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THE ASAPH MUSIC LETTER
ENCOURAGING BELIEVERS TO SET AND MAINTAIN A BIBLICAL MUSIC STANDARD
To the chief musician and his choir
Vol. 2--No. 2--January 31, 2003
(Go easy on your eyes. Print this letter for a more enjoyable read.)
INTERVIEW—Happy New Year! We are excited to bring to you in this issue an interview with Alan Ives. We first became acquainted with Brother Ives at Camp Chetek in Chetek, Wisconsin, back in the '70s. Brother Ives is a first-rate musician and has never met an instrument he couldn’t play! We know you’ll enjoy the brief discussion we had earlier this month…
STEVE: How have you been doing?
ALAN: Well, really good.
STEVE: First of all, I'd like for you to share with us your personal testimony--how you got saved. Did you grow up in Oshkosh?
ALAN: I did. I wasn't born there, but that was just because my dad was gone away to school that I was born somewhere else. Actually, I was born in Madison. But the Ives family has been in Oshkosh since 1871, I think. That's our home town.
I was saved in 1969, right at the end of my teenage years. I actually went to visit Jackie Nelson, who is Jackie Clayton today. I asked her to come to a dance, and when she wouldn't go, I asked her why not. She had her sister bring a Bible, put it on the table and began to look up some verses in the Book of Romans, and she asked me questions: Did I believe I was a sinner? Did I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? And things similar. I answered in the affirmative. I didn't really know. I was trying to give her the right answer.
STEVE: Did you have no church background at that time?
ALAN: I was a Methodist and sang in the choir, was more interested in the music than anything else. They weren't preaching the Gospel there.
STEVE: How was the music in the Methodist church in 1969?
ALAN: It was very much based on old hymn styles. There were hymns like "All Hail the Pow'r of Jesus' Name." They sang songs like "The Stranger of Galilee." There was no contemporary music in the Methodist church in the 1960s at all. What we sang was all traditional arrangements. The most exciting one was John Staner's setting of "God So Loved the World."
STEVE: It was excellent music, wasn't it?
ALAN: Oh, yeah. John 3:16 and 17. I was singing it as a lost boy in a Methodist choir.
STEVE: How about that! Back to your salvation experience.
ALAN: I was trying to impress Jackie, you know. She wasn't aggressive. When she asked me if I was a Christian, I said, "I think I am." She said, "Well, you say you're a Christian, but you don't really know, and it's something that a person knows. It's not just something that he hopes or thinks or wonders about."
So I asked her what the difference was, and she showed me that I needed to call upon the Lord and receive Him as my Saviour. "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." She said then I'd know for sure.
I thanked her for the visit. She showed me several other verses, I think some verses in John and several other places. I took off after thanking her for the visit, but I understood what she said, and I said, "I want to be a real Christian, Lord." I was praying, riding a bicycle home. I said, "I saw what she showed me and how You died for me, and I believe everything she showed me. I want You to save me, take me to Heaven, forgive my sins, make me a real Christian. Everything she talked about." That was my prayer, the best I could pray, but I was receiving the Lord then, and I knew that that was settled. I woke up the next day and knew that I belonged to the Lord.
STEVE: Amen. I guess you've always known, as far back as you can remember, that you had some musical talent.
ALAN: I was always interested in it. I guess by the time I was age 11 or 12 or 13, I was playing guitar and clarinet and saxophone. I wanted to be a songwriter. I thought, "If I write songs, I'll have to be able to sing them myself. No one else will probably sing them right off the bat." So I thought I'd better get into that. Without voice lessons I began trying to learn to hit every note there was to hit and practice my guitar at the same time.
STEVE: I'm assuming this was secular music.
ALAN: Yes, it was. It was what you would call old rock, just typical stuff from the 1950s.
STEVE: You said you were saved at the end of your teen years.
ALAN: 1969. I was born in '50, right in the middle of the last century.
STEVE: Nineteen years old, and you get saved. How long was it before you got into Christian music?
ALAN: The first two years I was in a signed contract with a rock 'n' roll band that I had helped to begin in 1962. I was in the band, and the contract ran awhile. I got out June 15, 1971. So I had to play in the band. I had begun to bring my Bible with me. I suppose I could have gotten out even earlier if I had really made a fuss, but I think they let me out 15 days early. I was supposed to have gone to the middle of the year.
STEVE: Did you sign in '62?
