October 23, 2017

IM Interview: Eric Wyse (part 1)

My wife Gail and I began dating when we were in Bible college, participating together in choir and music ensembles. As I got to know her better and was introduced to her family, I discovered that they all had a deep love of church music that went beyond their immediate family and stretched back to their Mennonite heritage. I first met her brother Eric when he was a music student at Cedarville College in Ohio. From that point on in the mid-1970’s, he has traveled a long and winding road through many places in the world of Christian music. He came immediately to mind as someone I wanted to interview for Church Music Month.

Eric is, first of all, a gifted musician. He has three wonderful “Reflections” albums of hymn arrangements for solo piano that you can download from Christian Book Distributors (for a very nice price!). He has been playing organ and keyboards at his church, St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal in Nashville, TN, for many years now, as well as serving as music director there. He also composes and arranges. Eric and his wife Dawn wrote the praise song, “Wonderful, Merciful Savior,” which has been used extensively in churches and recorded by many artists. In addition, Eric has been actively involved in Christian media, producing and consulting for countless recording and video projects. In 2007, he produced a critically acclaimed recording of Handel’s Messiah with conductor John Rutter, featuring The Cambridge Singers & Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He served as editor for The Christian Life Hymnal and has worked with many Christian artists, including Keith and Kristyn Getty — you can watch an interview with Eric and Keith Getty HERE. Eric completed his BS in Liberal Studies degree at Belmont University and is currently pursuing a Master’s of Church Music at Lee University.

We will extend our interview over a couple of days here on Internet Monk.

CM: You grew up in a family that valued church music. Tell us how you think your heritage, both in your immediate and extended family, influenced you.

ERIC: I grew up immersed in hymn-based music. We were in a Christian & Missionary Alliance church and we sang from our church’s denominational hymnals: “Hymns of the Christian Life” (both the “old blue” one [1936] and the “new red” [1962] editions).  In our extended family, we enjoyed the a cappella hymn singing at my grandparents’ church (Central Mennonite, Archbold, OH). We didn’t grow up with TV or radio, but we played many sacred record albums in our home, most of which were hymn-based.

As for me personally, I studied classical piano, and played in church since I was a teenager, and this has influenced all of my musical endeavors. The past twenty years in the Anglican tradition has broadened my love for classic hymnody, as well as new music, including Taize, global, and modern worship. Choral music remains important to me too, as a conductor, composer, accompanist, and on occasion, singing second bass.

CM: You have had long and broad experience in Christian and church music in the U.S., which I alluded to in the introduction. From your perspective, give us a brief overview of your career and some of the pivotal experiences that helped you develop as a church musician.

ERIC: I studied Church music for two years at Cedarville College in Ohio. Dr. Lyle Anderson conducted the choir in which I sang as a bass and also served as accompanist. He was encouraging to me.

Then, in my early days in Nashville, I had the privilege to work with Ronn Huff at Christ Presbyterian Church in hymn sings and special programs.

When I went to worked at Word Records, overseeing the marketing for Maranatha Music, I developed a deep friendship with Don Cason (former head of Word Music, now with Music Services). Don and I have worshipped together at St. Bartholomew’s for the past twenty years.

Under the leadership of Pastor Scotty Smith in the early days of Christ Community Church, my wife Dawn [Rodgers] and I led worship together. It was out of that experience that we began dating, and later married.

I’ve been at St. Batholomew’s for eighteen years now, and the clergy I have served with, including Frs. Ian Montgomery, Paul Nancarrow, Michael Ellis, Dixon Kinser, and Jerry Smith have all poured into my life as a parishioner, church musician, and composer. And for five  of those years, composer/keyboardist/conductor Tom Howard served with me as my music associate. He was crazy talented, but a servant at heart, with compassion for people that was compelling. He died unexpectedly at the age of 60 in 2010, and I still miss what he brought to our worship.

Darrell Harris, who was at Star Song Records, published Robert Webber’s “Library of Christian Worship” seven volume series in the 1990’s, and serves as the Chaplain for the Robert Webber Institute for Worship Studies, introduced me to Bob Webber, and has been a good friend who has championed my setting of the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father in Heaven”). Darrell introduced the setting to IWS, and they sing it in chapel services regularly. I’ve also co-written several contemplative songs with Darrell in the style of Taizé that we use regularly. I often look to Darrell for feedback on lyrics and melodies that I write for my church.

