For the past 15 years, Truth For Life listeners have been welcomed to the broadcast by the soaring theme music arranged by Nick Brown. Over the past few months, Brown has revamped his original arrangement to provide a fresh take on the program's musical introduction. During a recent interview, Brown shared some insights on his creative process.
As a professional musician and composer based in Los Angeles, Brown composes for television, and his process varies with each project's scope. "Generally, you start with whatever is known," explains Brown. "If you know that it's a 30-second piece for a car commercial, certain parameters come to mind," Brown says lightheartedly. "You know it's going to be about this tempo, have this kind of feel, and you start from there. If it's something like in the case of Truth For Life, we knew that we wanted to continue with the basic Doxology melody, and take what is best loved about that traditional melody while at the same time fitting it into a more contemporary musical setting."
Brown recalls discussing the initial concept for the new theme song with Bob Butts, Executive Vice President for Truth For Life. "I think at one point I said to Bob, 'So, do we want this to be more warm, or more reverential; more upbeat or more contemporary or more classic?' And Bob said, 'Yes,'" laughs Brown. "In a certain sense that sounds like a humorous answer, but I think that it's also the correct answer, as Truth For Life endeavors to take the massive truth or God's Word and apply it to all spheres of human life." Ultimately, Brown wrote music with a more contemporary feel that serves as a warm invitation to the program while providing a reverential preparation for the teaching that will follow.
Music's Ability to Express
In contemplating one of the goals for the new theme music -- to prepare the program's listeners for the message to come -- Brown considered the power of music to "tap into almost otherwise inexpressible parts of our spirit. Somehow, God has wired us in such a way that we are prone to hum and sing and strum and bang on things, and, when we hear the result, it triggers things deep within us. If we were to have music taken away from us, there would be something in the soul of man that was left unexpressed. I've often thought that it's just so fascinating that something like music,that seems to have no real practical value, is such an integral part of the human experience."
Brown also points out that the spoken word becomes much more dramatic when paired with music. "When you hear Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, it is a fundamentally different thing than when somebody just speaks, 'Hallelujah.' Not to demean that in any way, but it is different to hear it musically rather than recited or chanted."
The Magical Nature of Music
Music's fluidity is often hard to describe, and Brown has "often thought that it is the closest thing to real magic in the world because if you play a certain chord, on a certain instrument, in a certain rhythm, it sparks a certain kind of emotional response in the soul that you will not get if it's a different rhythm on a different instrument in a different harmony."
That appreciation of music's "magical" nature led Brown to experiment with the new Truth For Life theme. Brown began the process by playing traditional chords and standard variations on his guitar. "At first, nothing was coming to me that I really liked, so I tuned my guitar with an unconventional method of tuning called 'open tuning.' The side effect is that you wind up playing things that you wouldn't ordinarily because all the notes where you lay your fingers down are now different," explains Brown. A rhythmic pattern arose that fit a sustainable melody that Brown believed would play well underneath the Doxology melody. "And that for me was the small deciding moment when you go, 'Oh, I think that's going to work.' None of the other work can take place until you have that first good idea to build around."
A Little Background Music, Please
Brown was born in Alaska, but grew up in Chicago. A hardworking musician from an early age, Brown remembers writing and playing a song for a talent show in the fifth grade. "I think I had that composition spark early," says Brown, who went on to major in guitar performance at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. After finishing school, a 20-something, rock 'n roll guitar-playing Brown moved out to Los Angeles where he now lives with his wife, Bobbi. Their two daughters, Kim and Amy, are grown and out of the house now. Brown started out playing guitar on a number of commercials, and eventually, other composers asked Brown to take over their extra projects. Brown continues to play guitar in recording sessions, but he enjoys the fullness of the composition process. "I love the kind of complete control that today's technology allows you to have over the final product, out of your own studio," says Brown, who also plays piano, the mandolin, banjo, and other guitar derivatives.
A Truthpartner in Several Ways
Brown and his family became familiar with Pastor Begg's teaching when Alistair would visit their church, Grace Community. "Some friends of ours were moving to Cleveland, so we recommended that they check out Alistair Begg's church. The radio program was just beginning at that time, and between some combination of our friends being at Parkside and us supporting the broadcast, Pastor Begg called us to thank us for supporting [Truth For Life]. I just threw out that I was a professional musician and composer, and that if there was ever a musical need, I would be happy to help," says Brown. "And somewhat to my surprise, Alistair responded by saying that they were considering revamping the theme and would I be interested in making a try at it. That was the beginning, and it's just been an honor and a privilege and a blessing to be part of Truth For Life," says Brown.