ALAN: We didn't sign that contract until later on. I don't remember when it took place, but I remember that it was a signed contract, that we were to play until that date. I don't even remember why. I know we didn't want people just jumping in and out of the band, but I was in there all the way through.
STEVE: Did the band disband in '71 when you left?
ALAN: That's what I had hoped, as a Christian. I hoped my leaving would help put a stop to what we were doing--whatever devilment out in the bars, and so forth--but they kept on going. They broke up somewhere in the nineties. Those guys played right on through till they were almost 50. Then they had a reunion last year, and they got together and played again for the summer. Oshkosh is called "Sawdust City," and they have a summer thing called "Sawdust Days" down on the lake. I guess those guys were there again. That's what I heard.
STEVE: Anyway, you left the band and went to playing in churches, I guess.
ALAN: Yes, after those first two years of struggle. Like I say, on June 15, 1971, they let me out. I got entangled in a couple of other things. There was an owner of a local store who would just pick up guys to go play and sing. I got involved in that for a night or two. Then I thought I would run down near Milwaukee. I got in another group and thought maybe it would be better. It wasn't. It was just as bad or worse. I didn't make any money. I spent all that money running back and forth with another man, a guy I had met in college, at the University of Oshkosh.
The lead singer broke my guitar. He was packing up equipment, and my guitar was leaning on an amp, and he moved the amp without looking, and that guitar just came face-down and snapped. I didn't have the money to buy a new guitar. I thought, "I'll either have to re-invest and then I'll have to stick with this for awhile, or maybe the Lord is trying to tell me to get out." I was struggling there with my whole lifestyle. Knowing that I was saved, I started giving the Gospel.
I got under such conviction, once the guitar snapped, I told the singer, "Don't worry about it." The Lord had allowed this, and I was going to get out and do whatever a Christian was supposed to do. I didn't really know much about the Christian life. I visited church about once a month in those first couple of years.
STEVE: Were you still going to the Methodist church?
ALAN: No, after Jackie gave me the Gospel, I started coming to visit there. I had not been attending the Methodist church since I was 18 anyway. I figured I didn't want to be a hypocrite, so I would just play in the bars on Saturday night and skip church altogether.
STEVE: If I recall correctly, the first time I met you was probably at Camp Chetek.
STEVE: You were, I'm assuming, on staff already then at Wildewood.
ALAN: That probably is right. I got out of the band in '71. By September I was clear of all that, all of what I would call the old life, the business. I went to work in a restaurant. I went down to Springfield, Missouri, I think it was in '72. The preacher talked to me about it. He said he wanted me to come on staff full-time, so I probably came on staff in May of '72.
I got married in '73, but I think we started coming up to Chetek at that same time.
STEVE: You said "preacher." That was Brother Howard Nelson, right?
STEVE: So you're on staff now and in charge of the music?
ALAN: Yes, and kind of errand boy--you know, run for stamps, go pick up one of the preachers' kids if they needed a ride someplace, wash windows, change windows, scrub down, empty things and refill anything that needed to be refilled.
STEVE: "Oh, and, by the way, have a song for Sunday," too, right?
ALAN: Yes, "have a song for Sunday." Jackie knows. The church started the song service. Somewhere into the Sunday school lesson or the morning service, Howard Nelson would just say, "Who's got a special ready?" So then they would sing another congregational song. By then somebody would come up with their music and give it to Howard Nelson's daughter Peggy, Jackie's older sister. Then they would do it.
I started thinking about learning songs. Basically, I learned gospel piano playing listening to Peggy Nelson play. Her daughter married my son Steve.
Then Jackie would talk to me about songs: "Have you ever heard this song?" She kind of spoon-fed me music for the first couple of years. I was put on staff in 1973, and I don't remember what month. It might have been 1972. It was right after that meeting in Springfield. So Jackie just started teaching me things. She made a tape of 50 or so choruses that I should know.
STEVE: And that's how you learned them?
ALAN: Yes. She had purchased the Singspiration Favorites and Miracle Melodies books, and she would give me all this, and I could read music, so I could learn those songs. Usually I would write the guitar chords above the melody. I didn't play piano in those years, not at all, just a couple of chords here and there. It was terrible.
Howard Nelson used to take me to the Fellowship meetings that he went to every month pretty faithfully, and they had no pianist. Some of the preachers' wives could play, but they were not often there in those early years. It was just the men. So he said, "Play the piano."
I said, "I can't. I can't."
