Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Rock and Roll and the Hole in my Soul

We’ve been having this interesting discussion on the LDSMusicians group, and it prompted a response from me that I’d like to share here. It all started when one of the group members, a concerned mom, asked if there were an “LDS equivalent to Weezer”. It seems her son has gotten into the band and has gotten some of their CD’s.

That opened the discussion to lots of suggestions of LDS artists, but it was determined very quickly that there isn’t an LDS equivalent to many mainstream artists, especially in the rock world.

Many suggested some artists from the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) world. One person responded to that by saying, “The thing that throws me about some Christian musicians is that doctrine is sometimes off in certain lyrics. Of course with regular musicians you often get worse than that, but I wonder about the subtlety of catching stuff that's close to right, but not quite. So I think even with CCM, it pays to be selective, and I gave up, because I didn't have the patience to sort through songs.”

I took a moment and thought to myself and wrote out my thoughts and posted them to the list. And, I share them here:

I'm going to get myself in trouble for saying this, but...

The kind of music I would love to listen to simply does not exist currently.

By that, I mean:

• hard rock,
• produced to a major label quality,
• by active members of the church,
• writing songs that explore the experience of living the gospel in a difficult world.

There are artists that have attained a few of these criteria, but I've not encountered more than a song or two that meets them all. I don't think my own work even matches all these parameters.

So, as a result, I make compromises. I listen to a lot of Christian Rock, which is good, hard rock, produced on a major label quality level. But it's not speaking directly to my life's experiences as a Mormon. Still, I really like most of what I hear, like Petra, Superchick, DC Talk, Toby Mac, Michael Sweet (Stryper has reunited, BTW, and put out a new CD!)

There are Mormons making "rock" music that is of major label quality. But it's not, for the most part, good hard rock. A bit edgy, perhaps, but not as heavy as I like it. It's good stuff, and I like it (like Greg Simpson, or Cherie Magill), but it's not heavy, as much as they might like to pretend it is.

There are Mormons making good heavy, hard rock music. But most of those aren't doing it on the quality level of the big boys (my own stuff falls in this category, and the likes of Fast Sundae, etc...). I really like this stuff, and I listen to it a lot (especially FS!). But it's still lacking in quality.

There are also some Mormons making heavy music that doesn't really address life as a church member. I don't mean they have to be quoting scripture, but the songs are innocuous. I like this stuff a lot, too, but to me, it's not as fulfilling. "Beyond Braille" falls into this category.

I like a lot of stuff. I like Cherie Call, who's not heavy at all, but is an incredible writer. I like Border Crossing and Dave Edwards for the same reasons.

There is a lot of music out there that is wonderful music, and I enjoy listening to it. But when it comes to the kind of music that would really hit me where I like it, I can't find it. It simply doesn't exist yet. And I find that very frustrating.

So, thanks for letting me vent a little.

Mark Hansen

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Faith and Works

Another common point of contention between Mormons and other Christian religions is the nature of the balance between faith (or grace) and works. The Christians say to us, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” -Eph 2:8-9

And we say back to them: “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” -James 2: 17

And the problem is that we mormons tend to forget that we can do all the good works that we want, but we’ll never be good enough to make it back to heaven, that’s why we need the Lord’s Grace. And the Christian world tends to forget that Jesus wanted everyone to be “Doers of the word, not hearers only”.

So, with that in mind, I recently noticed some interesting quirkiness in a couple of bits of religious pop culture.

One is the recently produced children’s story called “The Parable of the Bicycle”, and another is a number of CD’s currently out on the CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) market, particularly DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak” CD.

The “Bicycle” story is an adaptation of the story that forms the basis of the book “Believing Christ”. It talks about a little girl who wants a bike. Her dad says, “Save as much as you can, and we’ll see about the rest”. So, she does, but in the end falls hopelessly short of the amount needed for the bike. And her dad buys the bike anyway. The comparison is made with the atonement. No matter how hard we try, we can’t make it alone. But Jesus steps in and makes up the difference. The story has a very strong tone of “believe, and everything will be OK”. Which is a very orthodox Christian approach to the gospel. But the book is written by and published by Mormons.

And there are several songs by DC Talk on this CD that talk about how important it is to be kind to people and treat them well, and help them and act like Christians instead of just claiming to be forgiven. Which, to me, sounds a lot like emphasizing works, which is a very common Mormon approach to the gospel.

The reality is, of course, not so polarized. We do need to follow Christ’s teachings. We do need to do good. We do need to live well. But we also need to put our faith in the Lord, and not try to do it alone. Remember: “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.” 2 Ne. 4: 34, (Book of Mormon)

I guess, in a lot of ways, we Mormons and Orthodox Christians aren’t so different after all, eh? Shhh… Don’t tell…

Mark Hansen

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

What does "God" Mean?

So much arguing, so little understanding.

I was reading on a forum in MySpace about “The Trinity”. It said that, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I don’t believe in “The Trinity”.

And it reminded me once when someone actually asked me that. The question was posed just that way: “Do you believe in the Trinity?”

My first thought at the time was, “That depends on how you define ‘Trinity’…”

See, so much of what I’m discovering as I interact with those of other faiths is that we tend to associate different meanings to the same words. Then we argue with each other and accuse each other of blasphemy or heresy because our words mean different things.

There are a lot of words that carry different meanings. “Polytheism” and “Monotheism” are good examples. One could look at my beliefs and say that I’m a polytheist. Another could look at me and also say that I’m a monotheist. And using their own definitions, they’d both be right.

“God” is another word that a lot of people argue about. The way we use the word “God” as mormons confused me for a long time. Until I realized that, like a lot of words in English, “God” has many shades of meaning. I think I’ll go there first:

“God” to me, simply means a being that has achieved a certain awesome level of spiritual power. So much so that His/Her glory and existence is beyond what a mortal can fully comprehend. In that sense, I am a polytheist. There are, in fact, many “Gods”. There will yet be many more “Gods” to come.

“God” is also used in Mormonism (in English) to refer to a particular being that has achieved this level of spiritual power to such an extreme that He created all of us. We also refer to Him as “God the Father”, “Heavenly Father”, and “Elohim”. He is the God that I worship. He is the God that I pray to. I don’t pray to any other God. There are no other Gods that are “before Him” or that supercede Him. In that sense, I am a monotheist.

“God” is also the name we often use to refer to another being. This is Jesus Christ, or Jehovah. He is one of the many spirit children of God the Father, just like all of the rest of us. He, however, progressed in his spiritual power to achieve the title of “God” much earlier than the rest of us. He, under the direction of God the Father, created the earth. The people of the Old Testament referred to Him as God. Moses and Abraham walked and talked with Him face to face. He is referred to in the New Testament as “The Word made flesh”. When the verse says, “The Word was God”, it’s reaffirming Jesus’ title as “God”. When it says, “The Word was with God”, it’s explaining that Jesus was with God the Father in the very beginning.

God, the Son, by his own admission and instruction, does nothing that He didn’t receive by instruction from God, the Father. When I pray, I pray to God the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ.

It’s not as common, but there are also times when we refer to the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost, as “God” also. He is “The Spirit of God”. He also has achieved the title of “God” and, like Jesus Christ, works under the direction of God the Father.

But there are verses in LDS scripture that directly refer to all three as “One God”. In 2 Ne. 31: 21, it says, “And now, behold, my beloved brethren, this is the way; and there is none other way nor name given under heaven whereby man can be saved in the kingdom of God. And now, behold, this is the doctrine of Christ, and the only and true doctrine of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which is one God, without end. Amen.”

How can that be? We believe them to be separate beings! And that verse lists them as separate entities! And then it tells us they are one!

Again it comes down to the meanings in words. As Mormons, we often refer to the three beings together as “God”. Sometimes we also call them “The Godhead”. How can three distinct individuals be called by the name “God”? It’s singular! But we often refer to groups of people by singular nouns. That’s nothing new. “The Presidency”, “Congress”, “The Choir”… If the three “Gods” are a council working together for the same aim (our eternal life), why can’t we call that council “God”?

So, the three individual “God” beings, known as the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, are a council that’s also called “God”. The three, individually, are themselves “Gods”. The three, together, are one “God”.

So, yes I believe in “The Trinity”. But not in the same meaning as others might think. I also believe that many Gods exist. I worship one God.

And, ultimately, the one “God” being that I worship as a member of the church is my Heavenly Father. And I thank him often that I have the support of God, the Holy Ghost, and the atonement and intercession of God, the Son, on my behalf.

Mark Hansen

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

My Wife!

Well, Jacob’s finally getting a new wheelchair. One that fits him, and one that he can learn to grab the wheels and move. We’re pretty excited. Jodi’s been working on this for over a year, now.

That’s really what I wanted to blog about. Just how amazingly incredibly persistent and on top of things my wonderful wife is. She takes such good care of all of Jacob’s issues, from fighting insurance companies, to dealing with government agencies. It’s all overwhelming, but she tackles it and gets it all done.

And, now, in her spare time, she’s blogging! http://jodisjovialjargin.blogspot.com/ It’s just her first post, but it’ll be fun to follow along as she tells you all about her days.

