Rob Gardner: Portraying the Savior in Music
Rob Gardner is the composer of the well-known Easter oratorio “Lamb of God,” and the arranger of the Latter-day Saint favorite, “Savior, Redeemer of my Soul.” On this week’s episode, in preparation for Easter, we sit down with Rob to discuss what he has learned from composing music about the Savior. We also get Rob’s thoughts about what he believes those who knew and loved Christ during His mortal ministry must have felt and experienced during the final week of His life.
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In a 2016 interview with me for the Desert News, Rob Gardner said that while writing his Easter oratorio, Lamb of God, he found himself asking questions like, what was it like to be in this moment and not know that Christ was going to be resurrected on Sunday? Why did Peter deny him in the first place? What was his emotion afterward? What were his thoughts? In honor of Easter, we recently sat down with Rob to talk about trying to see the Easter story through the eyes of those who knew Christ personally.
Rob Gardner is a composer, producer, and conductor who you might best recognize as the composer of the sacred music oratorios, "Joseph Smith the Prophet," and "Lamb of God." He also arranged the version of "Savior, Redeemer of my Soul," that has become a Latter-day Saint favorite. Most recently, he has conducted and arranged the music for "Cinematic Pop, an Arizona-based group that sets iconic pop songs to a full orchestra and choir.
This is All In, an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I'm your host, Morgan Jones and I'm so excited to have with me today, my friend, Rob Gardner.
Rob, thank you so much for being here with us.
ROB GARDNER: This is fun, thanks for having me.
MJ: Well, first of all, I feel like we should establish because this is probably going to become clear over the course of this conversation, that Rob and I are good friends, we're basically like family.
MJ: And I, despite that, I also have— or not, despite that, what word am I looking for here? In addition to that, though, I have so much respect for Rob
RG: You're probably right the first time because a lot of times with family, you don't really have respect for those people, right?
MJ: But I do, I do. I have so much respect. And I think that Rob is an unbelievably talented human being so, so grateful to have him in today. And so most of what I want to talk about is in relation to "Lamb of God." And I wanted to do this because Easter is coming up and honestly, "Lamb of God" has like, become a tradition for me for Easter. I go see it here in Utah, I went to see it in Arizona last year, and I think that it's that for a lot of people. And so I want to dig deep into some of the things that you learned and felt as you worked on "Lamb of God." But first of all, let's talk a little bit about how it all started. So you were a missionary in France, and your mission president asked you to compose some music,
MJ: And then what happened after that?
RG: Oh, boy, yeah, that could be a really long story. But um, so yeah, he asked me to write— he came to me, and I think it was like, April. And he said, he was French, so I always try not to do a French accent, he was like, "Elder Gardner, I want you to write something for our next Christmas conference next Christmas." And this was in April, and I thought he meant like a song. So like, wow, that's, that's advanced notice, right? And so then I said, "Yeah, of course." And he was like, "No, I want you to write like an hour's worth of music about Jesus, and I want it to be his whole life. From his birth to his death to His resurrection, and even his like appearance to the Nephites". And so I said, okay, and like because this isn't the point of the story, long story short like I spent the next few months writing, and that next Christmas, we ended up touring it around like 13 cities in southwestern France, which was really awesome. But kind of my biggest regret in that, in writing that project was that since I had, you know, 50 minutes to tell His entire story, I got like, five, maybe eight minutes to spend on like the atonement, and the last week of Christ's life, which was where the meat is, right? And so I told myself when that was done, that someday I wanted to write a project that was just that, that was just focusing on the atonement and the Passion Week, as most religions call it.
So, it took me a few years and lots of different concepts kind of came in and out of my head, because it's been done a lot, right? I mean, like, there's been films, there have been tons of music written about it, and all that— plays in pageants and, and so really, the trick for me was finding the narrative of the story. Because I didn't want to just be like, some amorphous work about the atonement, I wanted it to tell a story. So that was kind of the challenge. And at one point, even, I was going to tell it from the viewpoint of Pilate, which I think would have been really interesting, because I was just trying to think of like a really unique way of telling the story. And I, you know, I've always wanted to, whether it's writing, especially in writing, but also in my study, really figure out people, I'm really fascinated by people, I'm a very social person. And so when I'm reading the scriptures, or a book or anything, I kind of want to know who that person is, even if they only show up for like, two verses, maybe especially if they only show up for two verses. Like why did they do the things they did? Pilate's interesting because he's stuck between a rock and a hard place like very literally, almost, because it's on one side, he has the Romans who want him to quell an uprising. And on the other, he sees, he thinks Christ is innocent and doesn't want to deliver him up but he can't not without getting in trouble by his superiors. And so anyway, it didn't end up being about Pilate, but he does make an appearance, so. So yeah, so ultimately I just decided, I kind of thought, well, what if I told the story from the viewpoint of the people around Christ rather than taking Christ and having him be the main character, quote, unquote, looking more at Peter and Martha, and the 17 Mary's, and Thomas. In large part, the people that we kind of say, don't be like them like Peter denied Christ, so don't be like Peter. And Martha was always busy in the kitchen, instead of what she was supposed to be doing is the one store we tell about her, so don't be like her. And Thomas was "doubting Thomas," so don't be like him. And I really wanted to figure out why they would have done the things they did. And in doing so, found out like, absolutely, we should be like them, we should try to emulate them rather than to try to not be like them.
MJ: Yeah. Okay, so I definitely want to come back to all of that. I'm going to back up a little bit, though. I think that it's so cool, first of all, one of the biggest things when I say that we're friends, people are like, is Rob Gardner young?
