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Songwriter's mission begets new music

Janice Kapp Perry gained a greater appreciation for small and simple things while serving an LDS mission in Santiago, Chile, with her husband, Doug.

"We didn't realize how some of the little things we did made a difference until we were ready to leave, and people said, 'I remember when you did such-and-such' or 'Something you did meant so much to me.' Sometimes it was no more than a kind word or a little hug."

She couldn't get that idea out of her head after returning from her mission, when the prolific songwriter got back to writing. The results: the title song of a new CD called "By Small & Simple Means."

"I wrote about three different experiences that happened to us."

One of them involved a man who was in a coma in the hospital, and his family asked Perry to come sing a song.

"I didn't think it would make much difference, but I took his hand and started singing. About halfway through, his hand began squeezing mine. He didn't regain consciousness, but I know he heard the song."

Her song was a comfort to him and to his family, "and it was such a little thing for me."

But that's the message she hopes people will get from the song. "We need to look to those little things. They are so doable. They give hope. They give help. Maybe someone will hear this song and think of little things they can try to do."

There are other songs with important messages on the CD: a rousing anthem about the importance of the family, a reminder that no matter what, "He Was Watching Over Me."

"Sometimes," she says, "our prayers are not answered as we want, at the time we want. And it's only looking back that we realize that we were being watched over all along."

For some of the songs she wrote both words and music, for others she collaborated with lyricists.

It took Perry a while to get back into songwriting.

"I thought I'd keep writing all the time I was in Chile, but it just didn't feel like the most important thing." For one thing, "I was so busy trying to learn Spanish that I didn't want to take the time to think in English."

But more important, there was so much else she was doing.

"When we got there, the place where we were assigned had nothing in the way of music. Nothing. We were able to get some little keyboards — what they call the 'LDS 50' because you can go from knowing nothing to being able to play simple arrangements of about 50 hymns in six months."

They took 24 students through that program. And the first Sunday someone could play in church was an experience she'll never forget.

"We take music so much for granted."

Over the course of the mission, the Perrys also worked with developing four choirs, taught courses in directing and gave piano lessons.

"To get free lessons was almost beyond comprehension for many of the people. It was something they had always wanted but never thought they could afford."

It was a humbling experience to work with people who had such a craving for music. "When we had to leave, I felt bad. I felt like we had brought them to a certain point and were abandoning them. But when we went back in September for a visit and to take new music, we found they are doing just fine without us. They are progressing nicely."

Perry, however, had a challenge of her own after she returned. "I was really having a hard time settling in. I missed the fact that I had been so focused, and now I couldn't think what to do. Every day, I think how sweet it was then to wake up in the morning with the only thought, Who can we help today?"

It would be nice to keep that focus, she says, "but eventually life resumes. And at the urging of our son, John (who runs the family recording and printing business), who hinted that it might be time for another CD, I started writing. And then I started remembering how much fun writing music is and how much I enjoy it."

But she has not forgotten her Spanish-speaking friends. "Our mission now is to get more music to Spanish-speaking countries." They have recently finished work on one CD that has been translated into Spanish and have two more in the works.

She has always been a firm believer in the power of music. "A song carries the message deeper into your heart." Research has shown, she says, that when you teach with prose, people retain about 25 percent. "With poetry it's about 35 percent, but when you teach with music, people remember 70 to 90 percent."

And that's why Perry still writes songs. "Sometimes I ask myself if it's time to retire. But I think, What else would I do? My love for writing is no different now, and I have more experiences to write about." Among them, the power and beauty of small and simple things.