I love her. She’s put up with me for 18 years, now, and our boys for 8. We’ve had an interesting trip through life together, and I’m very grateful for that.

Mark Hansen

Saturday, November 26, 2005

What I Did for my Thanksgiving Weekend

I want to tell you about what happened today, but before I do, I need to tell you another story. I need to set it up for you.

When Jodi and I first got married, it only took us a few weeks to decide that we wanted to go off birth control and have kids as soon as the Lord would give them to us. We figured that would be pretty quick.

But it wasn’t. After a year or two of trying, we went in and had some infertility treatments, that didn’t really do anything more than flip Jodi’s hormones crazy. Years went by, and along the way we did some foster parenting, mostly later teenagers, but occasionally younger. But with no children of our own, we became more and more frustrated along the way.

We looked at adopting, but a lot of things made that not right for us to pursue at the time.

Eventually, we decided that we were simply not meant to have kids. But there was a sentence in my Patriarchal Blessing that referred to it, and did so in a way that implied that we would have biological children. It said that I would “sire children”. So, even when our faith sagged, I still clung to the hope of one day being a father.

Years went by. It became an accepted, unspoken rule that Jodi would stay home from church on Mother’s Day. I still went of Father’s Day. Partly because I felt like, with all the grief we got from delinquent teenage foster kids, I’d earned my wings, but mostly because, frankly, Father’s Day isn’t really that big a deal anyway.

Then, after two rounds of a frightening medication named Clomid, we got pregnant. We were ecstatic! After eight years, we were finally going to be parents.

Not so. Halfway through the pregnancy, it miscarried. We were devastated. At the time, I was working for a foundation, teaching music to kids in an elementary school. My supervisor made it clear that she expected me back in for work the following Monday. It was seriously tough for me to go back to work teaching other people’s children when I’d been denied that privilege of my own.

About a year later, there was another pregnancy and another miscarriage, this one much earlier.

Finally, another round of Clomid, and a third pregnancy happened. We were very careful this time. The OB/Gyn literally sewed Jodi's cervix shut. She was on full bed rest THE ENTIRE NINE MONTHS, if you can imagine that. But it worked. Ten years after making that initial decision to try for a child, we had our first son, Brendon.

A few years later, without any extra medication, Jacob was conceived and brought into the world, and anyone that follows this blog knows more about that than they’ll ever need to…

But I tell you that whole story to tell you this: Many years after coming to believe that I’d never be a father, I had the amazing privilege today of leading my boy Brendon into a warm baptismal font, saying the requisite prayer, and dipping him into the water. When I pulled him out and hugged him, I felt so incredibly grateful that I have him. This son that I thought I’d never have is now eight years old, and accepting the covenant of baptism.

Then, we all gathered around him, placed our hands on his head, and confirmed him a member of the church, and gave him the Gift of the Holy Ghost. My parents were in town (they live in Indiana), so I thought it would be special to ask my dad to confirm. It was a wonderful glowing moment, and one I will remember and treasure for a very very long time to come.

And that’s what I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving!

Mark Hansen
Grace and Dolls

My wife and I went to see a couple of “Mormon Movies” (whatever that means) these last few weeks. I’ve wanted to comment on them here, but I’ve not been to sure what to say. I enjoyed them both very much, but they both hit me on such a personal level, I wasn’t sure how to “review them” for my blog.

I think I’ve decided to just talk about them personally.

The first one was “God’s Army II: States of Grace”. Man, what a show. It really engages you, makes you love the characters, and then takes you to hell and back. And I really mean that. It’s all about people who need God’s grace. Some, like the missionaries, and the itinerant preacher, are the characters that you feel should know what it is all along, but you see that even they are discovering it. You watch the world come out from under the lives of these people, to the point where only God’s grace, and their acceptance of it can make their lives better. That’s the hell. As you see them begin to welcome it into their lives, and back into their lives in some cases, that the “and back again” part.

This show really showed me how important the scripture “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…” (Isaiah 1:18)

There’s been a lot of controversy over this show. It’s not for the faint of heart. It shows people making some very grave mistakes (though it never becomes graphically violent nor sexual). It shows some of the suffering that those mistakes cause. It shows people beginning to repent from those mistakes.

One of the strongest moments of the movie comes when, after one character attempts suicide under the weight of his guilt, another tells him, “You shouldn’t have to die for your sins. Someone else already did that.”

So, even though at the end, I felt very hopeful, this is definitely NOT a “feelgood” movie.

The other one, “New York Doll” definitely IS a “feelgood” movie.

My wife went to this one begrudgingly, and I don’t think she really enjoyed it, since documentaries aren’t really her type of show. But I loved it. For those that haven’t heard, it tells the story of Arthur “Killer” Kane, the bass player for the New York Dolls, one of the early glam-rock bands that defined a moment in the early 70’s. Virtually every punk or edgy band since then (many of whom were interviewed in the show) commented how the Dolls had influenced them.

After the Dolls broke up, Arthur tried to form other bands, but was never that successful, and finally almost died an alcoholic. He called for a Book of Mormon off of a TV ad, and ended up joining the church. He was working at the family history library in LA, when a festival promoter called to have him perform in a reunion show.

He does the show, and it’s one of the high points of his humble, quiet life. The cool part is that he maintains his “mormon-ness” as he re-unites with his band-mates. His bishop, speaking of when Arthur had visited him, asking about the show, said, “I told him to do the show, and just be a good Latter-Day Saint, and everything would go fine.” And it did.

The ending of the documentary surprised me. I wasn’t ready for that. I won’t spoil it though. I will say that the whole movie showed me a great man whose humility and testimony shone through the whole experience. Here was a man with his priorities in order.

This movie hit me on a personal level because I’ve been struggling with my own musical “career” over the last few months. I’ve been wondering what sort of impact I’ve been having, or what the value of the music is. I’ve been frustrated that it doesn’t seem to be moving forward. This show reminded me to “be a good Latter-Day Saint, and everything will go fine.”

Mark Hansen

Sunday, November 20, 2005

An Open Letter to Larry H Miller

Mr. Miller,

A week or two ago, I saw “American Zion”, and I just came home from watching “States of Grace”. Not only did I enjoy them both very much, but I left the theater walking taller, with a spirit about me that strengthened my testimony of the Restored Gospel. “Grace”, in particular, left me crying like a baby, much the same way that “Brigham City” did.

It occurs to me that we are in a very interesting time in the “Mormon Cinema” movement. The initial fascination and novelty is wearing off, and people are beginning to be more and more discriminating in their judgments of the shows they’re seeing. As I read the discussion and debate in forums on the ‘net, and read the reviews of the various movies, I find that there’s a lot of diversity of opinions. This or that movie is great, but, no, it’s not worth your time and money… Bla, bla, bla, yadda, yadda.

To a certain extent, the discussion is good. If the scene wasn’t getting buzz, it wouldn’t be a scene, right? The fact that people are talking about it means that, for good or ill, it’s having an impact.

There is also much discussion about the business aspects of the movement. Many movies are made, but how many of them actually earn back their production and promotion costs? How many of them make money for their investors, like you?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. I don’t know how many of the LDS films you have bankrolled or contributed to. All I know is that you’ve helped on enough of them to have a big impact on the ongoing movement.

Often it’s the actors, or the directors that get the most attention. In a way that’s good and right, because it’s their artistic vision that’s being shared. But I also know that without people like you backing them up, that vision would never be shown.

So, I’d like to publicly thank you, Mr. Miller, for helping to present cinematic art that has touched my life and helped me to see how to become a better person. I also don’t know how many other people have felt like I do. Nor do I know how to quantify that in terms of dollars and return on investment.

All I know is that tonight, I sat with my wife and some good friends in a dark theater and discovered a deeper understanding about the power of the Atonement, and in a large part, I have you to thank for that.

Mark Hansen

Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Songs of Zion

Lead Kindly Light
Sharon Hopkins

When I first got this CD, I was deceived!

Now that I have your attention, let me explain. The cover of the CD has the face of a pretty blonde girl, in pastel tones, with that misted-over sort of look to the photograph. The back has the same girl, in a white dress, with her hand clasped over her heart. The songs listed on the back were the titles of familiar hymns, and the text description contained words like, “uplift and inspire”, “ethereal tapestry”, “spiritual hymn arrangements”, and I found myself rolling my eyes.

I mean, how many covers like that have you seen in Deseret Book already? How many CD’s have you heard of “Spiritual Hymn Arrangements”? Do we really need yet another one?

Well, it turns out the answer to that last question is, “Yes, we do. And the one we need is this one.”

As I spun the CD and listened to the songs, I was amazed to be taken to places I’d never imagined in the context of hymns before. There were songs on this CD that were unique, surprising, and even a bit shocking. Not in content, mind you, but in sound and creation. Chord progressions that went off on turns that I’d never imagined, sudden changes in instrumentation, juxtapositions of elements and textures that made me relearn the messages of the hymns. This is fresh, new stuff.