RG: You're like by what standard?
MJ: No, I'm like, Yeah, he is. And they're like, I always thought he was like, older. But I think that it's because you wrote this work that's like amazing, and people hear it, or even "Savior, Redeemer, My Soul." They are like, oh, well, I've been hearing that for years. How is he only—
RG: Or they thought.
MJ: Yeah! And so it's amazing to me that you have been able to do this at such a young age. Growing up with music, what originally like drew you to music? And when do you remember— was your mission the first time that you were drawn to spiritual music? Or when did that start for you?
RG: No, it's actually— yeah, it's probably not the story everyone would expect or want to hear because I don't have a lot. There are nine kids in my family, shocker from an LDS family. And I'm,
MJ: I mean, nine is pretty large, even by Latter-day Saint standards.
RG: I'm the sixth and like, everyone in my family's musical, but I would say we're musical in the sense that everybody that's LDS is musical, right? Like you grow up singing, you grew up kind of playing the piano, or a lot of people took piano lessons. So there was a rule in my family growing up that we had to take an instrument starting in like fourth grade, or fifth grade, and we couldn't quit until 10th grade. So we had to just do that. And so my instrument, really because my older two brothers, who are, you know, my oldest brothers— so there's two boys, three girls, and then me. And my two older brothers had played trumpet. So I was like, I'll play the trumpet because I didn't care like I didn't really want to play anything. So I picked up the trumpet and learned how to read music because of that, and I was terrible at it. And like anybody who's not good at something, I didn't enjoy it, because I wasn't good at it. I never took it home from school, never did anything. But started kind of, my sisters were taking piano, I started teaching myself piano, and I absolutely did not want someone teaching me piano because I wanted to play what I wanted to play. But by the time I was in like ninth-ish, I think ninth grade, I can remember being able to play pretty much anything that was put in front of me, especially like any hymn, like not Rachmaninoff, but any hymn or like church song I could sight-read pretty well.
MJ: This is the part of the story where I start to hate you. Just kidding, I'm kidding.
RG: But you know, also my mom did play piano, so I could ask her questions. But I mostly was teaching myself just because that's what I wanted to do. So then in eighth grade, I was still in the band and hating it. And with some friends, decided to be in the musical, the school musical, which was "The Wizard of Oz." This was seventh, eighth grade, let's just say eighth grade. It was "The Wizard of Oz." And I had a part in it, like a small part. And at the end of that, the choir teacher came up to me and another one, my friends and was like, "You guys should join the choir, you sing really well." And I'd never even thought about that because it just didn't cross my mind. But then, like, a light went on in my head and I thought, I wonder if I join the choir, my mom would let me quit the band? Because is this just a music rule, or is it like an instrument rule?
MJ: How hard and fast is this rule, Mom?
RG: Right, exactly, like what are the logistics here? So I remember her picking me up and I was like, here, I'm gonna make the pitch. And to my surprise, she was like, really excited about the idea, which should have rung a bell as a kid, like if your mom was excited about something, you should probably not be. But I'm glad she was. So she let me quit the band and join the choir, which really like that tiny little decision, which really was, in most part, just to get me out of the band, changed like the course of my life. The friends that I met, and all that, like, I don't think I honestly wouldn't be sitting here today if I wouldn't have made that decision, because I would have just quit the trumpet after the next year and never looked back, right? Well, that same year too, my sister was taking piano and my mom came to me one day and was like, like, I tell it that she was in tears, she probably wasn't in tears, it just makes it more interesting. She was like, my sister Tammy, she's like, "Tammy can't go to her lesson today but it's already paid for, so I was just hoping that you'll go and take her place just this once." And like if there's two things that'll get me, it's the talk of wasting money and mom being upset. So like it was a double, I don't know, a trifecta is three, I don't know what a double-fecta is but that's what it was. So I agreed to just go to this one lesson. Come to find out, it was like a whole ruse between her and the teacher like get me to take piano lessons. So I started taking from her, but that year also like, this is going to be a true confession, kids out there, don't do it this way. That year in seminary, one of the other kids in my class wrote a song, wrote a church song, and they performed in class. And this is my entry into music writing. My first thought when he wrote it, even though I'd never written a song before, was "I bet I could write something better than that." It was a great song, I still remember it to this day, it was a great song. But I pridefully was like, I could do something better than that. And so I went home and like tried to write a song, which was not anywhere near as good as his was. But it was the first time I wrote a song. And my parents were like, really supportive, they went out and like, made sheet music of it and photocopies. Nobody wanted the song, but they were just gonna make it real, like putting it on paper, you know, so they were very supportive. So from that point on, I kind of like, and I think I entered it into like, the whatever contest, the church music contest, it was probably the "New Era" or something at that point. And I lost, of course, but that gave me kind of a thing every year to like write a song every year for the thing. So for the next three or four years, I think I just wrote like one song a year that was church-related. So actually, I started out writing church music, because that was just, it wasn't like that was the music I was listening to necessarily, but it was like an outlet, I guess. And I never won anything for any of my songs.
MJ: We need to see if the new era can dig those up.
RG: I mean, I know what they are. And actually, some people will probably have heard them. But you know, contests aren't everything. So yeah, so that's what kind of started that. And then my next piano teacher was one who encouraged me to start writing seriously. She said, "Why don't you write a symphonic piece?" And this was, you know, from a guy who thought he could write another song, of course, was like, of course, I can write a symphonic piece. And my senior year in high school, like the orchestra, which was the best in the state, said they would play it in my school. So we recorded it, which was just really cool. Like, I haven't gotten over that bug since, having like 70 people play your music, you know, all together. So that just kind of built those things. And so that confidence just kind of came from, not necessarily from success, because I wasn't really seeing success, but people were encouraging me and, and it was fun and no one was making me do it. And so yeah, I think that's kind of where the bug came in.
