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Michael W. Smith: In the Light of "Glory"
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Bill Gaither has been a long-time fan of Michael W. Smith, but he and Gloria were both overwhelmed by what they heard on Smitty’s latest instrumental offering — the album Glory. Michael and Bill sat down recently to talk about the album, the music and how the light of God can shine in the darkness, just as music can speak without words…

BILL: Hey Michael W., how are you doing?

MICHAEL: I’m doing great! Thank you so much for including me and this record in this issue — I think that’s pretty special. I really appreciate it.

BILL: Well, you know, Glory to me was one of those “stop and get off the road” records. This is more than a human being doing this; there’s some God involved! (Laughs) It is so brilliantly done, and, I thought I would love to talk with you about it. Starting out with the fact that gospel music historically has been — or at least it starts out with — a lyric-oriented motivation for the most part. And from time to time, obviously the classical composers were able to compose some music that was not associated with a lyric. However, most instrumental stuff in the evangelical church is associated with a lyric. To me, your album — and maybe there’s more out there and I don’t get out enough! — but to me, this is one of the first audio projects that I have picked up that really, without an association of any lyric at all, leads to worship and leads to praise. I just want to compliment you for it.

MICHAEL: Yeah, I don’t really know of anything else out there right now. You know, my favorite instrumental stuff is all the soundtracks. I’m a huge John Williams fan, and Hans Zimmer, who did Gladiator, so that’s my favorite stuff to listen to. But you know, Bill, it’s so weird because I’ll sit down to write a pop song and before you know it, I’m scoring a movie in my head…(laughs)…and I can’t stop it! I don’t want to quench it; it seems to be the natural thing that comes out of me. Sometimes I think back to that quote from the movie Chariots of Fire when Eric Liddell — which I will never forget because it was a wonderfully moving moment for me — when he said, “When I run, I feel His pleasure.” I remember at that moment, I thought, “That’s me!” When I put my hands on the keyboard, I feel His pleasure.

BILL: I really believe that, and you can sense it all the way through, starting with the first tune. It’s hard for me to pick out a favorite. I love the overture, and I think it’s very exciting. It seems interesting to me — you talk about John Williams, and we are all products of influences that have come in our heads. But I want to stay with what I said originally: I have great instrumental Christian records in my collection, but all of those songs are associated with a lyric that I know. I’ve got to give you A plus-plus-plus because, though there are no lyrics connected with this, it takes me to the throne of God just as much as hearing a great orchestral arrangement of “How Great Thou Art,” which I’m associating with a lyric every time I hear it. So God bless you, my young friend!

MICHAEL: Well, I hope a lot of people will feel the same way you do. I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback on it. I knew when I was recording this, I had something really, really special. I’ve maybe seen one negative review, but 99.9 percent of the people are just raving about it, and I’m just so grateful. And I do think it’s more than just “Yeah, we love this instrumental record.” I think there’s something connecting on a spiritual level with people.

BILL: Absolutely! And speaking of that, I want to get to specific tunes — your melodies: those are God-given melodies, and I can see a little bit of your classical background, a little bit of John Williams, but I can also, as in “Patriot” and “Heroes,” hear a bit of West Virginia — Appalachian tunes from your childhood. Ken Burns has got to hear what you’re doing. I can see him, on PBS, using anything that you do, and of course, I love Appalachia. I love the mountains and mountain music, but you’ve included all of these influences, especially on those tunes — I felt like I was back in West Virginia.

MICHAEL: Well, I think there is some of that influence — growing up with that and having a love for Copeland as well. The song “Redemption” also has a lot of that. I have to give props to my producer, David Hamilton, too. He’s just really amazing. He does a great job of listening to what I want to do, but I’m open for his suggestions. And actually, the “Redemption” thing was really his idea — to take it more the Copeland-ish direction when it came to the arrangement. But “Patriot” and “Heroes” — yeah, I guess it’s early influences, and it’s also my love for the military, too, because both of those songs were really inspired by men and women in uniform and our veterans.