The overall sound left me with the impression of a sort of Enya-esque ethereality mixed with the sound of an old Disney soundtrack. Lots of high, lilting soprano, with cathedral-like choirs. String and wind orchestral instruments blended with pianos and organs for the instrumental accompaniments.

“If You Could Hie to Kolob” was one of the more innovative tracks. Constant shifts and changes in the textures of the arrangement and the layers of vocals made this track a fascinating one to follow. In “Onward Christian Soldiers” she inserted a segment of a male voice singing verses derived from Joseph Smith’s tribulations in D&C 120 & 121. That juxtaposition next to the non-traditional rendering of the march feel of the chorus was very powerful. And the way she shifted the piano and melody of the latter verses of “A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief” into a Chopin-esqe dirge was incredible, resolving up into the major key change when the free spirit cries!

And I have never before heard, nor probably ever will again hear “Carry On” done this way! No spoilers, you'll just have to hear it yourself.

Another thing that amazed me was that she did all her arrangements, even conducted the orchestra. This is not where a singer or a record label hires a producer to make all kinds of sweetness for the voice to rest on. She’s the creative heart and mind behind it all.

I have to admit, though, that in spite of the surprises and the innovation, the light, ethereal, airy, “Mormon girl” voices got a little old. That’s just me, though. The vocals were incredibly executed, and her high countermelodies were beautiful. I just like the voices to have a little more body some times. There were a few songs, like “Beautiful Savior”, and “Lead Kindly Light”, which didn’t have so much originality in the arrangement to distract me from the oh-so-traditional LDS "light spiritual" voice.

So, I’ll give it 4 stars, and I’ll actually listen to it on Sundays, because there is more musical substance to it that most of the “Sounds of the Sabbath” stuff I hear.

Mark Hansen

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Songs of Zion


Those of you who’ve been following me for a while know that I’ve been a bit driven to find good LDS rap. This is not so much because I’m a rapper myself, or even that big of a rap fan. It’s because I am very passionate about diversity in LDS popular culture, especially in music. I really want to find a wide variety of LDS artists, and I’d like to see the scene grow and expand.

I do, however, find myself really getting into the few good LDS rappers I’ve found. I think I dislike most rap for the same reason that I dislike the Beach Boys. The tunes aren’t about anything I can relate to.

But LDS rap, or at least raps by LDS artists, have the thread throughout the music that I can connect with, so I find myself listening even when I’m just spinning tunes for fun, or when I’m working out.

The most recent one I’ve found is a guy street-named Arhythmatik. A while back he sent me his EP, entitled “Pre-Algebra” (available at http://arhythmatik.com), and I’ve been spinning it ever since.

Unlike the previous rapper I reviewed, TJ Fredette, Arhythmatik doesn’t approach religion in his raps directly. There are a couple of brag and battle raps, and he deals with his own passions (like the lack of deep meaning in so much popular hip-hop). “Absolute Values” has a fun string quartet background looping with the beat, and is an exploration of personal creativity.

“Using wits as weapons
We drive devotion and direction
Determination and changed perceptions
Dedication and good old fashioned hustle
We learn to learn from these modern struggles
And survive in these asphalt jungles…”

The production is great. The process of creating rap is different than the process of making a rock tune, and it fascinates me. I’m not able to think in terms of loops and layers, rather than chord progressions. Some say it’s not as artistic, but I say it’s just a whole other paradigm of creation.

Anyways, check him out.

Mark Hansen

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Yu-Gi-Oh, Destiny, and Judgment Day

From Dictionary.com:


n. pl. des•ti•nies

1. The inevitable or necessary fate to which a particular person or thing is destined; one's lot.

2. A predetermined course of events considered as something beyond human power or control: “Marriage and hanging go by destiny” (Robert Burton).

3. The power or agency thought to predetermine events: Destiny brought them together.

I’ve been struggling a lot over the years with the argument over what determines who we are. What is it that determines our “Destinies”?

I’ve heard basically four arguments.

Nature “I’m born this way”

There are a lot of people that think that they do the things they do because they are genetically pre-determined to be. Alcoholism, homosexuality, even violent crime are all things that many have attempted to explain based on genetics. For good or ill, our DNA determines who we are, not just how we look.

Nurture, or the Environment “My parents/my neighborhood/my upbringing made me this way”

I think parents are great. Everyone should have a set! It sure makes it easy as I go through life to have people I can blame my shortcomings on! I mean, if my parents had been stricter/looser/meaner/nicer, I wouldn’t be in the mess I’m in right now, right? Others grew up on the mean streets of (insert your home town here), and so it’s obvious why they act the way they do.

Our experiences, our environment shapes us. There are some who have some legitimate claims to the harshness of life. Victims of abuse. Those that survive the horrors of war. The truly mentally ill.

Divine Will
“God made me as I am”

Good or bad, we are children of our creator. And He, being omniscient, knows what our life’s path will be. Some take this to mean that He has already made that path for us, and that we’re merely walking down it, facing what is pre-destined to happen to us. He, the great puppetmaster, is in total control of everything, and therefore is responsible for me. Convenient, since that means I don’t have to be…

Freewill “I choose what I am”

This is the idea that we determine our own course in life. The effects and consequences of our choices shape us and we can become anything we determine to be. This is the only choice of the four that puts me in control of my life, which is a double-edged sword, to be sure.

Part of the challenge that faces us as we try and study this all out is that the proponents of each of these four options often tend to look at them in isolation. Each one seems, in their minds, to be the sole cause of all the good and ill in the world.

I don’t see it that way. I think all four elements play into our lives. And since our lives are the basis of our judgment and eternal reward, ultimately all four will play into that as well.

My son is starting to love playing Yu-Gi-Oh. For those that have been living without children for the last few years, this is one of the many “collectible card games”, where you buy these packs of cards and you collect them and you use them to play your games. As you collect them, you can do a certain amount of “stacking your deck”, meaning that before each game, according to certain rules, each player can choose which of their cards go in their decks. Then they shuffle them, and play, not knowing which cards will come out first. Each card has a unique impact on the way the game progresses, and some cards interact with other cards to create some very interesting strategies. Winning the game is very much a combination of what cards you have and how well you play them.

As I’ve been learning how to play this game with Brendon, I’ve noticed that in a lot of ways, it’s resolving these issues that I’ve had with these four elements on a metaphoric level.

See, it’s like in the pre-mortal life, God gave us each a big deck of cards. And each one of those cards is a facet of our life. That I have certain traits and habits and knacks to do things (like music) is each represented by a card. The challenges I face with having a special needs child, or my inability to manage my money well are also cards in my hand and in my deck.

See, here in this life, we are NOT all created equal. We want to believe that we are, but just take a look around. Some are born into amazing wealth. Others are born into abject poverty. Some are raised in fine schools. Others grow up where school is a daily risk of life.

We are given a deck of cards, like it says in Ether 12:27. God gives us weaknesses for us to be humble. He also gives us gifts.

In the parable of the talents in Matt 25:14-30, each servant was given a different amount to begin with. One received one coin (talent), one received three, and another received five. We are not all equal.

And yet, I find it to be really interesting to note that while one servant returned with ten talents, and another with only six, they both received the same reward! They started out inequal, but they ended up in the same glory! Why is that? Well, it’s because the one judging them knew what they started with, and knew what they ended with. The One with full omniscience knows pure justice.

What that means for me is that I’m going to be judged based on how well I play MY hand of cards. How well did I overcome MY challenges. How well I handled my strengths. And Ether also tells me that I’ll have help doing that. God, who gave me those weaknesses, will help me overcome them.

That also means that I have no right to judge someone else. I have no right to look at someone’s actions and say that they’re going to rot in the flames of the eternal abyss, because I don’t know what cards are in their hand. I don’t know what they’re dealing with. I think in the final hour, we’ll be surprised to see some people in the celestial kingdom because WE thought they’d never make it. Well, that’s what the atonement’s for. You play your hand of cards the best you can, and have faith in the One that gave them to you, and that’s how you’ll be judged.

So, why am I all on about this? Well, over the last few years that I’ve been mulling this over, I finally finished the song that is based on this whole concept. It’s called “Play the Cards” and it’s now live at my website!

Mark Hansen

Thursday, October 27, 2005

I Ain't Complainin'

I was recently asked to write about what it's like being a father of a special needs child.

This is a tough one to answer. So much of the direct interaction with the outside world is handled by Jodi. She fights with the insurance companies, the government, and goes to all the doctor’s appointments. At one point not long ago, we added up all the monetary value that Jodi’s efforts either brings to the family in the form of direct services, or in savings, and it totaled more per year than my salary.

I do help with some of Jacob’s treatments, but by and large, I feel foreign to that process.

Not that I feel like I’m shirking my responsibilities as a father. I work 40+ hours a week to bring food to the table, and put the roof over our heads. I spend time with the boys reading, playing video games, playing Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh. I get them off to school.

And somewhere in there, I get to spend some time dating my wife each week, and feeling close to her. I go to church (twice each Sunday), and try and fulfill my church callings. I also get to spend a little time making some music and following my dreams.