MJ: Yeah, well, and I think it's interesting, so you were, after your mission, you were in a graduate program at USC. And that's kind of when this feeling that you needed to do something with this desire to write more about the last week of the Savior's life kind of kicked back in.
MJ: Can you tell us a little bit more about that? And what led you to— you ended up leaving that program, right, to write this?
RG: Yeah, I mean, I guess to back up just a little bit, to put that in context. Like I, I don't know why this is, but I've always felt or I always, when I was growing up, felt like, I started to be defined by music. And I don't like to be put into a box, no one does, right?
MJ: No one does.
RG: But I started like playing every Sunday, I would be in like six wards because I would play in this ward and sing in that ward. And I just got kind of like, I felt like I was more than just my music, you know. And so I told my mom when I was going on a mission, that it was gonna be so great because nobody out there would know that I was musical. So I could just not be "Rob the music guy," for two years. And she was like, of course, she was like, "No, you have to share your gifts." And I was like, "No, mom it's gonna be so great." So the funny thing is, I get out to my mission and my mission president, like my zone leader, or district leader comes up to me just before Christmas, I got out there Thanksgiving Day, so it's not even like a few weeks in my mission. And he's like, "Hey, President Quayno wants you to sing at the Christmas conference." I didn't say anything, like how does he know I can sing? And I'm like, okay, and he goes, "and he specifically mentioned the song he wants you to do," I'm like, okay. He's like, "He wants to do a song called "Peace I Leave With You." That was one of the songs I'd written in like 10th grade like submitted to the New Era. And I'm like, there's got to be another "Peace I Leave With You," out there, like, but he's— and then he goes, "He said you would know what he's talking about." I was like, what's going on here?
So before I went on my mission, I had made a tape of all the songs I'd written for my mom, because I'm a nice son. She had sent it immediately to my mission president and said, Look at all that, so she ruined my plan.
MJ: That's the payback that you get. No good deed goes unpunished.
RG: Exactly, for making a beautiful album for my mother. So anyway, but even coming home from my mission, after then being turned into the music guy on my mission too, I was like, I don't want to just do music. So I actually got my undergrad in business at BYU. But while I was there, I started a nonprofit called "Spire Music" and we started doing shows at the tabernacle, Provo Tabernacle before it burned down. And people would come and like, they were so popular that like people would be out on the lawns outside. Meanwhile, everybody in like the music world was telling me, nobody wants to— like this music is, no one wants to hear orchestral music, and we were proving them otherwise, right? But while I was there, I started to do that. But once I finished school, I kind of was like, I would like to study this, like, I'm self-taught. And that's a good thing in some ways, but there's so much that I could learn. And I had been teaching myself a lot but the weird thing about music is, there's like zero schools out there that will let you do graduate studies in music without having your undergrad in it. And I just was not willing to do four more years.
And I also was really interested in film music, but the program at USC, which is like they let 20 people in every year, it's very small and, and exclusive. But they don't care what your undergrad is in, it's a graduate program in music, but it's film music, so they want people who write accessible, you know, melodic stuff. So they don't care whether your degree is in business or music or whatever, they just want a portfolio. So that was like the one program I could get into and I did, I got really lucky and got into it. So while I'm there, like, I'm loving it, because being a business school graduate, I wasn't ever surrounded by musical people. Like my friends are musical, but like music people in general, I wasn't surrounded by them. So suddenly, I'm in this room with 20 amazing composers from around the world. And like my game went like skyrocketed because you're competing, friendly competing with these guys, because you're on a weekly basis recording stuff with the best musicians in the world and hearing each other's stuff. And I was conducting all their stuff. And just like you're just immersed in this, yeah. And it was so amazing. And suddenly I started getting all these ideas for Lamb of God, but you know, we just started the program. It's November and I'm thinking, I think I need to write this thing now. But I've got another six months in this program, it's like immersive, we're riding on it. So there's no time to write a side project that's 18 minutes long, full orchestra and choir. But I felt strongly enough to contact my favorite orchestra in the world, which is the London Symphony Orchestra because they have recorded like every soundtrack that I ever noticed, all the John Williams stuff and Trey Potters and whatever. So people are always like, how did you get to work with them? And the answer is, I just emailed them, like, which is like one of the best parts of this. It's like Rob's like. Hi. Hi, my name's Rob Gardner, as you
MJ: Would have heard of me. Um, I also don't have the piece written but when it's done.