CM: Your wife Dawn and you are known for the modern hymn, “Wonderful, Merciful Savior.” Tell us how that song came to be written and some of the ways you have seen it used to help the church in worship.

ERIC: I was away on a trip, and when I returned, Dawn showed me a song she was working on that had been birthed in her quiet time. The melody was complete, and most of the first two verses and refrain. We worked together to finish the song, and although I contributed some lyrics, and some “arranging” of the harmonies, the idea and bulk of the song came from Dawn’s pen — and I feel honored to have helped to bring it to fruition.

The first Sunday we sang it at Christ Community, the third verse was not complete (we only had the first line, “Almighty, infinite Father…” and during the sermon I saw Dawn “taking notes”. At the end of the sermon, Scotty asked us to come back and sing that song again, and on the way to the platform, Dawn told me she had just completed the third verse, so she sang it then and it was complete.

Since that time, the song has been sung around the world in churches large and small, with translations in French, German, Hungarian, Russian, Saint Lucian Kweyol, and Spanish. It is both humbling and rewarding to see this simple expression of praise and adoration connect with Christians in so many different cultures and contexts.

 

Comments

  1. We attended St. B’s in Nashville back in 2004 where we first met Eric. Years before, when we were overseas in Austria, “Wonderful Merciful Savior” was a staple of our worship and a favorite song, and Tom Howard’s instrumental piano recordings were part of our family soundtrack. The first time we visited St. B’s (our first Anglican experience), I heard this incredibly accurate version of one of Tom’s songs, only to discover it was Tom, and that Eric was the music pastor. Wow! The worship at St. B’s set a standard in our spirits for what worship should be–it always led us lyrically and musically into and through the service of the Eucharist, focusing our hearts on Christ as our eyes were on the altar (the music was behind the the congregation). We feel blessed to have enjoyed Eric’s worship leadership for the short time we were there before leaving for Colorado. We long for that kind of worship all the more in our heavily evangelical culture. Thanks for bringing your bro-in-law into this series.

  2. I hadn’t heard that song before (doesn’t seem to have reached the UK yet) so thank you for introducing it to me. Wonderful!

  3. petrushka1611 says:

    Typing this for Eric,in case he gets a chance to read it. I graduated from Cedarville’s music program in 1997, and I’m doing freelance accompanist work there. Dr and Mrs A are still there and doing quite well. I’ll pass this post along to them – I’m sure they’d love to see it. 🙂

  4. How does one move from Cedarville to the Episcopal Church?

    • The same way someone like me moved from a fundamentalist, dispensational Bible college to the ELCA Lutherans. I hope it means we matured.

    • Not at all unusual.
      There have been a fair number of people of an evangelical persuasion who have journeyed the road to Canterbury.

    • Roughly a third of all Catholics, a third of all Evangelicals, and a third of all Mainline Christians, will switch from the general faith expression that they grew up with, to something else. Surprisingly enough, half those who grew up with no particular faith tradition eventually end up identifying with one.

      You can read about it here. http://www.internetmonk.com/archive/michael-bell-looking-at-the-pew-forums-changes-in-religious-affliliation-data

    • My journey was from Cedarville (where was music director part-time my second year in a Missionary Church), to Nashville where I traveled for 18 months with an artist who sang in churches of every denomination. Staying in homes of Christians who loved Jesus who were Baptists, Methodists, Assembly of God, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Wesleyan, Friends, and so many more opened my eyes to the unity of faith in the Christian Church.

      When I settled in Nashville I joined the newly-formed Christ Presbyterian Church in 1981 (PCA), and then was part of the daughter church Christ Community in Franklin (also PCA). After being a part of a 3-year church plant (PCA) that ultimately did not succeed, we joined St. Bartholomew’s which was a 7 minute drive from our home.

      Our introduction to St. B’s was in joint services held on Good Friday and Thanksgiving Eve for several years by a group of four like-minded pastors who wanted the body of Christ to look past denominational walls. Those four churches were Belmont Church (Pastor Don Finto – historically church of Christ that had moved into Charismatic renewal and the use of instruments), Christ Community Church (PCA, Pastor Scotty Smith), Christ Presbyterian Church (PCA, Pastor Charles McGowan), and St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church (Fr. Ron Jackson – experienced Charismatic renewal in the 1970s/80s with Fr. Chuck Murphy). If I remember correctly, music directors at those churches at the time were John Elliott (Belmont), Moose Smith (Christ Community), John Coates (Christ Presbyterian), and Carol Tornquist (my predecessor, St. Bartholomew’s).