So, it’s a pretty full life. I’m not really sure that in the big picture it’s any different than the mom’s life. I do get to go to an office and work, and I interact with clients and co-workers. But then, Jodi does, too. It’s just that her office is at home, and her work is more directly with the boys.

But when I say, “It’s a pretty full life”, I mean that in both senses of the words. It’s “full” in the sense that it’s very fulfilling. I’m feeling very complete, even though at times I’m also feeling inadequate for the tasks.

It’s also a very “full” life in that it is “filled”. There are very few minutes that aren’t filled with some sort of activity. Really the only “down” time I get is when I can’t sleep, and I get to be a couch potato at 2:00 in the morning watching infomercials and lame un-reality TV on VH-1 (Maybe they could get some of the one-hit wonders of the seventies to move into a house together for two months. Then they could make both an infomercial and a reality show at the same time!).

And overall, in spite of the fact that it’s filled to the brim, I’m constantly feeling like I’m not giving enough. I don’t work with Jacob on his therapies enough. I don’t get things done at my job enough. I don’t get to spend time with Jodi enough. I don’t sing or write enough. I don’t go out with the missionaries enough. It’s just not enough.

One day, Jodi and I were in Roberts, looking at craft things. She asked if there was some art supplies I wanted, paints or brushes, or anything. My answer? “The one thing I need to do better paintings is the one thing they don’t sell here—Time!”

But two things come to mind when I let myself feel sorry for myself:

One is that when I look at my friends who have “normal” children, they don’t seem to have any more spare time than I do. Tasks seem to expand to fill the available hours in the day, no matter who you are.

And also, when I see Jacob giggle at a tickle, or when Brendon beats me AGAIN at Pokemon Stadium (and I’ve given up on letting him win, I’m actually trying!), or when Jodi and I get some precious moments together, it’s all worth it.

I’m reminded of the line from Joe Walsh: “I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do… Life’s been good to me so far…”

Mark Hansen

Monday, October 17, 2005

Advice to Myself

Tonight on Dr Phil (my wife likes to watch him, and I was there, too), there were a number of guests, but there were two that really struck me.

One was a man and his wife, and the man expected the wife to do certain things, basically to please him. He wanted dinners, he wanted a clean house, and he wanted her to be sexy for him. The trouble is, that he was constantly criticizing her and berating her when she didn’t measure up. He didn’t yell or scream, but he was pretty clear in his disappointment.

The other was a woman who said she was happy being a housewife, and that it was wonderful for her to do things for her husband. She kept the house clean, and worked with the kids at home, and had dinners made, and even dressed up a bit when he came home from work. She said she felt fulfilled making him happy.

This all stirred up some interesting thoughts in me.

The first guy was clearly out of line. I’ve worked with people that constantly berated me. Bosses, missionary companions, and there have been times in our past where I felt I didn’t measure up to Jodi expectations. It’s not a fun place to be. I’ve also looked at it and seen that there have been times where I’ve set a pretty high bar for Jodi, too. That’s not right, no matter who’s doing it to whom.

The second lady made me a bit uneasy. There was a part of me that wanted to shrug off her choices. A part that wanted to say, “Yeah, she’s just talked herself into that, but she’ll get tired of it and end up feeling trapped, just like the feminists say she will.” There was another part of me, a very “politically and socially incorrect” part of me, that thought, “How cool would that be?”

I mean, let’s face it guys… We can be as liberal and as sensitive as we wanna, but who among us wouldn’t love it if our wives treated us like kings? Eh?

And the flip side is true, too, ladies. Who among you wouldn’t like to have your husband bringing you chocolates while you bask in the hot bath he poured for you?

There are two things that have to happen for that kind of pampering to be healthy:

1. Each of us should do it for our spouse as often as we possibly can. I know I’m preaching to myself as well, but we should all be doing everything we can each day to make each other’s life wonderful. There should be no doubt in Jodi’s mind that she’s the Queen of my world, and I should feel like her King.
2. We both need to do that because we want it, not because we are forced, belittled, or begrudged into it.

The truth is that this issue has nothing to do with sexism, or chauvinism, or feminism. We all want to feel like we’re important. And the one person we want to show us how important we are is the one who chose to be with us for eternity.

Now, I know that reality takes its toll. The ideal isn’t always attainable. But I’ll bet each of you reading this, like myself, can look inside and see one or two (or more) things that can be done to make those two things happen.

Mark Hansen

Extra: This issue of the Latter Day Songs newsletter features a track of Sam Payne live at the LDS Independent Music Fest VI! Sam's stories are wonderful. Check it out. This issue also features one of my songs, "Today and Yesterday"

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Now You Know

So, I got together with my wife for lunch today, and we went to a friend’s house to pick up the Circus tickets she’d gotten for us.

While Jodi was in the house getting the tickets, Jacob is sitting behind me and he starts chatting (to get the full impact of this conversation, you have to imagine it in his cute little halting five-year-old voice).



“Why do we need tickets?”

Well, so that they can tell that we paid to get into the Circus.

“Why are the called tickets?”

Hmmm… I don’t know.

A pause.

“You’re not the smart one, are you?”

So, there you have it folks. Factual and authoritative. Take whatever I say from this point on with a grain of salt.


Mark Hansen

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

20 things that most people who know me now don’t know about me

(By special urging from my friends in the UtahKids email list)

1. When I was a child I used to read the encyclopedia for fun
2. I also used to get beat up a lot. I wonder if there’s a connection…
3. I hated gym class, and dodgeball still brings up deep emotional scars.
4. I played the cello from 5th grade into my first years of college
5. My father is a Physics professor (semi-retired)
6. The first “F” I ever got in my life was in a High-School Physics class
7. I used to have very long hair
8. I used to go to church in jeans, with a tiny sword dangling from my ear.
9. I used to wear shredded shirts, bandannas and jeans with holes in the knees.
10. I’m sometimes embarrassed to look at old pictures of me
11. I’ve been a Mormon all my life, and always pretty active. I served a mission in Honduras and returned in 1984
12. I’ve only been married once, to only one woman
13. I got to schedule our wedding day. I put it two days after my birthday so I would never forget my anniversary.
14. Whatever the reason she stays with me, we’ve been married 18 years.
15. I can count the number of girlfriends I’ve had (before I married) on one hand.
16. I’ve only had one girlfriend since I got married. That’s OK, because my wife and girlfriend are the same
17. Most days I can’t figure out why my wife stays with me
18. The other days I’m ecstatic she does
19. I was a creative writing minor, and even took some graduate level creative writing classes and workshops. I used to write a lot of stories, mostly really bad sci-fi and fantasy. I also wrote a lot of poetry, a small part of which is actually pretty good.
20. I have currently written over 100 songs
21. I have recorded over 50 of them, eleven of which are available on a CD called “One United Generation” (shameless plug). Four other songs are also available from my website (http://markhansenmusic.com)
22. Out of those 100 songs, only about 10 are love songs, and 6-7 of those are for Jodi
23. I can tell you the evolutionary forms of most Pokemon, especially the first 150
24. I’m probably the only person you know that’s my age that owns his own Pokemon cards
25. I can’t tell you how to play Yu-Gi-Oh
26. I can’t tell you why you would want to, either
27. I draw a picture of both of my children every year
28. I don’t like to play “Truth or Dare” or “Most Embarrassing Moments”, or any other game that makes me look like an idiot on purpose.
29. I do it well enough accidentally, thank you very much
30. I love to read comics (My favorites are Doonesbury, Calvin and Hobbes, Luann, and a number of web-only strips)
31. I used to draw editorial cartoons, and have had several of them published.
32. My favorite TV shows are on Cartoon Network (Samurai Jack, Teen Titans, Batman Beyond…)
33. My favorite live shows are Law & Order, and almost anything on the History Channel
34. I’ve taken many years of college, and currently have enough numerical credits to have a bachelor’s degree.
35. Since I’ve changed my major so many times, I have few required classes for any one program and so to actually GET a bachelor’s degree, I would have to go to school for several more years.
36. My snoring has been compared to the sound of jet aircraft
37. My wife wishes my snoring were as quiet as a jet aircraft

Mark Hansen

Monday, September 12, 2005

New LDS Music Podcast

Adding to the slowly growing world of LDS podcasts, there’s LDS Music Today. This one’s being done by a friend of mine that was a part of the LDS Musician’s yahoogroup, named Matt Armstrong.

First off, this guy’s an incredible singer, songwriter, and producer/arranger in his own right. And he’s decided to jump into the podcast foray showcasing both independent and signed LDS artists. Actually, all of the artists in his first episode are unsigned, although several of them have distribution deals with some big boys, I’m not aware that any of them are signed to a label.

Some of his pre-release postings on ldsmusicians implied that while he wants to give some coverage to the big boys (and girls), he’s also committed to helping the best of the undiscovered as well. He’s also said that he’s committed to presenting a wide variety of sounds and styles. I sincerely hope that he can get enough material to make good on both of those promises!