RG: Nope, haven't even started, yeah. I mean, but that's kind of— that's always a lesson for me with people. It's like, you know, we always want to think that you have to wait till someone comes to you. And the truth is, like, even now, where I'm at in my career, still, nobody ever comes to me and asked me to do things like I have to just do them. You would think like, you'd be getting calls. No, no one cares until you make this stuff. So yeah, I just emailed them and I said, "Hey, I want to do this project. Do you have any availability, and what would it cost?" And they wrote right back, and we're like, here's our availability, they had some dates in June, so this is November, I haven't started writing it. And, I'm like done, and I booked it, I'm like, we're going to do it. Because I have to do that. I will never finish something if I don't book it. So even now with shows, I'll just book a venue, and then I have to be ready for it. So otherwise, I just languish. So yeah, so now I have the London Symphony Orchestra. And I had an idea I had a concept but I was still in the program. And so I went and talked to the guy in charge, and just told him, like, I have the opportunity to work with London Symphony Orchestra. And I can't really do both at the same time so what are my options? He's like, well, if you drop out now you can't come back, because it's only a year program and we can't let people in halfway through. And so I was like, okay, that's, that's not fun, because I really love this and I love the guys I'm with and I don't want to walk away from it. And I was living in LA, obviously, the time and, and they were like the only guys I knew in LA. And so after like— it was one of the most stressful decisions I've ever made. But I finally just felt good about dropping out of the program to write this thing. And so, starting in January, I just— it was funny, last year I did a thing where I talked about Lamb of God so I was going back through my emails to see the timeline. I didn't really get going until March, like all these emails back and forth, like saying, here's the idea. But I'm such a procrastinator, that I was just letting it—now letting it stew is good too, for me, it's like you, and then it finally comes out. But like I was under the gun like crazy on this. In fact, I look back through my emails, I didn't have the parts even printed until a week before our session. And so it was pretty crazy.
MJ: So how long, how long would you say, like ballpark?
RG: It's actually kind of hard to say because I was thinking about this for years before, it was all in my head. And there are some songs and some melodies in there that I came up within the years preceding that I thought, you know, that I put away or that I wrote or something, well, I didn't write for something else, but then I wrote and thought this could be part of that, and then didn't use them for anything else. So but like once I put pen to paper, to the time we recorded it, in fact, I hadn't even finished writing the choir parts when we recorded the orchestra stuff because it was just I didn't have time. I knew what I wanted, but I hadn't written them yet. But I would say, you know, since it was probably like February to June, so three to four months.
MJ: It's amazing. So but here's the thing that I love, when you talked about it last year in Arizona because I was there. One thing that I loved was you said, you know a lot of people think that in order to write something that matters, like you have to have this awakening in the middle of the night and you have to be able to write it in a short period of time, like Handel did the Messiah, right? But you said it wasn't like that for you. So what was kind of the process like?
RG: Well, I'm glad you brought that up. Because I hate even saying when someone says like, "How long did it take you to write?" And you say three months. It's like, like, because if I said 30 years, would that make it less of a of a good work? No. And that perpetuates a myth for a lot of young writers who are like, well, if this song isn't written quickly then it's not any good. And that's not true. Like Beethoven's Ninth, I'm not gonna tell you how long, because I don't know exactly, but it did take him a week, like, and that piece is brilliant, it took years, easily. And many of the greatest works take a long time. But everyone works differently but I've never been one who wakes up in the middle of the night with that like— like, people I know, when they asked me, "You must have been so close to heaven writing this," I'm like, actually, like, ahh, you know. I've always since even on my mission, I remember my mission president kept saying like how he thought like, the thing I wrote there was inspired. And I had a really hard time with that because I knew how I wrote it and it didn't feel inspired. Because I still have this weird idea of like, oh, angels should be singing it to me in my sleep, right? Or like, the words appear in the clouds or something stupid like that. That wouldn't be stupid, that would be amazing, but you know what I mean? So for me, it's, it's really just sitting down and like working through it. Sometimes things come quickly. But I remember very specifically, the song "Here is Hope" in there, which is, if I had to have a favorite, it would be up there. But it's kind of the centerpiece of it. And I remember like really agonizing over how to— I knew what I wanted it to be, I knew how I want it to feel, but I didn't have any words.
MJ: Is that the one that Mary sings?
RG: Mary sings that, basically, my mind to the cross, like after Christ has just died before he's resurrected. So I wanted the whole piece to be about hope. And so I thought, I want the darkest moment of the whole thing, which would be the time between when He died and He was resurrected, when everybody thought all hope was lost, I wanted that to be the moment where we were the most blatantly saying, there's hope. So I knew I wanted that word in there but I remember thinking, like working around it for so long, because it was like it was going to be the big hurdle piece. And so I remember just like getting a few ideas for it. But then like, some of the words started to come slowly. But like just could not come with a melody and remember I was on USC's campus because I didn't have a piano in my mother-in-law house that I live in, barely didn't even have room for mattress. So I would go to the practice rooms at USC to like work through ideas. And I remember that I had to go to a friend's cello recital and so on the way I stopped by a practice room to play through some stuff and to figure out. And I'd sat there for at least a couple hours and just didn't come with anything I liked. And as I was leaving, like this melody, like did— and you know, I'm not implying anything by this— but I there was a melody that was in my head suddenly. But I didn't have time to go back the room and I'm not a good enough musician to really like, well, I didn't have anything to transcribe, even if I was. So what I did, I didn't have any voice recorder on my phone. So I just thought in my head with the notes might be and I texted myself like the notes like F-C-A, that rudimentary just so I'd have something to remember when I got back home. And luckily, it worked and it stuck with me. But so that's an example of one that that feels like oh it came so quickly. It came quickly once I'd worked at it for days and weeks and months, you know what I mean?
RG: So you know, my problem with like, someone saying something was inspired, just came from a place of like, first of all, I don't want to ever imply that anyone that like, you know, heaven whispered these things to me or whatever. But then it also feels prideful to say that they didn't, you know, right, but it's like no, I did this all on my own. So I really struggled with that as a missionary, especially, and then I finally read, and I'm sure I'd read it 1000 times before but in Moroni, he says, paraphrasing, that anything that inspires us to believe in Jesus Christ is inspired of God. And I was like, okay, by that definition, I can accept when something that I've written is inspired because I've seen that in people's lives and I've seen it in my own life. So then I was okay with acknowledging it was inspired by I still, to this day, really shy away from insinuating that anyone because I don't want them thinking that I'm saying, you know, the angel appeared to me and did it. Because if that did happen, I would be screaming at the top of my lungs cause it'd be so cool.
