The story behind the songs
The story behind the songs
15 September 2017
Prolific Salvation Army songwriter Major Howard Davies talks about his new book, Words & Music, with Dawn Volz.
DV: When did you first think of writing a book about the inspiration behind your many songs?
HD: In December 2005, I retired after serving 41 years as an active Salvation Army officer. With more time to reflect, I took an interest in delving into my family history, which led to Wales, ‘the land of song’! People often asked how or why I wrote various songs, and only in early 2017 did these two things eventually prompt me to consider writing this book.
D: Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?
H: I entered The Salvation Army's officer training college in Melbourne in March 1964. The training principal, Brigadier Geoffrey Dalziel, told me I was to write the cadets’ dedication song. Although shocked by this assignment, I produced a song called I Give My Life.
D: Can you estimate how many songs you’ve written during the past 50 years?
H: I think in excess of 500, although some were new tunes to existing lyrics. Others were various vocal arrangements, and some were lost or, thankfully, shortlived.
D: Of all these songs can you possibly have a favourite?
H: I think not! It is hard to choose between serious songs such as The Wonder of His Grace or Lord, You Know That We Love You and a happy song such as God’s Still the One. The recent discovery of a front-room recording of our then eight-year-old daughter Christine singing God Can Do the Impossible is a song hard to resist putting at the top of my favourites list!
D: Words and music: which comes first?
H: Either! But perhaps more often my songs emerge from a brief phrase of words.
D: Is it more difficult to write songs that are requested for a specific purpose than it is when inspiration comes unexpectedly?
H: I would say no! A request forces the composer to focus on something quite specific, which I find helpful. Waiting for ‘inspiration’ can be a slow and unfruitful business, although exhilarating on the rare occasions when one may briefly experience it.
D: Do you regard your aptitude as a God-given gift?
H: Yes I do. I believe the lines of the old chorus ‘All good gifts around us are sent from Heaven above ...’ However, on balance I am reticent to claim divine inspiration for everything I write. I prefer the term ‘craftsman’ and aim to please God first.
D: What are your hopes for Words & Music, including the CD with 23 of your songs?
H: I hope the book provides answers to questions frequently asked about how, when or why a particular song was written. More importantly, I hope the identification of scripture behind the lyrics of songs will be spiritually helpful to readers.
I hope also that the CD performance tracks may add a living dimension to the story of writing the songs. In addition, this book gave me the opportunity to mention and gratefully acknowledge the names of scores of people who contributed to the idea for, or performance of, various songs I have written over the past 50 years.
Words & Music is available from Salvation Army Supplies in Melbourne (1800 100 018) or Salvationist Supplies in Sydney (1800 634 209).
Dawn Volz works in the National Editorial Department.