He said, "I thought you were a musician."
I said, "I might be able to come up with some of the notes of the melody."
He said, "Okay. That's better than nothing."
STEVE: So, did you play by ear?
ALAN: Well, kind of by theory. I would look at the music and try to read it, but I wasn't a good reader, as far as playing the piano was concerned. Piano was an instrument I never really did well in. I got some Ds in class piano, even after this time. I would learn to play that way. He would say, "Just play what you can. If you can't play all of it, play some of it." It was kind of a rude and crude awakening. At least it got me started playing.
Then as I was on the staff, people needed accompaniment, so if a song didn't work with guitar, I'd have to learn to play it on the piano. Just sitting down trying to learn the music--music I had never known before--for people pretty much taught me to play the piano.
STEVE: Wow! So you're self-taught.
ALAN: Yes. I had those lessons in college, but I play with some wrong fingerings. I don't have the proper technique a pianist should have. I try to make it sound like I'm a pianist, but there are still a lot of technical difficulties in the way I play. But I can get through a lot of the music, and I learned a lot of the hymns that way.
By the way, at a state university they teach you, "If you want to learn to play the piano, get a hymnbook." Play all the four parts--two fingers in the left hand, two fingers in the right--bass, tenor, alto and soprano. That was it.
STEVE: So now you're on staff at Wildewood, and you're getting more and more responsibility in the music. I remember at camp you were one of the judges for all the competition.
ALAN: That's right. Every year.
STEVE: They had to check with Alan Ives to make sure it was right. I remember that. Anyway, then you went on the road.
ALAN: Much, much later, actually. I got laid off in 1980 in a financial crunch. A couple of us were laid off then. I went back to the restaurant where I had been for awhile after I got out of the band. It was a chain of 23 stores. I went back to the restaurant for awhile and was very unhappy. I thought God was all through with me, had put me on the shelf and was not going to use me anymore. So I began to pray that the Lord would get me out of this situation of working around a state university where there were a bunch of bars and a food store that catered to the drunks.
I noticed that when we went to a wedding or an evening meeting, when I didn't have to work, I was so filled with joy. It was just a wonderful thing to go to a church and sing a song or two, whether there was an offering or not. In those days there really wasn't. We just ran to the meeting and sang, and maybe they gave us $20 and maybe they didn't. It was that kind of a thing.
When I got out of the restaurant, that was about '84. We had gone out on the road. We made a dismal $4,000 or $6,000 one year doing meetings. I collected unemployment for the first half of the year. We made $10,000. That was our gross. That was in '83 or '84, somewhere in there. They took me back on staff. There seemed to be a lot of turmoil, and none of us seemed to know what God was trying to do. I ended up out on the road. This time we were in Buffalo, New York, and in Illinois. We were in Iowa. Racine was one of the early ones. This time it seemed like the finances were there, and we missed being on the staff at home, but we've understood, of course, over the years, what God was trying to do here.
That was to send us out. You could go to Wildewood on any given Sunday and find half a dozen ordained Baptist preachers sitting in the congregation. I think the Lord seemed to indicate in the Bible that He will scatter us out among the heathen to get out the Gospel. There was kind of a scattering. We have been traveling on the road ever since. This year, in two weeks, they're going to have me train some of the men at my home church. Between two and five months a year I'm going to be home.
STEVE: Train the men to do what?
ALAN: To work on the music program. They have kind of reached an impasse, a plateau where they don't know what else to do with the music program or they're not sure what needs to be done. Really, it's a continuous training thing--training in doctrine and training in music. But there are some writing and arranging that need to go on. They need to understand about how instruments and voices can be put together. They need to learn where to look for music. There's only a certain amount out there unless someone can write and arrange.
So, we'll teach them all as much as we can. One of them will be Howard Nelson's son, Chuck. Chuck is working with the choir. He just took it. My brother had it since I left. We're excited about that. And at the same time, a current project involves printing a book (maybe two books) of the music that we've written and a book on "Who Wrote That Hymn?" We'll make a note on something in the life of the writer that would be an encouragement to people who would read it. Who are the people who wrote these songs? It will be 100 to 120 pages.
STEVE: So what would you call your full-time ministry now?
ALAN: We were named by the pastor at West Bend. He said, "You're musical missionary evangelists."
STEVE: So you are a musical missionary evangelist.