MJ: Right. Well, it's like, if that were the case if that's how all these amazing things happen, why would we have any reason to work or to develop our talent?
RG: And it wouldn't be nearly well, it'd be really cool, but it wouldn't be very satisfying.
RG: So like, it's really satisfying to work hard for something. Especially when then, in that moment after you worked hard for it, it comes and it feels so right like you don't question it. Like, whereas if you come up with some really quickly, you might go well, or maybe I've already heard that before. Or, you know, maybe I'm stealing from someone and I'm not realizing it, or I don't know. Yeah, it's satisfying when you've really worked for something. But I'll tell you what, like when you're not getting it, it's terrifying, because it's just like, maybe I've lost it. Maybe I can't write good melodies anymore. Or maybe this one's you know, especially when you already have the LSO booked for June it's like something will come I hope.
MJ: Yeah. Well, and I think too, it's like that, a lot of times, probably seeing the end of the story and not everything leading up to it. Like Handel's Messiah, you know, it's not like that came out of nowhere. He knew how to do all of those things.
RG: Even that story for me, I'm always like, I'm a little skeptical. And like, probably the same as mine. Like he had all these ideas in his mind for a while and then he locked himself in a room for a week or whatever it was to finish it. But once again, it's like, for every one of those you have one that took someone 17 years to write. One is not better than the other because it came quicker and once not less inspired than the other either, so yeah.
MJ: I love that. So as you began to write "Lamb of God" and I love that kind of an underlying message of "Lamb of God," I felt like is that it's okay to have weaknesses or moments of weakness. And it's okay to not know everything. And that we're not alone in that, like if you feel that way right now, so it was with Peter, and Thomas, and all these people who had moments of weakness, and we kind of see that play out. But when did you first start to feel like those characters were kind of coming alive for you?
RG: Oh, that's a good question. Like, I think, to play off what you just said, the other thing is that when we read these people, we already know the end of the story. So we're judging them by some ridiculous standard, you know, we're thinking like, well, he told him so many times he was going to get resurrected. Yeah, but he said it pretty cryptically a lot of times. And other times, it was very clear, but this has never happened before. Or like Peter walking on the water. I love— I'm going to paraphrase again— but this probably answers your question, because I remember while I was doing just the research for it, I came across a talk by President Kimball, that was written when he was still an apostle, I think it was in the 70s or sometime. And he had said that, basically, it was Easter time and he'd read an article written by a pastor of some other church about Peter, and basically saying, you know what I said earlier, don't be like Peter, because Peter denied the Christ and all these things. And President Kimball said that when he read it, that his blood boiled as a brother, in the apostleship with Peter, because he felt like his brother here was being maligned, and went on and because— you have to go out and read this talk, it's amazing. It's not a talk, it was an article, I think. But he just talks about, and I'm paraphrasing again, but he basically said, Don't judge Peter until you've gone out and taken a few steps on the water yourself. Like, we look at that story in particular, and we're like, oh, because Christ says "O ye little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt." But before he doubted, he walked on water. Like that's an amazing feat of faith that he had there. And Peter's faith, you know, we want to look at it and say, like, how did Peter going from this bundling no faith, idiot, to being the man who healed people with his very shadow and raised people from the dead, like, after Christ is gone. He must have had some amazing infusion of whatever and it's kinda like we're talking about with writing stuff. First of all, he progressed over years. But second, he was never the bumbling, faithless, idiot that we talked about him as he was always very close to this person being able to heal. No one else has walked on water that I'm aware of, other than him and Jesus, and he did it while he was still fumbling through. He had enormous faith. And so it was in looking at those things, and then finding what seemed to be inconsistencies in their character, it was almost like being a PI or a, you know, district attorney, which would be fun in another life, to go like, look at this man who pulled out his sword and was ready to, like, go at an army armed with stores and state it says it is like a huge group of people, it says a great multitude, which no one's vernacular means three people. Like there was an army against him and he pulled his sword and started walking and chopping off ears. And then a few hours later, he denies Christ because he's scared. I'm not buying that, like, there's something going on here. And so I just wanted to figure out for myself who these people really were and why they did the things they did. But I also wanted to walk the tightrope or the fine line of not deciding for other people.
So I try to create in my mind who these characters were, and then I had to sometimes give them words to say it. But I tried not to say too much that wasn't there already in the scriptures. Because I wanted other people to have the joy of the discovery that I did. And rather than say to them, this is how it went down. Because I don't know if that's how it went down. That's how I think and I hope in the next life when I hopefully get to meet Peter that he'll be like, "Hey, you did me a solid," but he might also be like, you totally got it wrong. But I think, either way, he's gonna be like, thanks for trying. And same thing with Thomas. Like, from an LDS standpoint, we have these, you know, 15 apostles that live with us each day. And you wouldn't fathom calling one of them by the nickname, "Doubting Dieter," like, can you imagine? And yet we go "Doubting Thomas," because we judge him by his lowest moment. You know, this was an apostle of Jesus Christ we're talking about. And so having— giving them the benefit of doubt, like we should, with every human being, that these are real people and real stories, who didn't have the end from the beginning shown to them, they were living each day. Elder Wirthlin, I believe it was, gave a talk called "Sunday Will Come."
