stores, and so I do owe you an apology for making a statement that has caused such a big brouhaha. But I said what I firmly believe. Perhaps I said it too early, though. The only great composers are dead composers. Maybe in 100 years we will have the evidence to back up my opinion.

  16. Kelly:
    I’m sorry if I came across as too strident about qualifications. My own reason for pursuing this is more to understand, and in part to make a point about the lack of availability of information. You are clearly more qualified to judge than I am.

    It seems to me that the problem is how to know who is LDS, which is exactly the point I’d like to make. To my knowledge, there is no complete list of LDS composers, and certain types of individuals (LaMont Young is a good example) tend to not be included when talking about LDS Church members.

    I think our culture is lacking in cultural memory. Talented individuals in a generation produce works of art, some of which gain critical acclaim. Some are accepted by the culture, and others are not, for a variety of reasons. By the time the next generation comes along, these individuals have been forgotten by the culture as a whole. Not even the folks at BYU remember most of the time.

    As a result, when it comes time to making the kind of judgements you made when you called Wilberg a great composer, the information needed for an informed judgement isn’t there!

    So my issue is simply, when you say Wilberg is a great LDS composer, how do you know? As you admit, you don’t have an extensive knowledge of LDS composers. No one does. The same thing goes for all kinds of artists. We’re missing visual artists, authors, performers, coreographers and others.

    So, I don’t think we ought to make too many claims about anyone, simply because we don’t have a very complete list of these artists to work from.

    That said, I appreciate your background and input, and I think your qualifications are very good (liking atonality is certainly no requirement for judgement, IMO).

    As for getting us off topic, oh well! I’m not going to worry about it.

  17. Kent,
    You’re right — we do have a short memory when it comes to LDS composers, and part of the problem is that, unlike literature, most composers aren’t out to be a great “LDS composer.” They just want to be a composer and get their work played.

    There are a few who will always be remembered, but those are the ones who are in the hymnbook, and therefore we see their names somewhat regularly. So we will remember Gaylen Hatten and Newell Dayley for their hymns. We also remember those whose hymn arrangements are performed regularly, which is why we will remember Crawford Gates for his “O My Father.” I would like to think we will remember Alexander Schreiner for his exceptional organ playing and his hymns. And I hope we remember Robert Cundick for his “Redeemer” if nothing else.

    But, you’re right. Most LDS composers are at universities, and when they leave we forget them. Before I attended BYU, the only music faculty I had heard of were Merrill Bradshaw and Newell Dayley, only because I owned some of their piano arrangements. So if you attend BYU or another university where LDS composers work, then you get a chance to hear their works. Otherwise, you get little chance to know who they are.

    I make my assertion about Mack Wilberg based on the fact that he is one of the few LDS composers who escaped the university system (if escaped is not too strong a term). He no longer has to seek grants and endowments in order to get his work performed; he no longer has to sell his ideas to publishers to get his work out to people besides his immediate university associates. He no longer travels as a visiting professor to other universities and has his works played there for students to learn from. Rather, he has people seeking him out and asking him to compose music for them. He was asked by the Carnegie Hall Corporation to compose part of his Requiem simply to fill out a program they were already planning. When a composer no longer has to beg people to let him write them a piece (hoping they will have faith in his abilities), but rather people beg him to write them a piece (already having the faith that it will be excellent), then that composer has truly arrived.

    Right now, Wilberg is in a similar position to John Rutter, as far as his name and reputation for choral writing. It remains to be seen if he will ascend beyond that. But even so, his name is not one that will be forgotten as easily as those in the past.

    This is why I think Mack Wilberg is a great composer (I used the word “the” before only because I know of no other LDS composer at present who is in the position he is in right now).

    Regarding a lack of information about LDS composers, you’re right, but I believe they are trying to change that. Several LDS composers, many of them professors at BYU have put together a CD called Mormoniana, which has a work from each of them. This project entailed each composer selecting a piece of artwork, which they then tried to embody in a musical composition. The concept is somewhat like Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” in which each section of the piece represents a painting. It’s a fun concept, and a way to get their names as composers out in the public, but they need to do a better job of sales and advertising, so we can even know it exists. I don’t believe too many people have heard of it.

    I am also certain there are good composers hiding in our wards and stakes undiscovered, because they lack the access to quality choirs and orchestras, and write only for their ward and stake needs. Unless you get a PhD and work at a university, you have little chance of being noticed, and little reason to write a great symphony if you’ll never hear it played. Original compositions have little place in the LDS worship services, rightfully so most of the time, I think.

    So what do Mormons know of LDS composers? I found a website asking people who their favorite LDS composers were. Janice Kapp Perry won hands down. Other votes were for Michael McLean, Afterglow, etc. Not a single vote for the more classically oriented composers. It makes sense, we hear far more JKP in church than the others. I have yet to hear a work by David Sargent or Steven Jones in church. But it makes me sad to think that our LDS songwriters have a greater presence than some of our most well-trained, well-qualified composers (and yes I believe there is a distinction between the two groups).

    Anyhow, thanks for the conversation on the subject. I want for LDS composers what I believe you want for LDS authors — greater awareness of their efforts both within and without the LDS community, and the joy of seeing some of them rise to the top of their profession.

  18. Kelly and Kent:

    I find this discussion fascinating. When I read People of Paradox, one of the artistic areas where I had almost no prior knowledge was the discussion of 20th century Mormon composers. So many oratorios that I had never heard of — and have no idea how to hear. At least with Mormon theater, those of us who don’t live along the Wasatch Front can read scripts.

