Text and Photos by Henrylito D. Tacio
There are many ways of worshiping God. One of the best ways is through singing. The Bible itself states: “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth” (Psalm 96:1). Another verse urges, “Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; tell of all His wonders” (Psalm 105:2).
In the Philippines, people sing unto the Lord, some gospel songs popularized by American crooners. One such singer is Donald James “Don” Moen, who also writes and produces most of his songs and a pastor.
“I don’t have any problem writing a secular song, a love song,” he tells Enrich in an exclusive interview. “I will probably write one for my wife. Love songs are great but I don’t think they will change a lot of life completely. But I have no problem with people who write pop songs or love songs. I believe that all music comes from God.”
Perhaps not too many Filipinos know that Moen really didn’t like anything about music when he was growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was his mother who tried him to be musically inclined. “When I was a little boy, my mother made me take piano lessons,” he says. “There are four children and she made us all take piano lessons for six years. And I hated it.”
During practice, Moen would hit the keys. His mother would tell him: “Donny, you wear the clothes we provide for you, you sleep in the bed we provide you, and you eat the food we provide for you. Now, you need to play the piano.”
He did – but hated it. “I decided that if I ever grew up, got married and had children of my own, I would never be so cruel to them – just like what my mother was to me,” he says. “And now all of my five children repeat the same thing I said before. And I would tell them what my mother used to tell me. It’s a funny story.”
It was while he was attending Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma that he showed his flair for music. He found himself as a musician for Terry Law Ministries by playing guitar and trombone; later on, he made some arrangements.
“When I was the musical director of a Christian band,” Moen recalls, “I started playing the piano. And because they needed more songs to sing, I started arranging and then wrote some songs. Because I was writing, I started demoing my song, singing my own songs. One thing led to another.”
Michael Coleman of Integrity Worship, authors of the praises and worship series Hosanna! Music hired Don in 1984. As a worship leader, he helmed many successful volumes in the series.
In 1986, he recorded a cassette tape entitled “Give Thanks.” It was released the following year and sold a million copies all over the world. “And then people started calling me to come and sing,” he said. “I kept saying, ‘I am not a singer. I don’t want to sing.”
But they insisted. “And that’s how it happened,” Moen said.
Another thing most Filipinos don’t know about Moen is that before he became a singer, he was already playing violin for orchestra when he was younger. He also did something for opera and ballets. “I was young and I started feeling guilty that I love this kind of music,” he admits. “I love the power of opera and it would give a shiver.”
Moen was thinking that someone would come to him and tell him, “Hey, Don, embrace that and give that to God.” But he was raised conservatively by his parents, and before he knew it, he quit music and returned back to his birthplace and drove a bulldozer.
He worked in the woods north of Duluth as a logger. There were bears, moose, and wild animals all over. It was rough. “There I was driving a bulldozer,” he recalled of his 1971 stint.
“After doing that for several months, I thought playing the violin was not so bad after all,” he said. He went back to college and then worked and traveled with the Terry Law Ministries for ten years.
For the next 20 years or so, Moen worked for Integrity Media, serving as creative director and president of Integrity Music, president of Integrity Label Group, and executive producer of Integrity Music albums.
In December 2007, he left Integrity Media to start a new initiative, The Don Moen Company. It acquired MediaComplete, the church software company that created MediaShout. In 2009, he became a radio host for Don Moen and Friends.
Among the songs he has recorded, he cited “God Will Make a Way,” as the most popular and memorable song. “It was a big hit in the Philippines,” he says. “Before I ever traveled to the Philippines, my songs got ahead of me first. The song has travelled throughout all churches.”
To think, he never intended to record the song. It was written for his nephew, who died in a vehicular accident. And he never sang it at the funeral. “This is the song I put in a cassette and placed above the kitchen sink,” he said. “If you’re washing the dishes and you hear those words, ‘God will make a way.’ He works in ways we cannot see. And so that was that.”
There was an interesting story on how it was finally recorded. Two to three years later, after he wrote the song, Moen had completely forgotten the song. He was singing in a chapel service in 1987. “In the middle of the chapel service, the Holy Spirit brought back the song to me, and I had to sing the song. I looked through my notes and then I sang the song,” he recalled.
That day, almost everybody in the company came to him and asked him where he got the song. “I told them I wrote the song for my nephew. And they said that I had to record the song. And replied that I would never record the song because it is a private song for a private situation.”
Eventually, he recorded the song, which earned him his first Dove Award for Song of the Year in 1992, the same year his “I’m a Helper,” got him another nomination for Children’s Musical Album of the Year.
Moen won five more Dove Awards: “Worship with Don Moen” (Inspirational Album of the Year, 1993), “God with Us” (Musical Album of the Year, 1994), “Might Cross” (Musical Album of the Year, 1995), “God for Us” (Musical of the Year, 1999), and “God is Good All the Time” (Country Recorded Song of the Year, 2003).
He was also nominated in 1998 for “Emmanuel Has Come” (Musical of the Year), in 2001 for “En Tu Presencia” (Spanish Language Album of the Year), in 2003 for “God in Us” (Musical of the Year), and in 2004 for “Trono de Gracia” (Spanish Language Album of the Year).
Not too many know the fact Moen collaborated with such great talents like Claire Cloninger, Paul Overstreet, Marin J. Nystrom, Randy Rothwell, Ron Kenoly, Bob Fitts, Debbye Graafsma, and Tom Brooks.
He also had the pleasure of working with musicians Justo Almario, Carl Albrecht, Abraham Laboriel, Alex Acuna, Paul Jackson, Jr., Lenny LeBlanc, and Chris Graham. He was the man behind who launched the careers of Paul Baloche, Carlene Zschech, Israel Houghton, and Hillsong United.
Before he became a Christian singer and composer, however, he wrote jingles for radio and television commercials for many years. “I wrote popular jingles like ‘Bank of a lifetime,’ and ‘Good for you,’” he says.
“I don’t have anything against secular songs,” he said now. “I don’t have anything against people singing them. I had written some secular songs. But for me, it was a pretty clear calling from God to do what I am doing.”
Here’s how it happened: “It was in 1981 when the Lord woke me up in the middle of the night. I heard this voice saying to turn to Psalms 40:3. I got up and read it. It said: I put a new song in your mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him.”
That morning, he told his wife Laura (whom he married in 1973 and gave him five children) that something happened to him last night. “I told her that God called me specifically to do something,” he said. “And He said he would put a new song into my mouth.”
And that was how it started. “I started writing focusing on my talent not on radio and television commercials but on something to bring people to God,” he said. “Because of my songs, just like what the Lord is saying, a lot of people will come to know the Lord.”
All in all, his music has total global sales of over five million units, according to CCM Magazine. The Christian Post reported that his album Hymnbook reached over 1 million likes on his Facebook page.