This first episode starts with Fiddlesticks, singing “The Earth Was Once A Garden Place”, which is one of my favorites of theirs. It also includes tunes by David Edwards, Stephanie Smith, Matt himself, and Wayne Burton. I’ve been listening to it while typing, and it’s really well done. Especially given that many podcasts are not the most clear of recordings. He’s got a good speaking voice, recorded well, and his banter is smooth and easy to listen to.

There are two addresses associated with the podcast, the blog, and the main site for the podcast itself.

I’m really excited by what I’ve discovered in LDS podcasting so far. Still in its infancy, I’m hoping that all these podcasts live up to their potential. The one thing that will help them most is listeners and feedback.

Mark Hansen

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

A Tribute to Jim Anglesey

I owe a lot, in my musical career (such as it is) to my mentors. People who, for some bizarre reason or another, have taught me much about how to succeed in music. Some by words and advice, some by good example, some by bad example. Some have used all three techniques to guide me to better choices.

From Chance Thomas, I learned that money, while important, shouldn’t be the only driving force behind choosing projects. I also learned of the power of the press release.

From Clive Romney, I learned how constant learning and education can strengthen your career.

From Dan Whitley, I learned how to press on ahead with what you have at hand, instead of sitting still and complaining that the lack of something was holding you back.

But as cool as those guys are, this posting isn’t about them.

This one’s about Jim Anglesey, because he’s really responsible for me getting my start in music. And because he died of leukemia this last weekend.

I met him in the late ‘80’s, when he was running Suite Sound Studios downtown. I was an upstart producer/engineer trying to stake my claim in the local scene. I was driven, but often my methods were counterproductive. But in spite of that, he let me have a space in his studio, not only for an office, but for learning.

He taught me that drums should be miked from above, not below, because they’re snappier that way.

He taught me that if you want to be a successful, in demand producer and engineer, and someone asks what your favorite music is, you need to say, “let me check my schedule.”

He taught that mixes need to be “transparent”, and that when I’m mixing, I need to “see the line”, and I spent years listening and studying to try and figure out what on earth that meant and how to do it. I thought I understood it then. I’m just starting to see it now.

Indirectly, he taught me that my marriage is really more important than my music.

Many times, when I thought I’d failed at a task, he matter-of-factly pointed out that the task was done well, and it was only my own insecurities that were holding me back.

He taught me that when something goes wrong, you fix it or work around it and you move on with the show or the recording session. Complaining isn’t going to help.

He taught me that less is more in a song. I’m still working on that one…

He taught me that sometimes it’s better to forgive than to collect.

Most of all, he taught me that investing time and effort in people will, in the long run, bring you more benefit than anything else, and that it’s often a good idea to give opportunities to people, like me, that aren’t always ready to appreciate them.

But in retrospect, I sure appreciate them now.

Thanks, Jim!

Mark Hansen

Monday, August 29, 2005

Another Shameless Plug

Last week, I had the wonderful opportunity to be interviewed for the LDS Podcast at Latter-Day Slant. Check it out!

Mark Hansen
LDS Independent Music Fest VI

This last weekend was extremely crazy. The Fest came around again. What fun! Since it was a musical thing I participated in, I wrote about it at my studio blog.

Mark Hansen

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Fest is Here Again!

I just had a lot of fun this morning having my first TV appearance! What a blast! As a part of our promotions of the LDS Independent Music Festival this weekend, we sent out some press releases, and got an appearance on Channel 13’s morning show.

So, I got up early, dressed up, and went downtown to the remote location they were using. It was the small park-like plaza at the north end of the Gateway downtown. Very nice location. EnZign arrived soon afterward and set up and warmed up. We actually got three appearances. At about 7:45, Shauna Thomas interviewed me about the fest (see below) for my fifteen seconds of fame, then they cut to EnZign, who played a song segment.

Then again, in about 20 minutes, they showed the guys playing for about 5 or 10 seconds as they cut to a commercial. And finally, Shauna wrapped up the show plugging the fest again for a few moments and the wrapped up on another song.

So, hopefully, that’ll bring in a few audience members!

So, here’s the shameless plug:

The 6th Annual LDS Independent Music Festival will be held Friday, August 26th through Sunday, August 28th.

Friday, the 26th: at the chapel building on the campus of the Utah Developmental Center 6:30-9:00 PM Music business and songwriting workshops, featuring Jeannine Laskey of the NSAI and FCMA.

Saturday, the 27th: At the American Fork park amphitheater, 850 E 700 N, one block west of the Mt Timpanogos Temple. 2:00-6:00 Afternoon performances by new and exciting independent LDS musicians. 7:00-10:00 Evening Showcase, featuring Eric Herman, Neil Owen, EnZign, Crinna Hill, and Pearl Award winner Sam Payne. Come hear a wide variety of contemporary music by church members.

Sunday, the 28th: at the chapel building on the campus of the Utah Developmental Center Sunday Devotional. A performance of more sacred and inspirational music in a more reverent setting.

The best part? All events are free and open to the public!

Mark Hansen

Monday, August 22, 2005

Life: Bring it on!

The other day, I was at a friend’s house and saw a plaque on their wall. It quoted the verse in Matthew 19 (verse 14) that says, “But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

It was one of those modern, easy-to-read translations of the Bible that it was quoting, however, so it said something like, “Let little children come to me…” whatever.

It intrigued me. It was one of those moments where you take a couple of disparate things that you’ve known for a long time and you put them together all of a sudden and form a new thought.

I looked that verse up in the KJV, and in the footnotes, it confirmed what I’d always believed (and what the newer retranslation implied). That being that the greek word that was translated as “suffer” meant, in this case, “permit or allow”.

That’s nothing new, of course. The connection that happened for me was when I suddenly started thinking about the word, “longsuffering”. Now, I’d always assumed that it meant someone that patiently endured all the suffering, misery, and hardships of life in anticipation of something better in the hereafter. It’s OK to be miserable now, because it’s going to be better after we die.

But if we substitute those meanings, it has another implication to me. Suddenly “longsuffering” becomes, “longpermitting”. It feels to me like a person who humbly accepts whatever life brings, allows it to happen, and responds to it. Their whole life.

I know that I’m probably splitting hairs, here, but having a longpermitting attitude seems to be a bit brighter than a longsuffering one.

Mark Hansen

Monday, August 15, 2005

Mo' Movies overview from Mo' Boy!

On one of my email lists, someone started talking about Mormon movies, and, of course, regretted it almost immediately. It made me think of all the shows I’ve seen, and which ones I liked the best. So, I listed them, and ranked them. I thought it was interesting to see just how many of them I have seen. That’s really quite a list. While I’m sure there are more, the only two that I’ve missed that I can think of are “Handcart” and “The Work and the Story”

I list these in order that I liked them. Now, I need to clarify that. What I mean is NOT “Which movie is the best crafted work of cinematic art?” What I mean IS “Which movies entertained me/made me think/made me laugh/made me feel the most?”

It’s also interesting to note that, on some level, I enjoyed almost all of them. Really all the way down through number 13, I had a good time at the shows. In fact, it got really hard to rank them from 9 to 13.

1. Brigham City – It helped me rethink the nature of forgiveness and the atonement. That makes it great art, in my book
2. Sons of Provo – It helped me remember why I make music for Mormons. And it made me laugh more than most Hollywood movies even do.
3. The Best Two Years – A great balance of smiles and testimony, in a package that wasn’t hokey.
4. Saints and Soldiers – This one made me rethink a lot of things, like the nature of war and enemies, self-forgiveness, and the purpose of life. Also great art.
5. The Singles Ward – Made me laugh a lot. A LOT!
6. God’s Army
7. The RM – A fun movie, and the best soundtrack album of all of them. Except maybe “Provo”…
8. Charly – I didn’t think I’d like this one, but I did. It was formula, but good formula.
9. The Other Side of Heaven – For all its big budget, I wasn’t as impressed. The big Hollywood boys that have been slamming the low budget mo’ movies took on a project and made a good movie that just wasn’t as fun or meaningful to me as what the little guys had done.
10. Out of Step – A sleeper that deserved more recognition than it got.
11. Baptists At Our Barbecue – The book was great, the movie was fun.
12. Pride and Prejudice – Pretty good for a chick flick.
13. The Home Teachers – A fun escapist movie that didn’t really hold up to repeat viewings like the other Halestorms.
14. The Work and the Glory – Meh
15. The Book of Mormon Movie – Not intended to be a comedy, but people in the theatre where I saw it were laughing anyway. I just felt sad.

I also heard it said once that there haven’t been any Mormon chick flicks. Hello! I beg to differ. Charly, Out of Step, Baptists at our Barbecue, and Pride and Prejudice all were, in my opinion, chick flicks, or at least good date movies. We don’t seem to have any Mormon action/adventure movies yet, and the horror genre also seems to be a little thin. I, personally, don’t like horror movies, so that’s not at all a problem for me.

It’s also interesting to me that a lot of people think that all of our movies are missionary-based, but on this list, there’s only 3. 4, if you count “The RM”.

When I got to go to the LDSBA show the other day, I saw promo swag for a whole bunch of new shows about to be released, and I’m very excited about them. “Mobsters and Mormons” (which is NOT a movie based on the “Mafia to Mormon” book) is one of them. Written and directed by John Moyer (who I got to meet!), the writer of “The RM” and “The Singles Ward”.

