In January 2014, Utah Valley 360 published a list of the <a href=”http://utahvalley360.com/2014/01/23/100-coolest-lds-women-alive-today/”>“100 Coolest Mormon Women Alive Today.”</a> On Saturday, May 20, one of these women, <a href=”https://www.janicekappperry.com/”>Janice Kapp Perry</a>, visited the Mendon Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to speak at a women’s conference.
Perry, who is best known as a prolific and inspirational songwriter, has given more than 100 such presentations nationwide but said yesterday’s address might be one of her last. Traveling to Mendon from Provo with Douglas Perry, her husband of 57 years, Perry spoke of the couple’s advancing years and said, while rewarding, such opportunities are becoming more difficult. It was easy to see, however, why she has been asked to share her perspective so often.
“Sometimes, you just wake up in the right place at the right time,” Mendon Stake Relief Society President Laura Morgan told the audience of several hundred women after Perry’s message. “This was one of those mornings.”
Perry was asked to speak to the women’s conference participants about the things that bring her joy. Having composed more than 1,300 songs and produced 50-plus albums over the past four decades, Perry noted that for her, “of course, a main one is music.” She also spoke of developing talents and emphasized that “giving service brings us the greatest joy of all.”
Perry didn’t begin writing music until she was nearly 40-years-old. A lifetime sports enthusiast, she played competitive softball throughout her earlier adulthood until she had what she called “two lucky breaks.”
“I broke my ankle playing baseball,” she said, “and our TV broke.”
Having been asked by the bishop of her LDS congregation to write a roadshow, the BYU music major spent her convalescence discovering a dormant talent that resulted in her becoming a beloved Mormon icon. She has written children’s music, pieces for adolescents and more than 160 hymns, including favorites like “A Child’s Prayer,” “I Love to See the Temple,” “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus,” “I Walk By Faith” and “As Sisters in Zion.”
“A Child’s Prayer” is Perry’s personal favorite, having given her strength after a serious car accident. In 2013, the piece also earned the top slot on an LDS Living list of the <a href=”http://www.ldsliving.com/LDS-Living-Presents-the-Top-100-Greatest-LDS-Songs-of-All-Time/s/71356″>“100 Greatest LDS Songs.”</a>
Perry, who also sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for five years, said she once asked her husband why he thought she hadn’t begun writing music earlier.
“That was your research phase,” he told her, “where you were experiencing life that you can now write about.”
Indeed, much of Perry’s music draws from her personal challenges, triumphs and losses. She wrote the tender melody “Where is Heaven” after she and Doug lost a child shortly after birth. “His Infinite Power” was composed during a 20-year trial when <a href=”http://ldsmag.com/article-1-14626-2/”>she inexplicably lost the use of her left hand</a>. She has also written music to help children better understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to inspire missionary service and to draw families closer together in love.
While Perry has traveled the world with her music and has received accolades like the Exemplary Woman Award from Ricks College and the BYU Alumni Distinguished Service Award, she said Saturday that the top 10 things that have brought her joy in the past decade had nothing to do with income or recognition but instead involved serving others. Sharing a poignant story of having spent many Wednesdays reading to a blind friend and washing and rubbing the woman’s feet just days before her passing, Perry quoted a line from “Les Miserables,” saying, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
“It wasn’t always easy week after week,” Perry said of her service to her friend, “but it was such an important part of my spiritual education. If you thoughtfully and prayerfully think of someone who is in need and do one thing for them that’s a definite sacrifice, I promise you’ll experience a whole new depth of meaning in your life and you’ll come to crave those experiences.”
Other advice she gave her Mendon audience included facing personal fears, cultivating and sharing talents and writing a family song. After she and her husband shared a charming rendition of their own family song, Perry joked, “I know this man like a book, but sometimes I don’t know what page he’s on.”
Engaging participants in a six-melody singalong, Perry also said, “the fact that you know these words justifies my whole existence.”
While there’s no succinct way to encapsulate the breadth of Janice Kapp Perry’s career as a composer, members of Saturday’s audience had no trouble summarizing what her presentation at the conference meant to them. Rebekah Smith and her daughter, Hannah, sang “A Child’s Prayer” during a mini-class following Perry’s address, and the course’s instructor, Melinda Fryer, called Perry’s presentation “totally uplifting and spiritual.” Rebekah Smith said she loved how Perry spoke with a personable, down-to-earth spirit.
“I loved the music that she used and had us all sing,” Smith added, “and especially her family song was really fun. I love how she tied in the theme with her music, talking about how she has used her music and experiences in life to serve others and that’s how she’s found the greatest joy in her life.”
“I liked that she was able to make everyone feel like they were sisters in Zion,” said 13-year-old Hannah Smith. “We all felt like we were angels and we were in that army against evil and we were growing.”