To listen to a Kurt Kaiser song, musical, or recording is to hear some of the finest gospel music being written and performed today.

Kurt Kaiser’s name has been associated with music issuing from Word, Incorporated, for 23 years, since the young musician made the long move from his native Chicago to Waco, Texas, to become Word’s director of artists and repertoire. Word was an eight-year-old record company and he was a musician then known primarily in the Midwest for exceptional ability as a pianist. Both have grown considerably in stature and influence over the intervening years: Word is much more than records, having launched into music publishing, then book publishing, films, and video, while Kaiser’s musical credits now show him to be a composer, arranger, conductor, and record producer. That Word has stood at the top of the gospel music industry for so many years must owe in large part to the long-standing association between the two.

Kaiser’s youthful accomplishments might tend to put him in the prodigy class. He was a part-time staff musician at radio stations in two states while he was still a teen-ager, and by the time he was 20, he was beginning five years as minister of music at Chicago’s Bethel Community Church.

At the same time Kaiser was gaining recognition for his piano ability and his church and radio ministries, he was acquiring an education. He studied first at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago, then earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from Northwestern University. Aspiring gospel musicians today would be well served to acknowledge the importance of such solid grounding in the classical traditions. To be able to go on, as has Kaiser, to become arranger and producer for such artists as Carol Lawrence, Pat Boone, Robert Hale and Dean Wilder, George Beverly Shea, Anita Bryant, Jerome Hines, and many others, is no accident. Genuine ability joined to sound training allow a musician of Kaiser’s caliber—indeed any musician, and especially a Christian musician—to use what God has given him to the fullest.

In 1959, besides the move to Waco, his second child was born. (He and his wife Pat have a daughter and three sons—one of the sons a top athlete at Baylor University.)

After kaiser joined Word (he is currently vice-president, music, of the Word Music Group), his contributions to gospel music began to multiply. In 1969 he wrote “Pass It On.” The song quickly became a favorite among evangelicals, and is one of the few new gospel compositions to have achieved a permanent place in contemporary hymnody—and hymnals. Also in 1969, he and Ralph Carmichael collaborated on something new in church music: musicals. Their Tell It Like It Is and Natural High were immediately popular, particularly among young people. Four years later they produced I’m Here, God’s Here, Now We Can Start, and in 1974, Kaiser and Charles Brown collaborated on God’s People. His last musical, Just for You, was written in 1979, and is clearly the statement of a mature, yet continually growing, musician.

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Along the way, Kaiser has also published reams of sacred choral compositions, recorded a half-dozen piano albums, written collections of solos for high voice and arrangements for choirs, and ferretted out new artists.

He is a true craftsman. When writing or arranging solos, for example, he keeps the soloist very much in mind. One of his favorites is Robert Hale of the Hale-Wilder duo, leading baritone of the New York City Opera. “I know his voice,” Kaiser says, “the notes that sound nice with him. His E-flat is especially rich, and if I can aim for an E-flat at the end of a phrase and just let him sit on it, it’s perfect. When I spend time on melody and lyric like that, it is custom made—like gloves—and he’s pleased.”

Among kaiser’s current projects is the development of a new line of recordings aimed at offering the Christian public an exceptionally high caliber of music. To date two records have been issued in the new Medallion Series: organist Diane Bish’s Music for a Royal Wedding and How Sweet the Sound, by the Baylor University Chamber Singers. Of the Medallion Series Kaiser says, “We’re making a concentrated, conscientious effort to produce albums of music that is really great.

“For years, no religious recording company has done anything in terms of recordings that have real inherent quality. We’ve all gone the way of rock and pop. In the past we did some beautiful things, but they never really sold. Now, with the new Medallion Series, our computer technology enables us to isolate the people who are interested in that kind of music.”

Kaiser also believes it is possible to stretch people’s musical understanding and appreciation. “Some churches have marvelous music programs where they’re really doing some exciting things and their congregations love it,” he says. “I think the reason is that they’re exposed to this kind of music.” Referring to the Christian artists’ seminar held each year at Estes Park, Colorado, he says he suggested to seminar director Cam Florida that there is “a whole side of Christian music that the kids who come aren’t hearing—the sort of thing that Bob Hale and Dean Wilder are doing.” We owe it to these kids, he believes, to let them hear this. Hale and Wilder went to Estes Park in 1980, and got a standing ovation. Says Kaiser, “People like anything that’s quality.”

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He is enthusiastic about Word’s recent acquisition of what he calls “the George Beverly Shea musical family—Chancel Music.” Included are such songs as “I’d Rather Have Jesus” and “The Wonder of It All,” and he plans to make choral settings of all of them. “We feel we have a pretty good idea of what evangelical church choirs are singing, and I think something like ‘I’d Rather Have Jesus’ will go very nicely.”

Kaiser is a strong advocate of gospel music that is so well matched to its lyrics that the listener is not just entertained, but helped to worship. “If the music is right, it enhances the worship experience,” he says. “If the lyric is good and the musical setting is not right, it’s distressing. I hate it!”

Many Christians are critical of shallowness in the lyrics of much of today’s gospel music—lyrics that seem to be almost totally experience oriented. Kaiser thinks the situation was worse a few years ago, but that “it’s getting better,” and says he is personally spending more time finding Bible texts that “really do say something.” A 1981 collection of Kaiser choral arrangements entitled Father, Lift Me Up attests to this. Among his own compositions in the collection are “Give Me Thine Heart,” based on Proverbs 23:26, and “If Any Man Thirst,” from John 7:37. The recent musical Just for You includes others, like “He Careth for You,” based on the familiar 1 Peter 5:7, and “Sing O Heavens,” taken from Isaiah 49:13.

His most recent recording, A Part of Me, is primarily piano music, backed by a string group and an occasional vocal line to supply words. He calls this personal statement “part of who I am at this point in my life. Each song represents experiences—physical, spiritual, or emotional …”

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Included on the album is a long, interpretative arrangement of “Oh How He Loves You and Me,” a little chorus he wrote a few years ago that is now widely sung, and which he describes as “all I wanted to say at the piano.” Also included is the very personal “I Am Willing, Lord,” written “out of a rather painful experience … a testing reevaluating of priorities.”

“I am willing,” it goes, “to be just exactly what You want me to be.”

Willingness of this nature, more than anything else, allows a man like Kurt Kaiser to make an impact on contemporary gospel music. He is talented, he is well trained, and he has a wide background of experience. But most important, he is using all of it to offer the Lord, and not incidentally the Christian musical public, the best he has to offer.

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