We’ve had a slower year so far this year. Not so many movies came out. There are quite a few set to drop over the next few months, so I’ll keep you posted.

Mark Hansen

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Songs of Zion

Joseph, A Nashville Tribute to the Prophet.

Various Performers, produced by Jason Deere and Dan Truman

When I started spinning these tunes, I was taken somewhere that I wasn’t fully expecting. With a fiddle on the cover, and “Nashville” in the title, I was expecting a full-on country album. And there were a few country tunes, but by and large it felt more like the LDS folk singer/songwriter thing that Peter Breinholt, Shane Jackman, and others have established here in the valley.

And, while that was refreshing, since I’m not a big country fan, it also left me wondering. Where IS all the LDS country music? It has seemed to me to be such an obvious fit for so many years, why hasn’t anyone done it? Sure, country has its share of cheatin’, cryin’ in your beer tunes, but there’s also a lot of positive, family-oriented messages as well. So where’s the country in our souls?

But I digress…

While there are some real moments of greatness in the musical performance of these songs, the real shining star is the writing. Solid, powerful messages, beautifully crafted. I especially liked the choice Jason Deere made in writing about the prophet, instead of writing from the prophet’s point of view. In fact, many of the stories in the songs are about people around Joseph. The one about Porter Rockwell was particularly great, and the song about Emma helped me to see her in a new light.

The only song written from Joseph’s perspective was “Lamb to the Slaughter”, and I felt like that one was handled very very well.

The narrations between the songs were cool to help transition from song to song and set up the story of each work. That was nice, since the overall CD isn’t necessarily chronological. Still, the reading felt a little stiff to me, and kinda pulled me out of the mood that the music itself was setting. That’s really my only real complaint about this CD.

Another interesting thing about this project, is that is very clear that this is a very Mormon collection. You can’t sing about Joseph, Emma, Hyrum, and Porter and be trying to get a CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) record deal with it! And the messages are a strong testimony of the restoration.

If I were a bigger fan of the country/folksy sound, I’d probably be all over this project. But I can see that it was very well made. In addition to touching music fans, maybe it will inspire other country singers in the church to do church-related country music.

Mark Hansen

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Oh, Great Guru!

A man climbed up a high mountain to converse with the Great Guru seated thereon. As he approached, he bowed respectfully, and when the Guru acknowledged his presence, proceeded to ask his troubling question.

“Oh, Great Guru, what is the secret to happiness?”

The Guru sighed a deep and thoughtful sigh and said, “Wisdom”.

“Yes, but how does one gain wisdom?”

The Guru sighed a deep and thoughtful sigh and said, “Good judgment”.

“Yes, but how does one gain good judgment?”

The Guru sighed a deep and thoughtful sigh and said, “Experience”.

“Yes, but how does one gain experience?”

The Guru sighed a deep and thoughtful sigh and said, “Bad judgment”.

I was reminded of that story when I was reading a posting over at the “Conversations” blog. They’re trying to define the differences between knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. They pulled out some pretty interesting and academic analysis, but to me the big difference is in application. I might know that something is bad for me because I’ve read it or been told about it. I might understand it’s bad effects because I’ve felt it. But I might still not have the wisdom to actually stop doing it.

Hmmm.. That would probably account for my weight.

I’m going to the gym…

Mark Hansen

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Pearls Are In!

Last Tuesday night, the FCMA hosted their annual Pearl Awards. These awards could essentially be called the “Mormon Grammies”, because they’re set up and awarded pretty much the same way. Recordings and CD’s are submitted according to their qualifying rules, and then certain members of the FCMA (Faith Centered Music Association) who have achieved a certain measurable status in the industry vote to determine the best of the best of LDS music.

Then they throw a big gala formal party to preset the awards. In the past, they’ve video’ed the event and it’s been broadcast on either KJZZ or KSL. I usually make a big effort to get there, because it’s great fun, and a wonderful place to network. I mean, anyone who’s anyone in LDS music is usually there. It really is a great time.

Here’s a list of this year’s winners. My commentary is below:


Be Still My Soul
Album: Standing Room Only
Artist: Vocal Point
Arranger: Michael R. Hicks
Producer: Bob Ahlander


I Was Made
Album: Stand in the Light—EFY 2004
Artist: Michael Webb
Songwriter: Michael Webb
Producer: Tyler Castleton & Staci Peters


The Light
Album: Stand in the Light—EFY 2004
Artist: April Meservy
Songwriter: Michelle Tumes
Producer: Tyler Castleton & Staci Peters


If You Could Hie to Kolob
Album: The Light Divine
Artist: Jenny Oaks Baker
Arranger: Kurt Bestor
Producer: Kenny Hodges


The Handcart Song
Album: Bring Them In; Celebrating the Spirit of Trek
Artist: Michael Dowdle
Arranger: Michael Dowdle
Producer: Michael Dowdle


His Endless Gift of Love
Album: Night of All Nights
Artist: Jessie Clark-Funk
Songwriter: Jeannine Lasky & Masa Fukuda
Producer: Greg Hansen


In Thy Hands
Artist: Tammy Simister Robinson
Producers: Greg Hansen & Tammy Simister Robinson


The Sum of All Grace
Artist: Mindy Gledhill
Producer: Kenneth Cope


Railroad Blessing
Artist: Sam Payne
Producers: Steve Lemmon and Sam Payne


Twenty-Five Beloved Hymns of Prayer & Faith
Artist: Michael Dowdle
Producers: Michael Dowdle


Janice Kapp Perry’s Celtic Variations
Creator: Janice Kapp Perry
Producer: John Perry and Greg Hansen


Emma’s Hymns
Artist: Mark Geslison & Geoff Groberg
Producers: Mark Geslison & Geoff Groberg


The Work & The Glory Soundtrack
Artist: Sam Cardon
Producer: Sam Cardon


O Come Little Children
Artist: Enoch Train & The International Children’s Choir
Producer: Clive Romney & Enoch Train


Echoes of the Sabbath
Record Label: Tantara Records


Greg Simpson


Tammy Simister Robinson


Michael Dowdle


Vocal Point


Mindy Gledhill


Greg Hansen


Tammy Simister Robinson


Vocal Point


Michael Dowdle


Rich Dixon


April Meservy


Steve LeRud


Return to Nauvoo (Cindy Ferguson)


Steven Kapp Perry (FM-100)


Sounds of Zion


Anette Dahl
(Jorgensen’s — Roy, Utah)

My comments:

I was really pleased to see a couple of things in the winners list. One was the diversity. Often in years past, an artist will come forward and sweep the awards. They’re kind of the popular “flavor of the year” and just rack them up. That didn’t happen this year.

Another thing is that there are a lot of new names in the winners list, too. Let’s face it, the LDS market is still relatively small, and so there aren’t that many names to choose from. So, often in years past, the perennial favorites win yet more awards. Didn’t happen so much this year. Sure, Greg Hansen won best producer, and he and Tyler Castleton pretty much trade that award back and forth year after year. They deserve it, though. They’re good, and there’s not that many other people putting out as much work as they do.

Kenneth Cope, while producing a number of winners, wasn’t the winner himself as much this year, it seems.

I was excited to see “Railroad Blessing” win for Contemporary Album. Anyone who reads my blog here knows how much I love Sam’s music, and what a nice guy he is, too. I hope “Coming Just to Go” does well next year, as it was too new to qualify for this years awards. Another one I was cheering for in this category was Cheri Magill’s “I’m Ready”. Not many rockers win at the Pearls…

But! Greg Simpson, LDS music’s best kept secret, FINALLY won an award! Woo HOOOO! Go Greg! He won for Male Recording Artist. He’s been a nominated finalist for more awards than I care to count, but it always got stolen from him. If it had been up to me, He’d have won them all. But then, I don’t even qualify to vote yet!

The funny thing about the Pearls is that, in some ways, it’s a tempest in a teapot. It’s really quite an honor to be nominated for one or to win one, but in the big scheme of things, it doesn’t make much difference. The typical LDS church member shopping in a Deseret Book catalog probably doesn’t know what it means when the ad says “Pearl Award Winner”. It doesn’t mean a lot of additional CD sales, or more or bigger concerts. Really, it’s just a big pat on the back from other people who are trying to do the same thing you are, sharing their testimonies in song.

Mark Hansen

PS--And another shameless plug: There's a new song over at my site, called "Where's My Soul?" It's got a very very unique sound, so check it out!
The Power of the Press

OK, this is one of those "If I'm lyin' I'm dyin'" stories again...

To promote my upcoming concert in American Fork (Saturday night, the 30th, 7:30 PM, at the amphitheatre at about 850 E 700 N in American Fork, UT, be there, or miss out!), I sent out a bunch of press releases.

I got a call last week from the Provo Daily Herald, not far from AF, and they wanted to do a phone interview to do an article on me and on the show. Cool! So, I did the interview, and had a great conversation with the reporter, Logan, and was very excited. He said the article would come out today.