MJ: Yeah, I love that talk.
RG: Amazing. And the truth is, all those guys were in Friday when they were in Friday, they didn't know about Sunday yet. We do, and so we judge them by the fact that we know that he was risen on the Sunday. But on Friday, that's all they had, it was all the knowledge they had. So I wanted to try to capture that, like, what was it like to be there on Friday, not knowing that Sunday would come and to do that musically and emotionally, but without, without putting too many words in their mouth that didn't seem like they would come out of their mouth.
MJ: Right, without taking like too many artistic liberties.
RG: Exactly. Or doing things that were blatantly like well, that clearly didn't happen, you know. And that was tough to like, okay— one of my biggest questions was, why wasn't Peter at the cross? Like, and I really wrestled with that for a while, because we know John was there, we know the women were there, but that's really all we've got you. And so it seemed like if Peter would have been there, they would have mentioned Peter. One of the very few things that were mentioned all four gospels is Peter denied Christ, which seems unfair. That they all four we're like, we're going to put this in our book, but they did for whatever reason. And so I tried to figure out, for me, why wouldn't he have been there? And that's where the song, "I Cannot Watch Them," came out of. I had to, I had to explain for me why he wouldn't be there. And again, I tried to keep it as specific and vague as possible the same time. So I wasn't telling everybody, well, this is what was going on, but at least to present a thought of like, what might have been going on for Peter at that time.
MJ: Yeah. While we're on the topic of Peter, I love that song, that's one of my favorites. And I love at the end where he says that the last words on his lips, or whatever it says, you can quote it, but he says will be "I know this man." And I think that sometimes, like we have this tendency to, or we have moments where we're like, is this what's happening, and then later, we have a lot more resolve and I think that's actually beneficial. And so I love that Peter walks away from this experience with this resolve to be like, this is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life. And that's what Peter did. Like, that's not an artistic liberty, like we read the rest of it. And so I love that. And then I also love with Thomas, where you have the song, "Sometime We'll Understand."
MJ: Can you tell us a little bit more about the process? Because that song, it kind of shifts it from, I feel like, it takes us from the New Testament and what happened there, to today and kind of connects the two over hundreds of years. What was your thought process with that one?
RG: So that was the second hardest moment because I knew I wanted to end with this, this thought coming from Thomas. And I hadn't written that the lyrics are not written by me, it's a hymn that was in like three hymn books ago. And my mom, I believe, was one who pointed it out to me and just said, you've got to— but the problem was, as many of the hymns written 100 years ago, it's just the music felt like 1910. You know, so it didn't feel accessible today. So I had found that— I had an aunt who died of breast cancer in I think it was 2004, I want to say. So it was a few years before I wrote this or several years before this. And I remember finishing that song when that happened because I was struggling with trying to understand why that would happen to like such a beautiful, young person with nine kids of her own. And so that song was already there and I'd already written it, but I didn't have anywhere to put it. And so I never recorded it, I never released it, because I like to put songs in a work and not just to individual songs. And so when I was writing "Lamb of God," I knew that that lyric was exactly what I wanted to say. But I didn't feel like stylistically that song fit into the world of "Lamb of God." So I kind of kept wrestling with this. But every time I would come back to it, it was exactly what I wanted to say. Because I'm really, I really try to be careful when I write sacred music to never preach to my audience because I don't like to be preached to, I don't like to be told, like, this is what you should do. And so I didn't want Thomas to have any answers yet because, in the context of the story, it just happened. So for Thomas to have, like gone through this thing of, of, you know, questioning, we could go into what was really going for him, but I'll just say this much, he didn't question that Christ had been resurrected, that'd be stupid. Every one of his friends and closest trusted people told him that they'd seen Him the night before. So he believed it, he was hurt and that's how he reacted was to say, "I won't believe until I see." And we all do that, every single day.
MJ: I feel like it's kind of like, it's like the most hurtful form of FOMO is like what he was experiencing, you know?
RG: Like, Christ knew he wasn't going to be there so why would he come in the few minutes— I have this theory that he even was there already and Peter sent him to go run an errand. And so like he was actually doing exactly what— he wasn't, I don't think he was late, I think he was where he should have been and for some reason, Christ decided to come while he was gone. And like you said, but like, like, how badly would that hurt? It felt personal, I think, and also, how many times have we done that? Where it's like, something happened and we looked at heaven and we say, that's not fair. Why would you have left me out of this? Or why would you have not— you know, why did you cure this person of cancer, but you didn't cure my mom, right, or whatever it is. And that's where Thomas was, for me. He didn't really doubt that Christ was risen, I think that would be strange. So "Sometime I'll Understand" doesn't have any answers. It simply says, it shrugs your shoulders and says, sometime I'll understand, but I love that the chorus is just saying, but trust in God through all thy days if you're not, you know, to sing in praise while we're still in trouble. Like, while we're doubting we can still sing in praise and just hope that someday it'll be revealed to us, right? And it's such a— and I remember, so I was just fighting against putting this song next I didn't like it worked, like in the world. And I remember one day, in my tiny little house in LA, the deadlines were looming and I just was really having a rough time with that, and just life in general. And I started playing that song, and it moved me so profoundly. And I thought, there's no way I can put this in there. Because if it moves me this profoundly in a moment when I need it, it's going to touch other people. And so who cares if it works, I can fix the orchestrate, I can make it fit. And I have zero regrets about doing that because it's still to me like you said, it just it's a nice way to finish it up without— because I think sometimes we can feel belittled in our trials when someone says it's, it's all going to be okay. Like I remember one of my aunt's, the sister of my aunt that died, saying to me about another song that they treated similarly saying, "Thank you for not diminishing the struggle of the trial while also saying, but it's going to be okay." Like, and that was really high praise for me. Because I think it can be difficult sometimes to like, make it feel like we should just shrug off our difficulties, rather than like to feel like we can sit in them for a while, but still sing in praise while we're hurting. Because we can be in joy and sorrow simultaneously. And that's, I don't think people want to always believe that.
