I used to be the person that started listening to Christmas music right after Halloween—or sometimes on Halloween because it’s definitely not my favorite holiday. While I’m no longer that extreme with my holiday music habits, I certainly have a huge soft spot in my heart for all the favorite Christmas classics. But this year, I’ve tried to be more intentional about focusing on the Savior during the holidays, and there’s no question that Christ-centered Christmas music makes a huge difference in that effort.
One of the songs that has played on repeat in my home over the past few weeks as been “It is Jesus,” a new song written by Sara Lyn Baril and performed by Allie Gardner. The combination of this beautiful song with Simon Dewey’s art really moved me, and I find myself humming the melody throughout the day.
I had the opportunity to interview Allie and Sara about their experience writing and performing “It is Jesus” for the #LightTheWorld initiative. I am so grateful for their sweet testimonies of the power of bringing Christ-centered music into our homes during the Christmas season.
Tell us a little about yourselves.
Allie: I grew up in Bountiful, Utah as the youngest of three children. I served a mission in the Mexico Cancun Mission where I learned to speak Spanish and quite a bit of the local Mayan language. My best friend Darlene is deaf so I know quite a bit of sign language, and I am studying Hebrew at BYU. I am super passionate about learning languages so I can get to know and communicate with people from all sorts of different backgrounds.
Sara: I am wife to Mark and a mother of 5 kiddos (2 girls and 3 boys) ranging in age from 10 – 21. My oldest is married and I have a son on a mission in Colorado. The three still at home are 15, 13 and 10. Between loads of laundry and sports games, church callings and house cleaning, I write music. Often late at night or in the wee hours of the morning when the house is quiet. I grew up the oldest of 8 kids in a music-centered home. One of my fondest memories is going to sleep listening to my dad’s quartet that he would have over for practices. My grandmother also composed music; she and I were two peas in a pod.
How did you both first get started in music?
Sara: I started composing music when I was about 10 years old and started sharing my compositions as a teen. I have a good friend, Karma Olsen, who sings very well. When we were teens, we would get together on a weekend, write a song on Friday, practice on Saturday, and perform it on Sunday (crazy!). One time, a song we had written over the weekend was performed in church, then at a seminary fireside that same day, and again that evening at the Rotary Carol Festival! I’m not actually sure how that happened, except that people kept hearing it and asking if we would perform it again and again. All I had was a sheet of lyrics with the chords above. It was terrifying! I laugh a little at those first songs because they were so amateur, but people still enjoyed them. Maybe one day I’ll tweak them and publish them. I have learned a lot about writing over the years and still have much to learn, but what I love most about creating music is the feeling of testimony that comes over me when I write songs about Jesus Christ, and the experiences I have had in sharing where someone else’s life has been touched. The hours of work involved are worth the joy it brings.
For Christmas in 1998, my husband purchased a music digital piano and a music program for me to start scoring my songs into sheet music. Up to that point, I only had a couple of songs written down and they were in pencil on manuscript. Because of his thoughtful gift, my whole world opened up in writing and I began scoring all the songs that had been dancing in my head for years. Over the course of 10 years, I wrote over 60 songs for church auxiliary themes, stake conference, a Christmas cantata, and a stake play performed in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I eventually sent off some pieces with a prayer at the post office to Greg Hansen, a well known producer of LDS music in Utah. He immediately contacted me and wanted to produce an album of my Christ-centered music. That resulted in my album, “Thy Healing Hands – Songs of Comfort and Peace” (2007), as well as two other singles, “An Answer To Prayer” (2014) and “Where Would We Be Without Family?” (2016). Another album in 2015 called “Come To Know Him” was released as a sequel to “Thy Healing Hands.” All of these were sung by various vocals. I actually don’t sing my own songs!
My latest projects are “Light The World” (2017) which was produced by Stephen Moyer from Mesa, AZ, and sung by my son, Benson, and America’s Got Talent Finalist, Evie Clair, and “Come Home” (2018) sung by Allie Gardner. Most recently, I felt that my song “It Is Jesus” should also be recorded and released, and I was so excited to work with Allie again. She also recently recorded “Light The World” in Spanish for me. It was amazing to hear my music sung in a different language!
Allie: My whole life has been dedicated to music. My childhood nickname was “Opera Baby” because I was just born singing, and have been performing and singing my whole life. I started writing music when I was about 12 and really more professionally by about age 16. I am a current member of BYU Noteworthy, and I LOVE to do firesides with the youth and teach them how to use their talents for blessing others rather than getting sucked up into the “competitive and comparative” world.
What was your inspiration for “It is JEsus”?
Sara: Music creation is a funny thing. Some songs come as a result of a request, some because of scripture or quote I have read, and some come….just because. “It Is Jesus,” as I recall, didn’t come for any particular reason except that I ponder about my Savior quite often, and I think this song just carried over from some reverent thoughts I was having as I pondered about Jesus Christ and His role in my life.
I wrote “It Is Jesus” while I was travelling home from a Thanksgiving dinner we had attended about 4 hours away. My husband was driving, and the car was pretty quiet because the kids were dozing. All of a sudden I found myself humming this tune. It was simple and hymn-like. I grabbed a notepad out of my purse and immediately, words began to flow onto the paper. I then recorded the melody on the voice recorder of my phone so I wouldn’t forget it, and over the day or two following, I finished writing it. It was performed by my good friend Karma and harmonies by my son Benson, soon after, at a Christmas concert I hosted that year in my small town.
