Sunday, December 4, 2011

Oh How He Loves You and Me -- Kurt Kaiser

 Maybe he couldn’t remember where or from whom he’d heard it, but he thought about its profound meaning one day.  This phrase “Oh How He Loves You and Me” stuck with him, so without much effort (15 minutes, he says), Kurt Kaiser expanded on its import for us by fusing the words with some music. What was it that made him retrieve this compact message that he’d filed away? Does this song say something about human memory, telling us why I might recall something months or even years later?  Can memories be seen (as in this statue 'Memory' by Olin Warner) ? 

The 40-year old Kurt Kaiser produced the song about Jesus Christ’s love in 1975, probably the way he composed other songs in his career.  Kaiser apparently for years has developed songs by what someone might say is the ‘post-it note’ or ‘sticky’ method, otherwise known as the ‘scribble’ method. He scrawls a phrase that has struck him in some way, and files it away for future development. ‘Oh How He Loves You and Me’ was one like that in 1975, a time when the ‘Jesus’ movement was a phenomenon of American religious life. Is it possible that Kaiser encountered a ‘Jesus freak’ who’d been overwhelmed by this love-nature of Him? Notice the phrase is ‘Oh, how…’, not just ‘He loves you and me’. That’s suggests an extraordinary event someone was describing, which was either told to Kaiser or was something he heard. Perhaps it was similar to another experience that Kaiser relates about a worshipper who was sobbing by the close of an Isaac Watts hymn (At the Cross). This was a memorable occasion for Kaiser, one he recalled years later. Emotion – passionate expression -- that’s what burns a memory into the brain. It’s a medical-musical phenomenon too, as detailed in the book ‘Musicophilia’ (by Oliver Sacks).

Kurt Kaiser was raised on simple music, but he later developed an appreciation for classical music and hymns. The Plymouth Brethren church taught him early about acapella, what some call ‘unplugged’ worship. One of Kaiser’s passions, after his classical music- and hymnody-focused college education (at American University and Northwestern University in the Chicago area) has been preserving hymns, and their theological messages. So, maybe it was one of those ‘love’ hymns, sung in the Brethren tradition, that helped spur his creativity in 1975. Try this exercise. Look in any hymnal and count how many of the selections are ‘love’ themes. One of the more well-known, ‘Why Did My Savior Come to Earth’ (J.G. Dailey – 1892), is a musical question with an answer that sounds remarkably like Kaiser’s compositional statement. He loves me soOh, how he loves you and me. Now that’s worth a sticky post-it note, right? Make mine gold-plated.

“The Complete Book of Hymns – Inspiring Stories About 600 Hymns and Praise Songs”, by William J.  and Ardythe Perersen , published by Tyndale House in 2006, is the only source for this song story. 
See this site for biographic information on the composer:
Also see the book “Celebrate Jesus (The Stories Behind Your Favorite Praise and Worship Songs)”, by Phil Christensen and Shari MacDonald, Kregel Publications, 2003 for some biographic information on this composer.

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