MJ: Yeah, I read a book recently, it's called, "Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I've Loved," by Kate Bowler, who's a professor at Divinity School. And the whole premise of the book is that at first I thought, this book is extremely cynical. But she has cancer, Kate Bowler does, and the whole premise is, you know, people say a lot of things to try to make you feel better about your situation. And she's like, really, the most important thing that we can do is just be there. You know you don't have to say anything.
RG: I love that you said that. Because I thought, this was a few weeks ago, I thought, why did Christ bring Peter, James, and John with him to the garden? Because it says he left all of his apostles out there and then he brought those three with him closer to the garden, to sit with him, I'm like, they can't help with the atonement, He knows that, like what is the point of bringing them there, to watch? He says, watch and pray but like to guard the place? No, he isn't, no one's gonna take him until it's right, right? So like, he doesn't need them to stand guard. So I thought why, I thought oh, exactly what you just said, like, when I'm having my hardest times, like, what do I want to know? I want to know that my best friend is there. Even if they can do nothing for me, maybe especially if they can't do anything for me. But just knowing that they're there outside, in his case, outside the garden, or outside the door on the other side of the phone, is usually all we need. Like sometimes there's more needs than that, but that, to me, makes Christ-like so human and godly at the same time. That like he's God, about to meet out the atonement, but he just wants to know that his friends are outside the gate. Like that's so beautiful. I love that, it's so relatable. And we often don't feel like Christ can be relatable, and He was. One of the things I learned through this is like how relatable He actually can be as a human being like, his relationships with all these people were so human, and also divine at the same time. It's amazing.
So but on that same note too, that you said about the lie, like I love that you brought that up, because we often, the lyrics of "Sometime We'll Understand," doesn't say that there's a reason for everything. It says sometime we'll understand and our understanding may be like, oh, it just didn't matter. Like it felt so important in the moment, and in the scheme of things, it just wasn't that big of a deal. But recently, my cousin who helped me basically, Her name is Courtney Maryland, she's brilliant, and she's a therapist. And she was my go-to when I was writing this because I needed to understand people. And so I'd be like, Okay, why do you think Thomas did this? And she would always have brilliant answers. And she asked me about a year ago, she called and she said, "Why do you think Christ asked Mary Magdalene, 'Woman, why weepest thou?'" I said I'm glad you asked that because it always kind of bothered me. Because I always thought, and I actually even wrote a song about, the one from my mission, that he was basically saying don't cry, because I'm alive. Which is fine, but that's kind of what you said earlier, kind of like the whole well don't cry because it's gonna be okay, right? And she and her husband have this joke where we kind of, as LDS people say like to someone, "but Plan of Salvation." Like it's not even a complete sentence. But it's just like, but the plan of salvation, so don't cry. And it kind of diminishes our suffering and says that we aren't allowed to suffer. And she was like, I don't think that's what He was saying. Like, and I'm like, rubbing my hands together, like, what is He saying? And she said, You know, there's a concept in, in counseling and stuff, and the whole purpose of counseling is to be able to name your grief, that once you put a name to your grief, it loses its power to a certain extent. And then usually, also you find out your true grief is not what you think you're grieving about. So for example, I might say like, I'm really sad because someone scraped my car today, but really, that's the surface thing. But I'm really more sad because something else happened like I'm dealing with something else. And that scrape of the car is just the last thing. And here we have Mary Magdalene, who dealt with Friday, losing a man that she loved and revered and was taught by and walked with every day, in a horrible, violent death, with all these people screaming, like the worst day of her life, right? And then that happens to be on the eve of the Sabbath. And so she didn't even get to, because of the timing of things, get to do what they normally did, which was spend the time to prepare the body and to wrap it and into do all these beautiful "last's." Kinda like we do now with viewings like to have this time to dress the body and all the last loving services, you can pay someone you love, that had to be done quickly because they had to stop for the Sabbath. And so I imagine her that whole next Sabbath day, she's just waiting for the sun to set again, because all she wants to do is go back and finish this loving service for this man that she loves, for her God. She gets back there and the body's gone, and that's the last straw. Like she's freaking out. She's having like a psychotic break if you can accept that like she's having the new worst day of her life, right? And she's trying to find out from everyone. So much so that even when the angels appear to her and ask her, she doesn't seem to even acknowledge their presence, which I find fascinating. That they're like more of a sudden she doesn't say, she doesn't wonder the angels, she just answers them and says, "They've taken my Lord, where they laid him I know not." And then Christ appears and she thinks he's the gardener, and she's freaking out. And he says "Woman, why weepest thou?" And what is her answer? Her answer is not because they killed this man that I love, it's someone's taken his body away, and if you know where he is, let me know. And then she says, I'll take him away—which, can you imagine? Like, I doubt she was a very large woman and she's saying single-handedly she's going to take the body of Christ with her. Like, she's just not even thinking through things, she's desperate and she's, she's grieving. And when he asks her, "Woman, why weepest thou?" I love the idea that he's giving you the chance to say out loud like because I lost this person that I love so much. But she's still freaking out and so he has to kind of cut that short and just say "Mary," to comfort her. But I thought that was such a beautiful concept where he wasn't saying, "Don't cry." In fact, he was saying the opposite. He was giving her the chance to grieve and to lose that. Because the truth is, Mary Magdalene, like us, we want to look at and say like, "Oh, well, the resurrection happened so everything way made okay." But we know the resurrection is going to happen and we still grieve the loss of our loved ones. And that's good and right. And she, even though Christ was resurrected, He was no longer going to walk with her every day, He was going to go back to His father. And so she lost him just like we lost everybody, even though she now knew she hadn't lost Him for good, she still was grieving the loss of "her friend, her teacher, her master," in her own words. And so He was allowing her that opportunity to grieve and teaching us in the process, like, I had to think, isn't that what prayer is about? Like allowing us to speak and to name our griefs rather than just doing the like, trite, repetitions and stuff and saying, like— I think another lie I think we live by is, when people are like, "I'm so grateful for my trials" I feel like you're not. You're grateful for what the trials taught you, but none of us like are grateful for the— and maybe, I can't speak for everyone, but usually, we're what we're saying is we're grateful for what we learned. But I think even there, there's a danger of saying like, well, then we should rejoice in our trials. And we should rejoice while in our trials, but we can still grieve those losses, and we should still. It's healthy and proper and Christ taught us through those things, "Woman, why weepest though?" You have a right to grieve, not the opposite, saying "Don't cry, I'm alive." But saying here's your chance to grieve with me here.