BILL: I guess what really thrills me is Gloria and I have said (by the way, Gloria says you have a future in movie scoring too!) but it goes back to something we said 40 years ago. God speaks in all different kinds of ways, in all different kinds of styles. Being around in this business this long, I’ve always been asked the question: “Well, what do you think about the new music?” I always have one answer: God speaks in all kinds of ways — some of which you’re gonna like, some you’re not gonna like. But just let Him speak. And I think the thing that thrills me so much here is this: that we live in a day and time when the electronics have kind of taken over a lot of the music field, and it is still great just to go back to great melodies and great harmonics and great music played by great musicians, and let God speak. The minute we box God in, He’s gonna jump out of the box.

MICHAEL: Yep, I totally agree, much of it does sound the same, and we’re just looking for something unique, something that sounds a little different. Let’s take some risks, you know, and I always feel that — I love it, and I don’t fully understand it, but I know there’s some truth here. Let’s sing a new song unto the Lord, and I haven’t heard any really new songs unto the Lord much, so maybe this instrumental thing is a part of that. I still have a heart to write worship songs for the church. I’m still doing that, and I love that. And I’m still trying to  gure out how to write a great pop song and not think about it too much. But the whole instrumental thing — it’s probably the most natural and the easiest thing. I’m not saying it was easy to make this record, but it just seemed to sort of ooze out of me.

BILL: I believe that. I’ve seen you and heard you when you get into a groove, and those are grooves you just can’t explain. I call those “God moments.” It reminds me of a line that I love from the song “You Needed Me,” that says “you put me...so high that I could almost see eternity.”

MICHAEL: Mmm — that’s good.

BILL: You know, one word I wanted to use with you that’s not used very much with Christian songwriters is composer. Because gospel songwriters — and Gloria and I are very proud to associate with that title — but the word is not used much with us. We’ve had some good composers who have created some pretty good music, but I think this does elevate the title “Christian composer” to another level, so I wanted to tell you that, and I think you ought to wear that with some real pride.

MICHAEL: Well, I thank you, Bill. I appreciate that.

BILL: Anything else you want to share about the project?

MICHAEL: I would just say that there are a couple of other special moments. There are two songs written on it for my wife. You know, you’ve been married 49 years, and I just celebrated 30 back in the fall, so we’re so blessed. You know, we’re more in love today than we ever have been. So that stuff oozes out of me too, when I think about Deb. Then there’s the whole “Joy Follows Suffering” song …

BILL: I love that! I love the minor treatment there … minor, major, minor — what you did is great.

MICHAEL: …and “Glory Battle,” “Atonement,” “Redemption”… all those songs kind of hold together. I feel they go together in that I really did focus in on Christ, obviously, when He’s sort of contemplating what’s getting ready to happen–the battle, good and evil—and we think it’s over because He died, and then this whole “Atonement” thing— one of my favorite things on the record as well.

BILL: Wonderful, wonderful …

MICHAEL: And the “Redemption” thing is celebratory; it’s not like “How Great is Our God,” and it’s not what certain people would think would be a celebratory song in the church, but for me, it’s very celebratory. And then, I love ending the record with “Agnus Dei.”

BILL: And of course that’s beautiful whether sung or played or whatever. It’s great literature that will stick to the wall after we’re all gone. Let me also congratulate you on your lifestyle. I know it’s getting tougher and tougher to put some flags up the flagpole we can all salute, but you and Debbie have done it well, and managed both struggle and success well. And many times it’s easier to manage struggle than it is success, but you’ve done it with class. You make us all proud.

MICHAEL: I appreciate it, Bill, and we feel the same about you and Gloria.

BILL: Well I’m proud of you, my friend.

MICHAEL: The feeling is mutual, Bill. I really appreciate your encouragement and your enthusiasm for the record, and I think people will be blessed by it. You know, I don’t sit around worrying about record sales — it’ll do what God intended for it to do. But I appreciate your support for it very much.

BILL: Well, I’m at the age where I just do what I feel like, and if it works and people buy it, fine; it’s always better if that happens. But I’m gonna do what I love to do, and what motivates me, and what inspires me, and this project inspired this old character! (Laughs)

Click for more about Homecoming friend and Christian artist Michael W. Smith.