New album from Paul Cardall includes collaboration with LDS apostle
Composer Paul Cardall has collaborated with LDS leader David A. Bednar for a song on his new album.
Paul Cardall's new album is "A New Creation."
While on the phone with composer Paul Cardall discussing his forthcoming album, “A New Creation,” out Friday, it seemed inevitable that the composer, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, would eventually reference a famous 1977 article by former LDS prophet Spencer W. Kimball, “A Gospel Vision of the Arts.”
The article, originally a talk given to BYU faculty and staff, is a call for Mormon artists to reach and even surpass the artistic heights of Goethe, Shakespeare and Wagner, suggesting that, because they have “a total knowledge of the plan of salvation of God and personal revelation,” Mormon artists are particularly well suited to achieve artistic greatness.
“I hope we may produce men greater than this German composer, Wagner, but less eccentric, more spiritual,” Kimball wrote. “Take a Handel with his purposeful effort, his superb talent, his earnest desire to properly depict the story, and give him inward vision of the whole true story and revelation, and what a master you have!”
Speaking with Cardall, Kimball’s vision seems to fit nicely with his own artistic ambitions.
“I’m not interested in entertaining people,” he said. “My music has a purpose. … For years I had this idea of what would it be like to create a soundtrack to the word of God? To the plan of salvation? To the story of the creation of the world, the fall of man, the savior of the world coming and ultimately rescuing us?”
Cardall is a self-taught pianist and composer who has found an audience on Internet radio apps like Pandora. In 2009, he was diagnosed with congenital heart disease and became the successful recipient of a heart transplant.
The new album drops within a week of the seven-year anniversary of his transplant. Before that surgery, he had been given one year to live.
“My albums are kind of autobiographical,” he said. “There’s a personal story to it. … God literally changed my heart seven years ago, and then over the past seven years he has spiritually pulled my heart out and given me a new one. This album captures the spiritual side of it.”
As Cardall has become more interested in orchestration, his albums have begun to include more collaboration with other artists, but “A New Creation” also features a collaboration with an unlikely creative partner: David A. Bednar, an apostle for the LDS Church.
“He approached me, asking if I would help him pull this song out of him, Cardall said. “He said to me, and he actually told this at the Missionary Training Center at a devotional last June, he said that he has absolutely no musical talent. This was something he thought. He just felt like he had no musical ability inside of him, and yet for years, he was telling me, he had this phrase that was constantly going through his mind, and that’s the phrase ‘one by one,’ a phrase that we find periodically in the scriptures.”
The phrase became the title of the song that the two ultimately wrote together: “One by One.” It was released as a single before the album’s release. Cardall says the song is the “heart of the new album.” The song will debut live for the first time to the general public Friday and Saturday nights at the Tabernacle on Temple Square.
The collaboration between the two men began two years ago when Bednar pitched the idea to Cardall after Cardall was invited to give a performance at a fall social to the Missionary Department of the church. Being approached by an LDS leader of Bednar’s rank caught Cardall off guard, he said. It seemed to him that one of them was unqualified for the project — but not Elder Bednar.
“I was surprised that he would ask me to do it,” Cardall said. “I had been going through some personal things. I went through a tough divorce, and so I was feeling some of the challenges that people feel in mortal life, and some of the pressures in life, and (for) somebody who I believe with all my heart is exactly who he says he is to ask me for help … was very sobering and humbling.”
Cardall has produced multiple No. 1 Billboard-charting albums, but hearing him speak about interacting with Bednar, he’s the one who sounds starstuck — Cardall’s reverence for the office Bednar holds was obvious as he spoke.
“In our first initial meeting, we talked for a while, it was very personal, very beautiful, very sacred,” Cardall said. “I got to know him as a person, and so we had several meetings. I don’t like to call them ‘meetings’ because it was more like we got together and talked about this song.”
Early on, Cardall said that Bednar explained the theological underpinning of the idea he wanted to make a song about. Based in 3 Nephi 11 in the Book of Mormon and other scriptures, he wanted to write about Jesus Christ interacting personally with individuals.
“He’s saying that this is how the savior functions,” Cardall said. “The savior is interested in each of us individually, one by one. … As we talked about these things, and he gave me several scriptures that I needed to read. I told him that I would read them and I would go come up with some themes on the piano, and then I would bring them back to him.
“Well, I went and I read, and he had said, ‘You need to read these with your wife.’ Well, I went and I read everything, and you know, life gets kind of busy, I hadn’t really sat down and read with my wife. I had read them, and I tried some things, and then time was going by, and I wasn’t feeling as inspired.”
Cardall said he wondered if the lack of musical inspiration was because of how much pressure he was putting on himself.
“I think I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, because I wanted this to be great,” he said. “And I would continue to read, and life would go on … and then I went to go see him and I said, ‘Listen, I’m struggling.’ And he said to me, ‘Did you do everything I asked you to do?’ I said, ‘Well, I read the scriptures.’ He said, ‘Well, did you read them with your wife?’ And I said, ‘Well, I haven’t read them with my wife.’ And he goes, ‘Well, there’s your problem.’ “
Cardall had remarried, and his wife, Kristina Ann, is Catholic. But she shares some of Cardall’s admiration for Bednar, he said, and so eventually he suggested that they read the prescribed verses together.
“And she’s like, ‘You should have asked me to do this!’ ” he said. “So we read them together, then I went into my studio, I think it was 5 in the morning, and it was like one after another, themes came out. And I recorded them, and they were all very simple. … I dropped them off with (Bednar) and it wasn’t very long (before) I was at the grocery story and he called me and said. ‘This is the one I like,’ and we got together again and he talked about how he was going to do the lyrics.”
With the music in hand, Bednar wrote the lyrics with some assistance from his secretary, who happens to be musically inclined, Cardall said. The lyrics bear a strong connection to the words in 3 Nephi 11.
I was curious whether Cardall’s experiences with an LDS apostle gave him insight into the cultural tendency within Mormonism to revere Bednar and his fellow brethren as nearly divine figures themselves, and he answered by talking about how people saw church founder Joseph Smith as both a normal man and a conduit to divinity in his day as well.
“I’m not saying Elder Bednar is Joseph Smith, but I do know that when I was watching him and asking him questions … I saw his face light up, and it was though pure intelligence came right into him and he knew exactly how to handle the situation,” Cardall said. “For me personally, having been given a gift of Holy Ghost, I see this man as a prophet, and I’m more convinced now than ever before that he is exactly who he says he is when he says, ‘I am a special witness of Jesus Christ.’
“And the great thing about it is I can also say David Bednar is a nice, fun, cool guy, but Elder Bednar is an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ. … I think the beauty of it is that the savior calls imperfect people to do perfect things. But I think he’s pretty perfect. I think he’s amazing, I would never suggest or imply that he’s imperfect. I think he has been trained and tutored.”
Even musically, Cardall said he didn’t have much by way of criticism during the songwriting process.
“The only criticism I had was of my own music being altered to fit phrases,” he said. “But at the same time, he knew what he wanted to say, and with the help of (his secretary) Shauna, he was able to fit in the words perfectly so that it would flow.”
Now, it’s up to audiences whether the song or album will accomplish what Cardall has set out to do.
“I’m just trying to facilitate personal revelation so that God can heal and rescue each person individually, one by one,” Cardall said. “We’ll just see how the album finds its place. We’ll see what happens.”
What: Free concerts from new album “A New Creation”
When: Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Tabernacle at Temple Square in Salt Lake City
Tickets: Free, but tickets required