ALAN: Right. We've made a few missions trips, mostly to Canada. People don't think of that as missions because they speak English. We've taken numerous trips there--to Alberta, to Ontario, to Saskatchewan.
STEVE: Everywhere you go, you focus some part of your time on the music ministry?
ALAN: On the music.
STEVE: And where you are right now is at a Christian day school?
ALAN: Well, it's a little school of theology. They called it a Bible college, but the commonwealth of Pennsylvania said, "No, you have to be accredited to take that name." So they're a school of theology. My son Seth is going here. I teach three weeks a course in music--music theory, fundamentals of music, teaching music. That's what we're teaching this three weeks, a class on how to teach music to the various age groups.
We come out here each semester. We put six weeks in here at the Faith Baptist School of Theology. The guy that runs it was the first graduate from Fairhaven in Chesterton, Indiana. He's from West Bend. Pastor Larry Williams.
STEVE: One more quick thing here, Alan. Where is fundamental church music headed, as you see it?
ALAN: Well, I think it's still going to split a little bit more. It may be a big explosion. Some are going to follow the same plan of the Devil all along. They think the noisier it gets, the more exciting it is, the more evangelistic it must be. That's the theory: if you're making a lot of noise, you're on the cutting edge of soul winning and preaching the Bible. They don't know how far they're going to go in that direction. A lot of them have gone to contemporary. A lot of faithful men have become unfaithful and turned to total contemporary services because they think they will reach the lost. They will reach them, but not really for Jesus. They just let them stay in their hyped-up situation.
I was thinking this morning that in the sixties we knew that it was a fleshly hype to go to a rock concert and get all wound up. Today they think that's the Holy Spirit. That's the problem. They don't know the difference between the African, heathen, jungle beat, feeding the flesh, and the Lord.
The others who are holding the line are keeping guys like me busy. I'm in meetings all the time to instruct people in music. In those churches where they're seeking to continue to serve the Lord rightly, often the comment we hear is, "I learned some things about music that helped me guard that area," or "I realize some of the music I'm listening to is not wholesome, not healthy." Not so much preaching on rock, but "Christian rock," so called, "gospel rock," and some of the Southern gospel music. It's not all bad. Some of it is very useful, very good.
STEVE: Do you find yourself occasionally in a church that does not have those standards and yet they have brought you in to teach the music?
ALAN: Once in awhile.
STEVE: How do you do that?
ALAN: Usually I can tell when they're uncomfortable. When we went to a church that was just not really prepared to hear the whole business, we would bring just a few messages to introduce them to the fact that there is a battleground here in music, and we want to be on the Lord's side. We wouldn't go into so many of the particulars but get them first to have that conviction, We want to be on the Lord's side.
If the pastor himself knew that the people weren't ready, he would say, "Give me a little bit of time. I'm going to have you back in two years, and then I want you to unload everything." It is a touchy subject.
Where the pastor did not agree, some of them would have us in and not have us preach at all--just have us sing. One gentleman got up after 25 minutes of preaching. I said something about bluegrass music. His church had made a bluegrass album, and I didn't know it. It really wasn't that good. I heard it later. They could play the instruments, but it wasn't ministering to me. They were just having fun. Friday night, good time Charlie, Coca Cola.
He came up after about 25 minutes and said, "You know, my people are pretty tired." I could see he was pretty upset, and I said, "I was on my last point, and we'll be done in a minute." I could see he killed the spirit of the service. I turned it over to him and left.
Some others that were my friends just don't have us anymore.
STEVE: What's your next project?
ALAN: We have enough songs recorded in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Applebee, Wisconsin. If I can get the two put together (they use different equipment), it's an album of trios with our sons and Ellen and me. I'm hoping to have that out sometime this year. We might put up a web site and advertise some of our materials and others to make it more available to people.
STEVE: That's your next CD and tape, I guess, and then you're doing the books on
the histories of the hymns and what other books?
ALAN: One will be a book of the music that we've written. I've finished about 35 songs. I have about 65 unfinished. I have a long way to go. I get interrupted, and the songs don't get finished. Over the years we have done a lot more arranging of other people's music, songs that were already written--for choirs, trios, quartets, duets. So I wasn't just writing my own music.
STEVE: Alan, it's been a joy talking with you again. I surely appreciate your time.
ALAN: I hope it will be a help and blessing to someone.
You can find some of Alan Ives' music at: http://www.asaphmusic.com/catalog.asp?searchtype=Person&keyword=Alan+Ives