The story of the writing of God Will Bless America...
Over the two weeks preceding the WTC attack Erich Timkar (the singer of GWBA) and I were completing the recording sessions for a project called Scripture Release! Scripture Release is the first 24 of the 60 verse Navigator Topical Memory System put to music. This project had been a dream of mine for many years. I found the time in late March 2001, having been released from a job, to start on it and completed the initial writing by May. The summer was taken up with editing the MIDI performances and praying about the voice or voices to sing them. Erich Timkar was my first thought! He is a studied voice who loves to sing pop/rock styles. We began recording at the z'gwon,th Studios located above a coffee shop in downtown Lawrence in late August. On the morning of September 11, Erich and I sat together in his red Volks bug listening to the reports coming from NYC. Our appointment for a second recording session at 9:00 am was obviously canceled.
I remember thinking a couple of days later, "Should I be thinking about writing a song to address this tragedy?" Years earlier I had co-written a song which was eventually used in the opening ceremonies of the Liberty Weekend on Ellis Island, NYC (1986). It was a shot-in-the- dark kind of thing that worked out beautifully. Maybe it was the patriotic/NYC connection that drew me. In any event, I dismissed the idea. I was way too involved in finishing my present project. But a week later I was still contemplating it. I knew, by then, what I would say..."It's more important to be on God's side than to say, 'God is on our side' ". It would be a song written for all those who found themselves in prayer in the days following 9/11...a call to prayer! It would be a gentle but firm "push" to the hearer to consider God's guiding hand in our nation...past, present and future.
It began on a McDonald's bag. "God WILL Bless America".... if?...no.... when?....no.... AS! "God Will Bless America...AS we come to Him with prayers". I was hooked! A couple of days later I had a "shape" in mind. Vrs. 1: Today Vrs. 2: the past Vrs. 3: the future. And a chorus? I wasn't sure.
I was scheduled to go to Colorado Springs for a reception at the Navigator's HQ at Glen Eyrie. The "Navs" are an international Christian discipleship ministry. They are the "torchbearers" of the Topical Memory System. I was there as a courtesy to the Navs to let them know what I was doing with the TMS. While in Colorado, I stayed with an old friend at Doug and Jeanie Lamborn's house. Doug is a state rep. in the Colorado legislature and until recently was President pro-tem of the house in Denver.
While Doug and my friend, John, took a walk one evening, I stayed behind at the house. I was sitting out on the West facing deck, looking at the view of Pikes Peak. Drawn by its beauty and grandeur, I was aware that F-16s were still flying patterns over the region due to its strategic nature. With this in mind I left the chill and went inside where I found a lovely melody on the piano in the Lamborn's living room. This was 8 days following the attack. (In thinking back, it is ironic that this song was written gazing on the same mountain that inspired Katherine Lee Bates to write her enduring anthem, America, the Beautiful.) With a strong melody I threw the idea of a chorus out. The melody for the verses was too strong. A chorus would be pointless. But a bridge could help! The text still needed the punch line. Something like,..."We must stand with God!!" By far, the text for the bridge went through the most revisions. The final revision came as late as the morning of Erich's recording session, just a week later. It proclaimed...
the hour of darkness, when the world seeks to hide,
God was faithful to complete what He began!
I returned to Lawrence ready to write what I hoped would be a full orchestral background. I knew that Erich would be the singer. His voice would be perfect! I had recently upgraded my home music "studio". A new Mac i-Book. New software for MIDI composition (with a learning curve the size of Mt. Everest). And, most importantly, a new Roland sound module. This is the gizmo that makes the instrument sounds. It was new to me and I was able to access only 128 sounds due to my lack of experience with the machine. God Will Bless America would need much more to create a "live" orchestral performance. A quick trip to my local music store and my friend Peter quickly set me up. All 1000+ voices were now available for use.
The orchestration fell from the sky. My sister Sylvia, an incredible composer and pianist, heard an early version of the MIDI orchestration and exclaimed, "Where did THAT come from?!" We both knew.
I put together a group of Lawrence singers to perform the choral score. They were local church music directors, worship leaders and some college singers whom I had known since they were fourth graders in the Lawrence Children's Choir with my daughter. They graciously altered their schedules in order to make a 11:00 am recording session on a busy Friday. We finished in just over an hour.
Colin Mahoney recorded, mixed and mastered (and donated) the sessions. He re-mastered the session after taking a month off to tour (he is an incredible drummer!). It wasn't as good as he wanted it to be. It's people like Colin that make the world work a LOT better!
The future of this song? I have no plans to go beyond a website. If the song has a life... God will provide it. I am moving ahead with the Scripture Release! songs.
That's the story! I hope the song has reminded people that God's blessings have been abundant on our country from the beginning. And, that it is only appropriate, in these evil days, that we humbly approach Him through prayer.