So, I went to the Herald's website today, and looked in the entertainment section, and sure enough, there it was! And right next to my amazing article about LDS rock music, is a random ad for a hearing aid company! Is that fate er whut!?

Mark Hansen

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Christian Metal

I got this email today from a website called Girder Music. While I usually delete spam without another thought, this one caught my eye. It’s headline was a shout for me to pre-order Stryper’s newest CD, “Reborn”. Two things made me not order. One, the fact that I didn’t have my credit card handy, and two, the knowledge that I really shouldn’t spend the money anyway.

But there were a couple of things that made me want to spend it. One was that the CD was produced by Michael Sweet and Kenny Lewis, who, I believe, was one of those that Michael worked with on his solo album, “Truth”. That one is quite possibly my favorite Christian album OF ALL TIME. Rock or anything else. It’s the best.

The other was all the cool memories of me and my friends listening to “To Hell With The Devil”. We were amazed with Sweet’s voice, and amazed at their sheer audacity and chutzpah, singing so blatantly about Christianity in the mainstream music world. They toured with Motley Crue, in a tour billed as “The Heaven and Hell Tour”. They used to throw little new testaments from the stage.

As I grew up, though, I realized that their music, and especially their lyrics were pretty much devoid of any real depth.

But “Truth” was different. Years later, when I discovered that CD, I was blown away by the meaning in the writing. The music was also amazing.

So, I’m hoping that this new Stryper CD, to be released on an indie Christian label, will meet the standard set by “Truth”. The preview clip that I heard at Stryper.com bodes well.

Then, I started checking out other CD’s at Girder. I found a bunch of other Christian bands that I used to follow in my early days as a rocker. Petra, Rez Band, and even an old punk band named One Bad Pig. They even had the album that had been given to me on Cassette by a kid I was giving bass lessons to. It was called “I Scream Sunday”. And it had two particular songs that stood out. One was the title track, and I don’t remember that one, and the other was “Ice Cream Sundae”, and that one I remember well:

“The world is like an ice cream sundae
The world is like an ice cream sundae
The world is like an ice cream sundae
It’s all gonna melt someday!”

That one still makes me chuckle…

The fun thing about revisiting these old bands was realizing that back in that day, there was no such thing as LDS rock. It was just a silly dream in my head. Then, along came the Christian rockers, and I started to think that it could be done for us mormons. Then, years later, I discovered Greg Simpson, and soon came The Singles Ward, and the RM. A friend of mine, Kent Olmstead, made a CD of LDS grunge and alternative called “SumsayKyasmus” under the name of “Fast Sundae”, and I smiled because of my memories of the Pig.

And finally, I was able to put out “One United Generation” to add to the slowly growing pool.

I still listen to a lot of CCM. Petra’s “Revival” CD is incredible. DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak” is a power house of deep writing, as well as the solo work of Toby Mac. Of course, “Truth” is constantly in my CD player, along with Superchick singing about the modest and chaste Barlow Girls.

And I listen to a lot of Mormon music, especially as we continually get more and more diverse. That’s one of the fringe benefits of reviewing CD’s. I get a lot of free ones to listen to! :-)

Mark Hansen

Saturday, July 16, 2005

The Songs of Zion

Sam “Shazam” Payne (The Sam Payne Project)
“Coming Just to Go”

When I grow up, I want to be Sam Payne!

Well, not really. I’m happy being me. Really.

But, I WOULD like to put out a CD as good as “Coming Just to Go”. And that will be no easy task. One that I will work on for a very long time. In order to accomplish that goal, I’ll have to do three things:

One: I’ll have to learn to write songs better. This is difficult for me to admit in many ways, because I’m quite proud of my songwriting ability. But Sam is my hero. He’s capturing emotions and images and many multiple layers of meaning like nobody I’ve ever heard, and I’m including the big time.

In the past, I had a hard time understanding what his songs were about, but everything was clear on this collection. Maybe it was the short one or two sentences of commentary above the lyrics of each song, but probably it was just that the songs were clearer.

Some of my favorites are “Shazam”, which is about fantasies and realities, “Freight Train” about who’s really in charge of your life, or at least who should be, and “Holy” which actually brought this old man to tears.

He’s got some cool tricks up his sleeve, too, like rhyming “pajamas” and “ram us”, or “mystery” and “kissed her”. He’s a master.

Two: I’ll have to learn to sing a lot better. His voice is the centerpiece of this compilation. He can just do so many cool things with it. Without changing it too much, he’s got country and a bit of rock, and a bit of Sting-ish jazz in him.

Three: I’ll have to hire some killer musicians to back me up. Where “Railroad Blessing” was listed as a solo CD, this one is credited under “The Sam Payne Project”. The guys in the band really bring a lot of pizzazz to the recording. Precise, yet free, tightly arranged, yet improvised. It’s all there. The songs are all Sam, but the group turns him up to 11.

Now, in all the time I’ve been reviewing CD’s, I’ve never given any one 5 stars. I mean, that would make that CD out to be the best. The standard by which all others should be judged. I mean, what if a CD came along that was better? You gonna give it a "six"?

But giving a CD a 4.5 or a 4 would imply that there was something wrong with it. That somewhere in the bits was a flaw. What if a CD came along, and I couldn’t find anything wrong with it? Wouldn’t it deserve a 5 star rating?

So, with that in mind, I’m giving this one a full 5 stars. Your mileage may vary, but I think you’ll have as difficult a time finding the flaws as I did. Better still, don’t bother. Enjoy “Coming Just to Go” on its own merits and let other people worry about mistakes!

OH! One more thing I'll have to do—

Four: I’ll have to learn to scat! Sam, can you help me out, here?

Mark Hansen

Sunday, July 10, 2005

My Yoke is Easy

My friend and I went to the Salt Lake City Jazz Festival tonight. What a fun time. It’s interesting for me, a rocker, to see what real musicians are like!

And while everyone that was on the stage just completely blew me away, there were two performers that had a particular impact on me. They were the singers. One was this older lady named Barbara (though she said she went by the name “Queen”), and the other was this big guy named Kevin Mahogany… Or something like that...

They sang incredibly well. Kevin could scat like noone I’ve ever heard before, and he would gesture while he was shoo-be-dah-be-dabbing along like he was playing his voice with his hands. It was soooo cool to watch and even cooler to hear.

The point was that they made it look so effortless.

For a long time, I was taking voice lessons, from this incredible teacher here in West Jordan named Linda. She teaches a program called Speech-Level Singing, developed by Seth Riggs. Great program, and she’s an incredible teacher.

Even though I’m not the greatest singer in the world, probably not even the best singer in my neighborhood, I have learned a lot of things. One of them is that singing is 10% physical (breathing, technique, etc…), and 90% psychological. You have to learn that inside of you is a pure, clear voice, and you have to shake away all the fear, misconceptions, insecurities, expectations, and false programming that you’ve put on yourself over the years. Great singing, then, is the absence of bad singing. And bad singing comes from baggage.

So, when singing looks and sounds difficult, it’s because it is. When singing looks and sounds easy, it’s because it is.

What’s funny is to understand how much work and practice and patience and diligence goes into making singing effortless. And it’s further amazing to me (and humbling) to see these incredibly effortless singers and to know how far I have to go to get to that point. I need to step out of my way and let the pure voice come out.

OK, now there’s a point to all this, and I’m getting there.

The same thing is true of the Gospel.

Of all the bits of Mormon kitch that bugs me most is a plaque that I see a lot. It has a picture of Jesus, usually in his “coming out of the clouds” rendering (and I actually like that picture a lot), and next to it are placed the words, “I never said it would be easy, I only said it would be worth it.”

And the problem is that not only did He never say those words, He actually said the opposite. His exact words were: “…For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11: 30)

And I believe Him. I think that living the Gospel SHOULD be easy. I think that if we were to just get out of our own way and let ourselves live the Gospel, without doubts, fears, insecurities, or hesitation… without baggage… we would find the ease and simplicity of the Lord’s Plan. HIS burden is light. OURS is heavy. When we stop fighting ourselves, we will soar.

Just like singing.

Mark Hansen

PS, I just put another song up on my site. It's a driving 80's rocker called "Turn it Up!" Check it out, it's got a surprising message...

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Today and Yesterday

Hey, I'm very excited. I just put up a new song on my website, and thought I'd do a shameless self-plug about it here.

It's called "Today and Yesterday" and it's got a kind of up-tempo retro feel. It was very different for me to write it. Usually, the melody comes to me as I'm working out the words and the chords all at the same time. This time, the melody came first, with the words, and I had to fit the chords in later. I really struggled with it, because there's some key shifting going on in the verses. Finding the right chords that matched was very difficult.

But I'm pleased with the results.

I actually wrote it a long time ago, but only recently finished the recording. I don't even remember when I put it to paper.

It's all about how tough it can be to break out of old bad habits.

Check it out at the website!

Mark Hansen

Monday, July 04, 2005

The Songs of Zion

Steven Stewart – Balance

This CD is on par with some of the best Contemporary Christian pop I’ve heard out of Nashville. It’s got flawless arrangements, clear vocals, and the strongest writing I’ve heard in a long time. And even though it’s keyboard driven pop, it even appeals to this hardened rocker.