MJ: Yeah. I love talking about "Lamb of God," I think that I could listen to you talk about it all day. But we're running kind of short on time. One more thing, though, that I wanted to ask you about. You did this arrangement of "Savior, Redeemer of My Soul," that people love. People, I feel like, that song people like gravitate toward it. What originally drew you to— that song is in the hymn book, right? But it's a completely different arrangement. What originally drew you to that song? And what do you think we learn from that in light of the Easter season, about Christ?
RG: So what I love about that text, and the reason why I was drawn to it, is that it talks about like, she says, I say she, I don't know why because I always think that as a woman singing but, um, "and fill with sweet, my bitter cup." And it's that juxtaposition of the sweet and the bitter like our whole life is these juxtapositions, but that whole song, like there's a melancholy to the lyric, there's a melancholy to the melody, but it's praising at the same time. And that duality of like, we can go through tough things and still rejoice and still praise. And I think if we don't allow ourselves to grieve properly in those things, then that will ultimately often turn to bitterness, rather than being allowed to taste that bitter and that sweet at the same time, and allowing that bitter cup to become sweet. But I think the lyrics to that is so beautiful and so profound, and yet so simple. And so that's, for me, where the melody had to go, was just make it as simple as pie. It feels like you've heard that song your entire life, even though you might have just heard it. And a lot of times, we try to complicate everything and there's so much beauty in simplicity, especially when it comes to art. Like I always over orchestrate things and then I have to go, okay, what can I take away. Or a melody is so much more profound if it's simply because then you can treat it with more complexity around it and allow the melody to stand in the middle of it. Or if it's a lyric, like we always try to just be so profound in everything we do and there's just so much meat and beautiful exploration in something that's simple. So, but I love that that lyric just is a praise lyric, while still acknowledging that things are hard because they are.
MJ: Yeah, and that's life. That's what we came here for. I think that that is such a beautiful— I love the way that you put that because I think that that's one thing that we see, in the lives of these people that we've been talking about, we see this ability to allow themselves to grieve, to allow themselves to air. And sometimes I think we don't allow ourselves that same opportunity. We like, we're like, oh, well, like even when we're not being critical of those people in the Bible or in the scriptures. For me, I look at people a lot of the time and I'm like, oh, well, like we see where later they bounce back. But we don't allow ourselves that same opportunity.
In conclusion, Rob, I think that all of this that we've been talking about is a great example of what we try to talk about at the end of this podcast, always. But I'm interested to hear your exact answer to this question, which is, what does it mean to you to be all in the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
RG: That's a tough one. You know, I'm going to answer this in maybe a bizarre way. But I would say, for me to understand what it is to be all in, we have to acknowledge that sometimes we're not. And I think that's what these people have taught me is that, you know, we want to say, or at least, that, like I said, with Peter, that sometimes we are going to think that we're not. That whatever Peters motivations were for, or reasons were for denying, or whatever Thomas's feelings were, or Martha's or Mary's, in those moments, they felt like they demonstrated that they weren't all in, but they were. Their hearts were there. And I think in order to really understand being all in, we kind of have to understand that we're all nuanced and complicated. And that to be all in for me, simply says that we're all going to stumble, we're all going to have doubts and probably severe doubts if we ever think too hard about anything. And the line just comes back to me from "Sometime I'll Understand," that we just, "Though dark thy way, still sing in praise." Because things are going to get dark, they're going to be hard. They're also going to be bright and beautiful, this world is not supposed to just be dark, it's supposed to be beautiful and bright as well. But we will have those times. And in those times, we have to just sometimes surrender and just continue to sing in praise.
MJ: I love that, thank you so much. Rob, thank you for sharing your thoughts and your music with us. It has been such a pleasure.
RG: Thank you for having me, it was awesome.
MJ: You can find Rob's album, Lamb of God, on iTunes and Spotify, as well as in Desert Book stores. For more episodes of All In, check us out on iTunes, Spotify, Bookshelf PLUS+ or by visiting LDSliving.com/podcast. And, as always, please don't forget to leave us a rating or review. Thanks so much for listening.