Exclusive interview: Gloria Gaither
As The Gaither Homecoming Bible releases—including a wealth of material from and about songs/hymns, artists and songwriters—Gloria Gaither, preeminent author, artist and influencer talks about truth, God, and songwriting essentials.
Gloria Gaither: We’re such finite thinkers. Even the greatest scientists are still so finite. We run it through our little human rationale, but doesn’t music bypass that and go straight to our understanding and our insight? Doesn’t music take it straight to the soul, if it’s true? First of all, songwriters have to write the truth. But music has a way of taking that truth to a new target when we’re going under for the third time, and this is one of the pieces over 50 years of ministry, the one word that keeps recurring… is the word “through.” “Your music got us ‘through’.” And that is so theologically sound to me, because I don’t think God is here to fix it for us. I don’t think he’s our rabbit foot or our genie in the jug, you know? Christ came to show us that God was walking through everything with us, that he knows about this planet, and for whatever amazing reason, he decided to come here and put us here and wanted fellowship with us. Do I understand that? No. That’s a cosmic truth I cannot wrap my mind around.
…If I read the Bible right, we have to have a 50/50 in our songs. Hymns that talk about the qualities of God and remind each other when we come together who he is. But in the Scripture, you don’t get to have any quality of God that you don’t live out on the horizontal.
WL: I noticed that in the introduction to Genesis in The Gaither Homecoming Bible, you talk about hymns and spiritual songs. Do you include the Psalms in the hymn side or the spiritual song side, because they seem to have elements of both, the vertical and the horizontal?
Gloria Gaither: They are both. And one of my objections right now to what we’re doing in worship is that we’re stealing the punch lines of David and we’re ripping off his story. We don’t know his story. We don’t even know our own story. We don’t tell each other our stories. We fast-forward through the Psalms, through all the depression, the doubt, the screaming at God: “Did I make this up? Where are you?” Somebody said: “If David had Prozac, we wouldn’t have the Psalms.” But that’s our life, isn’t it? And then we go find one little positive, “Oh, God, you’re awesome. You are awesome, God,” and we think, “Oh, let’s write a song on that.” Well, what about all the other verses? That’s not real. There are some great songs that are going to come out of the praise and worship stuff, trust me. There are going to be some things that hit—that stick to the wall. But they will be the songs that tell both the truth and the qualities of God. And David told the truth. We don’t tell his truth. We steal his punch lines.
WL: The last time we spoke to you, you weren’t that enthusiastic about the current approach to songwriting. And now 10 years have gone by and there’s this whole new generation of songwriters and new music. What is your take as you look at the current state of affairs? And if you were going to give any advice to the current crop of songwriters, what would it be?
Gloria Gaither: Well, I feel like that about anything you’re doing for the Lord, I think God gives you the basic gift, but you need to school it. We wouldn’t say, “Oh, I want to be a preacher.” [And then expect people to say] “Let’s just go out and give him a 5,000 member church because he’s never been to Bible College.” “I don’t have a degree, but I want to split the atom.” I feel that way in songwriting. If you’re an artist, your job is to take the gift God gave you and learn the skill, the craft, of songwriting. You don’t just sit down with a guitar and put down a phrase that you scare up out of the punch lines of David and call it a song. There is some schooling to that, and that is why some songs have lived generation after generation after generation, through all of these changes in our culture…through the ’60s, through the ’50s, through the ’40s, through the depression, and through 9-11. We all live in a shifting world, but great art transcends that. It speaks across the board… There are some fabulous songwriters out there who are serious about writing great songs. And that just tickles me to death. I thing we have some good—beyond good—great young songwriters…The majority of what is written in any decade is mediocre. We only remember the stuff that rises to the top, that survives, that speaks over time.
WL: You keep mentioning the element of truth. Is that partly what makes a great song?
Gloria Gaither: Yes. We have to write the truth. We have to write the whole truth. We can’t just say the punch line. We have to also record David’s doubt. We have to record David’s frustration. We have to record that he was a loser. We have to record that he was a sinner and that he violated every trust, that he had a son that was so bitter against him he raised an army to march against him. That’s part of his story. He wasn’t just this guy who sat on the side of a hill with a bunch of sheep and a harp saying wonderful punch lines like, “God, you’re awesome.” There’s a whole story here.