Allie: The first time I heard “It is Jesus,” I was just amazed at how beautiful and gentle the melody is. It just sounded like a lullaby for the Savior. As I was recording the music, I tried to imagine Bethlehem. I have been there a few times on trips to Jerusalem and while I was living there as a student at the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. Each time I go, I am just amazed at the humble circumstances that the Savior was born into.
What do you hope people will feel as they listen to This Song?
Allie: I really hope that listeners will feel and know that I really do know that what I am singing is true.
Sara: My goal in writing Christ-centered music has always been to influence others to feel of the love their Savior has for them. When I decided to release “It Is Jesus” as my contribution to the #LIGHTtheWORLD initiative for this year, my hope was that as we serve at Christmas time, and any other times throughout the year, that we will remember WHY we serve and WHO we ultimately serve as we light the world with kindness and love. It is our covenants that motivate us. I want the world to know Jesus Christ. We live in a world where many have forgotten—or were never taught—who He is. And for those who know Him, we understand the amazing gift it is in our lives to know Him and the blessings that come by following His example. His love is what keeps me grounded, focused and centered. I want the world to know, too, that He is “Truth, the Light, the Way.” We need our Savior.
Did you do anything specific to invite the Spirit while you wrote and performed this song?
Allie: As I sang, I tried to imagine His humble birth, and his service-filled life. I tried to imagine the streets where he walked and talked with his disciples. I tried to put myself back in the Garden of Gethsemane where he suffered, and Golgotha where he died. This song really took me on a musical journey of the Holy land, Jerusalem, and the Savior that I love. I also tried to picture every person that could hear this song and truly bear my witness that He really is the Son of God, that he really was born to heal our wounds, and give his life for us.
Sara: I always have a prayer in my heart that my music can be used as an instrument, and my only request when I skyped in as Allie recorded “It Is Jesus” was that she could sing it “with testimony.” And of course, I prayed that she would… and she did! I know Allie has a strong testimony of Jesus Christ. The spirit was amazing in her performance. I wish I could have pipelined the whole world into that studio as the song came to life and as certain takes of the song were chosen over others because of how she sang it. She did a beautiful job. How a song is sung makes all the difference in the message. She carried the testimony I felt in writing it.
How does music help you Light the World?
Sara: Music creation is something I feel is not only a gift from my Heavenly Father, but even more so, a responsibility. I have written many kinds of songs and arrangements, but it is music about my Savior and about His gospel that seems to flow from me much more effortlessly. I have had some amazing, sacred experiences in writing. I have made a promise to my Heavenly Father that I will always use my gift to help others come to know Him and to know Jesus Christ. It is my life-long quest to contribute and light the world through music.
Allie: Music is my main tool for lighting the world. I have a motto that my gift was given to BLESS not to IMPRESS. I try to use my voice to really bring forth the message. I try to sing as beautifully and correctly as I can so that others can stop listening to my VOICE and start listening to the MESSAGE and how they feel. I hope that others can feel the love that God has for them, and just how truly aware he is of each person. I believe our gifts and talents were given to us to be able to serve and love the people around us.
How has music helped you have a Christ-centered Christmas? What songs help you feel the Spirit of Christ at Christmastime?
Allie: I feel the spirit when I listen to and sing music. As I listen to Christmas music, it helps me feel more grateful for the Savior and His precious life. The song that has most resonated with me this year is “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel.” “It Is Jesus” has also been played frequently in our home, as well as the Spanish translation of “Light The World” (“Luz Del Mundo”).
Sara: The music we hear at Christmas time that is focused on Christ helps us to remember Him—the reason we celebrate. President Russell M. Nelson says worthy music has “…the power to facilitate worship.” Certainly my goal in listening to and writing worthy music is to facilitate worship of Him during this Christmas season. Also, in the busy-ness of the season, I need peaceful music to calm me and remind me what is most important.
Have you worked together on any other projects?
Sara: When I was looking for a vocalist for “Come Home,” I was in the middle of a prayer asking Heavenly Father who could sing this song when a notification popped up that she had posted a video of her singing “I Know That My Redeemer Lives.” We had connected a month or so before on Instagram, but it was her video of this hymn where I felt the spirit say, “There’s your vocalist for ‘Come Home’!” Before she had even finished the 2nd verse of the song, I was writing her and she was accepting to work on this project for me. A few weeks later, I flew her down to Arizona to record “Come Home.” It’s been a pleasure to work with her!
Allie: Arizona was our first time meeting each other in person—she had just heard my music on YouTube and we had chatted about doing a project on Facebook, but meeting at the airport in AZ was the first time we actually met! It was the start of an excellent friendship.
Sara: Yes, Allie was so wonderful to meet me in Arizona last spring. Then recently, she volunteered to translate my song “Light the World” into Spanish for the #IluminaElMundo (#LightTheWorld) initiative this year. I knew she would be perfect for “It Is Jesus” as well. My experience with her has shown that not only does she have an amazing voice, but she’s prepared and easy to work with in the studio. Things move pretty quickly. It’s like we can read each other’s minds and she knows exactly how I want my song sung.
Allie: We work really well together, and we hope to do many more projects together!
How can people connect with you?
[tr][th][/th] [th]Allie Gardner[/th] [th]Sara Lyn Baril[/th][/tr]
Thank you so much, Allie and Sara! What a pleasure this has been.
What is your Favorite Christ-Centered Christmas Music?
I’d love to hear your favorites! Share in the comments below, and be sure to share this beautiful song with your friends.
And just FYI, I’ll be taking some time off over the holidays to be with family, but I’ll be back in January. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!