The writing and the arrangements (even in the more LDS-ish ballads) are so strong and unique that they’re breathing new life into old themes. The sounds and the vocals are captivating. “Searching For a Sign” is one of my favorites. “Only My Soul” and “Promise of Spring” are also amazing.

In the first half of the CD, the ballads are mixed in with some smokin’ hot dance tracks, too. “Surrounded” can match grooves with the most stellar of CCM, and “Balance” is great as well.

There’s some excellent mid-tempo pop, like “Leave Me in the Rain”. “The True Messiah” is smooth and easy, but not a slow ballad (I love how the chorus leaves you suspended in the air). Some electronic percussion gives the song more motion.

See, there’s a lot of stuff on this CD that people have been doing in mainstream pop and CCM for a long time. So why am I raging about how unique and fresh it is? Because I haven’t heard anyone doing these things in LDS music. We get too trapped into our own little niche and we forget that we’re in a bigger ball park. It’s exciting to hear someone step up to the plate and take a serious swing at a big-league sound.

My only real problem is this CD is a bit too long for my taste. With the “Bonus Tracks” it’s 22 full-length songs. And it’s not like there’s filler, here. It’s all THAT good. But it would’ve been much stronger to pick the 12 or 13 BEST, and go with those. The pacing starts out strong, with a great variety between up tempo and slower ballads, but then, along about song ten or so, we get a longer string of slower ballads that tends to bog the CD down for me. So, trim a few and mix it up more would be my two cents worth of unsolicited advice. Take it for what it cost ya, Steven! :-)

The songs (with the exception of the bonus tracks, available only on the pre-release version), are all in some way about the Savior, and I think Steven’s handled those themes very sensitively, even in the up-tempo tunes. That’s not always easy to do.

It’s kinda funny, in a sad sorta way, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this CD doesn’t do well in the LDS market. I wish it would, but I’m a little nervous that our (mostly) conservative LDS ears won’t take so readily to sounds that are primarily found in the CCM market. Especially since there is almost nothing to distinguish it as a “mormon” CD. It shouldn’t be that way. This CD should be getting played at stake dances all over mormondom. But I wonder if the same people that proclaim just how bored they are with LDS music will be willing to risk the exploration of something like “Balance”. I hope they do! Because I think it’s incredible, and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed.

Mark Hansen

PS. Thomas Baggaley's instrumental compositions are featured at Latter-Day Songs, along with more from Rick Reeve and LDS rapper TJ Fredette.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Temple Reflections

I’m sitting by the reflecting pool just east of the Salt Lake Temple. It’s twilight, and there are a few whispy shadows of clouds around the lighted spires. I can look into the reflecting pool and see the inverted building against the growing black of the night sky. I think about the phrase “Holiness to the Lord” and realize that no matter how hard I try, I can’t be holy enough. That thought gives me shivers as I realize that’s what the atonement is for.

My thoughts to go to a time almost 18 years ago when Jodi and I came to this sacred place and were sealed together. I can still remember many images of that day, many of them in the courtyard around the building as our two dissimilar families joined together for laughing and photographs on the steps of the building.

I remember my grandfather, my mom’s dad, being there. His wife had died a few years before. He, himself, would only last a few years more. I remember Bev, Don’s wife, herself childless, she had fit herself in so completely as the family grandma, and later took such good care of my own children. It fills my eyes to think of her, also now gone.

I remember playing on the temple lawn with my new nieces and nephews, all young children. One by one, they’re all getting married, one in less than two weeks in this same temple.

I can remember that day surprisingly well, but it’s a sharp kind of sweet memory because Jodi and I are temporarily apart. We speak daily, sometimes two or three times. I’m grateful that she’s so patient with me and my quirks and weaknesses. She says I’m patient with hers, too, but I really think I’ve got it easier on that one.

I came downtown tonight to hear a performance by my good friend Sam Payne. A line from one of his songs sticks out in my mind as I think of Jodi and our marriage: “This has changed me forever, I’m a far, far better man…”

Mark Hansen

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

More Musical Testimonies

The more I think about how cool that meeting was last Sunday, and the more I read the responses that some of you have written, the more I want to get to know your songs and your stories.

So, everyone that reads this, take a moment to think of your favorite hymn, or spiritual song, and thing back to a time when it touched your life. If that alone makes you smile, then that’s good enough. But if you’re up to sharing that moment with us, post it in a comment, or if it’s longer, you can post it in your own blog, and come back her and tell us about it in a comment.

I’ve asked people about their favorite and least favorite LDS songs before, but this time I’m probing a bit deeper. Don’t just pick a tune that’s got a cool melody or a happy rhythm, tell us about how a hymn touched you.

We won’t laugh, I promise!

Mark Hansen

Sunday, June 19, 2005

A Really Cool Sacrament Meeting

Today, after the Sacrament was passed, our bishop stood up and commented that we might have noticed that the speakers for the meeting weren’t sitting behind him on the stand. He then made a general call out to the congregation to make sure that they hadn’t arrived during the early part of the meeting, and then said, “Well, if the speakers aren’t sitting up here behind me, then that only means that they must be sitting out there in front of me!”

He then told us all to get a hymn book and open it up to our favorite hymn. Then he started calling out the names of people in the congregation and asked them to come up, read or sing a verse or two of that hymn, and then tell why that hymn was a favorite.

What followed was one of the most powerful testimony meetings I’ve ever been in. One by one, people (as they were called up) went to the podium and through their tears (often) read or sang the hymn and bore testimony of how that music had touched their lives.

One woman told about “I Stand All Amazed”. I used to think that song was the draggiest and dullest hymn in the book until I learned what it was about. Now, as I was hearing her read it, my eyes teared up along with her.

Our cross-the-street neighbor chose “How Firm a Foundation”. How can you go wrong with that one!? “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed. For I am thy God and will still give thee aid. I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand!”

I got called up, too. I chose “Sweet Hour of Prayer” for mine. I have such fond memories of singing little baby Brendon back to sleep with that one, when he was only a few months old. In some ways, too, that song inspired “What’ll Save Ya”, from my CD, even though the songs sound soooo different.

I don’t know, though, when you slow “Sweet Hour” down, and really let go with it, it has a kind of gospel-blues-y swing to it that just settles in really nice. Just don’t tell my bishop…

Mark Hansen

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Everyone's a Critic...

There’s been some interesting discussion about reviews in my LDS Musicians email group. It’s very interesting to me, because I’ve been thinking so much about my own reviews.

I get some really mixed feelings when I review a CD.

I like reviewing CD’s in my blog (and at ldsmusicnews.com) because I get to hear lots of new LDS music. It keeps me aware

I also like helping keep others aware. It’s been cool to get some feedback comments from some of you kind folks out there that have appreciated the reviews. Some have sparked some other conversations, too, and that’s cool. I want to see the LDS music scene grow, and so one good way I know how is to share news of new music.

I get really nervous, though, when I start judging the “quality” of a CD. It feels very strange to me that I would somehow have the right, or the authority to tell someone else how good their work is. Especially someone like Greg Hansen (I reviewed a CD he produced recently). He’s been working in LDS music as a full-time job for years. He’s got awards and credits all over the place. What about me? Do I have the right to judge his work?

Well, on one level I do. As a listener. The bottom line is that everyone who listens is judging it. With or without technical expertise. Someone buys it and listens to it, and judges whether or not they like it. On that level, I am qualified to express my own opinions.

Another reason I get nervous is when I review someone’s work from the opposite end of the spectrum. Someone who’s just beginning. I worry about saying things that could hurt someone and damage their progress. I keep thinking of how I reacted to some of the reviews and comments I received early on in my “career”. I keep thinking of the Harry Chapin song, “Mr Tanner” That song can still make me cry when I read the last verse.

I remember attending a presentation at one of the lds film festivals, where someone presented a paper and talked about the lofty and noble role of the critic in improving art.


History remembers artists, and forgets critics. How often do you read an interview with an artist and he or she will say how they have to train themselves to ignore the critics, both good and bad? How often have you heard an academy award winner give an acceptance speech and say, “…And finally, I’d like to thank all the critics who panned my work. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be half as good an actor as I am today…”

So, With all that baggage, why do I write reviews?

Well, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I’ve come up with two big reasons why I’m going to keep on doing reviews at Mo’ Boy:

1. So that you, the reader, can decide what you might like enough to buy. That means that I’ll approach my reviews not so much from the point of view of: “Is it any good”, but rather, “If you listen to it, you’ll hear this kind of music”. Whether or not it’s any good in your ears will be up to you. I don’t think I’ll be able to keep my own opinions out of it, but I’m hoping that you’ll be able to sort through it and arrive at a conclusion about the music.
2. So that you, the reader, can be exposed to the wide variety of the undercurrent of LDS music. Songs that aren’t in the mainstream. CD’s that aren’t being heard in Deseret Book. Music that is fresh and new, made by people who’s names are fresh and new.

That, plus, I get a lot of cool music in the mail!

Mark Hansen


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