  19. Kelly:

    Your latest post is great. Right on the mark. And when I read your mention of Mormoniana I had to smile, because my company is the distributor for the project. The project was put together by the Mormon Artists Group, which is led by my good friend, Glen Nelson, who was the editor for the project. In addition to the CD, featuring the works performed by Grant Johannesen in his last recording, the project also produced a book of the sheet music together with the artwork that insipired the music. The sheet music is available as a limited edition book and as a paperback Both the limited edition and the paperback include the CD!

    I should also point out one interesting difference among the various composers we’ve mentioned above. Out of curiosity, I searched wikipedia for all of the Mormon composers we’ve mentioned above. Many of the better known composers are listed, including Crawford Gates, Leroy Robertson, Mack Wilberg, etc. But in every case it was fairly clear from the information given and references listed that theauthor of the article was coming from an LDS perspective.

    I only found one name listed where that was not the case; where the article had clearly been put together by those who included the article in wikipedia because they thought that the composer was important himself, instead of just because he was Mormon. The article was also the best developed of all the articles on Mormon composers. Who was it?

    La Mont Young

    FWIW.

  20. Not related to the now much more interesting parts of the conversation, but I found something interesting:

    I went to the local Christian book store a couple weeks ago to explore a recent Christian pop music fascination of mine. While I was there, I thought I’d look to get some copies of C.S. Lewis books… I’m collecting copies of my favorites to give as graduation gifts to my graduating seminary students.

    I was surprised to find that other than the Chronicles of Narnia and a myriad of commentaries on the Chronicles of Narnia, the bookstore didn’t carry anything by Lewis. Nothing. Not even Mere Christianity, which I have long considered the clearest, most relevant work of Christian apologetics to date.

    So I don’t think the Christian pop bias against Mormons is limited to Mormons; I think it’s a very oddly insular culture that eschews anything outside of the current vibe.

    I had to think really hard about why Mere Christianity should be out of vogue. All I can come up with is the fact that it opens with a very pointed diatribe on the silliness of refusing to call certain people Christians.

  21. Anneke, you are right.

    But let me beat a dead horse :

    LDS bookstores pull the same things. Important intellectually-oriented titles are often missing.

    Examples abound, including most books by Eugene England and almost anything published by Signature Books. [I’m not saying that LDS Bookstores should carry everything from Signature, but there are many titles that are no-brainers, IMO.]

  22. OK, here’s an idea:

    FOR SALE: Successful publisher of mostly Christian titles. Publisher anticipating 2007 revenues in excess of $1 million. Several hundred titles in print, four sales reps in field. Owner wants to retire and write. Asking $2 million, but all offers will be considered. Email ngriese@anvilpub.com or custserv@anvilpub.com or call 770-938-0289 if interested.

    The above classified comes from the Southern Review of Books, and is legit.

    Should a Mormon publisher try to acquire a company like this in order to get into the Christian market?

    From a Mormon point-of-view, it would show a real committment — something LDS publishers haven’t yet been willing to do!

  23. “What I’m wondering is why this is a bad thing? That we are kept out of one of the kitschy-est, silliest, most trivializing book markets on the planet?”

    For me, it’d be the money. The inspirational/Christian market is one of the fastest growing markets right now. The prediction recently at a Barnes & Noble company wide meeting was 50% growth in the space of two years. That is PHENOMENAL growth. Christians are eating up inspirational fiction, and so I don’t think it’s so silly to want to get a piece of that if at all possible. It’d be nice to write just for writing’s sake, but most authors I know hope to get some sort of compensation for it. And more compensation means more time to devote to writing.

    I entered my first novel into the RWA RITA (published author award) in the inspirational category. I didn’t final. I didn’t think I would. I’m hoping to get some judges’ comments back to see why. It could be the writing, but I’m guessing it’s more along the lines of my book being completely different than anything the inspirational judges had ever read before as it was based on the Book of Mormon. And unfortunately, inspirational was the category my book was best suited for, and the guidelines say that it is any book written by any faith. But I doubt that anyone kept that in mind.

  24. Sariah, you are right that it is growing quickly. That is a large part of the interest among LDS writers, especially since the LDS market isn’t growing that same way.

    And my point is that, unfortunately, too manyLDS authors think they can get into this market, and too many LDS publishers claim that they can get into this market. Its NOT as easy as so many in the LDS market seem to think.

    Please let us know, Sariah, what you learn from the judge’s comments.

    BTW, where did you get the B&N company wide meeting stat? Were you at the meeting? Or did you see it reported somewhere?

  25. I was just thinking that one clue might be how the Christian pop/devotional music industry has reacted to Mormon artists. My understanding is that that’s an area that’s more developed than books.

    Have there been any Mormon artists who have experienced crossover success?

    I have this vague memory of a couple of artists breaking into the scene, but then shut down when it became too widely known that they were Mormons, but no concrete examples come to mind.

  26. Keith:

    This site isn’t the place for discussion of Mormonism’s place within (or without) and relationship with “mainstream” Christianity. There are all sorts of other blogs and message boards and forums where that can be debated. I’m not saying that you are looking for such a debate, but I have to throw that out there because of the nature of the Web site you link too.

    With all that out of the way:

    I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility for there to be Christ-focused, devotional and self-help literature that is appealing to Christians of all stripes, including Mormons.

    It’s not something that interests me specifically, but I can see the possibility of it.

    Even more so, there is a lot of Mormon pop music that is much more Christian than it is Mormon.

  27. Keith:

    I think the above commentary has already answered this question. You might want to actually read the commentary before posting your own comments.

    It would be interesting if you addressed the perception that Christian stores won’t carry any material by Mormon authors. Is that perception correct? If so, why? Is it justified?

    I think that information might help us understand why we see the same reactions among LDS stores to works from those considered apostate or off the mark.

Comments are closed.