In 1988 when Bill and Robin Wolaver wrote “Make His Praise Glorious” the song became a No. 1 hit on Christian radio and was nominated for the “Song of the Year” Dove award.
Now, 20 years later, the song is still special to Bill and Robin, as it has become the “mantra of our family,” says daughter Annie as she introduces the song to the congregation gathered at First Baptist Church in Shelby. On this Sunday morning Annie, Alex, Benjamin, Gretchen and Camille join their parents on stage and together they sing praise to the Lord.
The Wolavers and their six children are the Annie Moses Band, named for the siblings’ great-grandmother. Annie, 24, is the oldest and the youngest, Jeremiah, is 10 and sometimes plays guitar and banjo with the band. Bill is the “on-call composer,” as his family likes to call him and Robin is a lyricist/vocalist. Annie is lead vocal and violin; Alex is lead vocal and viola; Benjamin plays cello; Camille plays harp and keyboard; and Gretchen plays violin and mandolin. Their background is classical music and each has studied with renowned instructors. Annie, Alex and Benjamin spent time at Vanderbilt University’s Blair School of Music, and Annie and Alex also studied at Cincinnati College’s Conservatory of Music.
When the band began about five years ago Bill says he “passed out everything to everybody,” but composing is now a group effort — although the family is quick to say dad still does the “heavy lifting.”
Even before the Wolavers began playing together as the Annie Moses Band Bill arranged songs for his children and they played for their grandparents and in churches. Every song on the group’s latest album, “Through the Looking Glass,” is written and composed by the band. The family said by the Lord’s leading they are drawn to the same concepts for albums at the same time. “When you pray together God gives you a likeness,” Annie said.
For Robin, musical inspiration is “born out of my day to day walk with the Lord.” This is evident with lyrics such as this verse, from the first cut on the album, “Glory Giver”:
I am a pearl purchased at a great price
I am an heir chosen and delivered
I am a miracle bursting with the life
Of the glory of the glory Giver
Other songs speak to family experiences. Robin wrote words and Bill, Annie and Robin wrote music for “We Were Meant To Be,” a song celebrating the 50th wedding anniversary of both Robin and Bill’s parents. Still other songs speak to the harsh reality of a suffering world, dying without the hope of a Savior. A few lines from “It Takes a Savior,” with the genocide in Sudan as the backdrop:
She listens to the wind
Will this be the day they come
With hatred, murder and guns
Who will save her
Writing together, performing together and traveling together, the Annie Moses Band is not lacking for quality family time. Yet, ask them about life on the road and they won’t tell you stories of fighting with brothers and sisters or getting tired of mom and dad. “I can’t imagine doing this if we weren’t family,” Annie said.
The Wolavers formed the Annie Moses Band after the three oldest children spent time at Juilliard and realized they did not want a classical career — which came as quite a surprise to them all.
“This band was certainly a detour from that initial plan,” Annie said.
The Wolavers wanted to play with a certain stylistic variety and originality and the band gave them an outlet to do that.
Growing up in the Wolaver household, playing an instrument was not optional. Just as she taught her kids to eat their vegetables, so Robin made sure music was a natural part of their lives.
Considering Robin and Bill’s background, it seems only natural that their children would love music. Bill and Robin met as music students at Oklahoma City University and after marrying moved to Waco, Texas, to write for Word Music. Bill continues to edit music for publishers such as Brentwood-Benson.
The Wolaver siblings were never persuaded to play and practice their music. Robin said her children all have a knack for learning and memorizing music quickly and each child decided the instruments they wanted to play. After watching their older brothers and sister go off and study music and then begin with the band, the rest of the Wolavers could not wait until it was their turn.
The Annie Moses Band is an attempt to break through what Robin calls a very monochromatic style that has become dominant in the church and on Christian radio. The Christian climate is ill and not flourishing, Robin said. One reason why is that youth today are “sold something, they are not taught something,” Alex said. Young musicians should not be sold on a particular music style but instead should be taught to play with excellence and to understand why they play — “because God is worthy of praise,” Annie said.
Young musicians are being given “dime-store paintbrushes,” Robin explained, and told to only paint in red, blue, yellow and green; they are not being given the artistic tools and musical training needed to create music that is valuable, that is new and that is beyond the normal scope of musical expectation.
When music is about praising God and making his name glorious, and doing so with excellence and skill, whether a church calls itself contemporary or traditional really does not matter. Nor is singing hymns a matter of right and wrong. This ongoing battle in churches about music style “needs to be swallowed up in a big, burgeoning plethora of artistic offerings so much so that this petty little infighting shrinks to nothing in the light of the extravagance of what we offer to the Lord,” Robin said.
The generational divide, as Annie described, is why most churches stumble over how to worship and “we find ourselves in a battle that’s really not a biblical battle. The church by and large has adopted the same model the world has in viewing their congregation as different demographics to be marketed to. Everything has been compartmentalized,” Annie said. What needs to happen is a renewed focus on musical education that is rooted in God’s glory and in being able to discern excellence.
To help with this, the Annie Moses Band conducts fine arts camps each summer. The performance-driven camp divides students into tracks such as piano, guitar or jazz. At the end of the week students participate in a show designed by Bill and Robin.
“Kids come in and have very low expectations of what they’re capable of,” Robin said.
The Wolavers write music and create the show to fit the interests and skills of the students, and to push students to perform beyond their expectations.
“Make His Praise Glorious” is set for the Annie Moses Band’s spring release and will be a re-make of the 1980s version. That the truth of these four words remain the Wolaver family’s singular purpose in life is a testimony to the delight that have, and want others to have, as they sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — The Annie Moses Band will lead worship Tuesday, Nov. 11, during the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina annual session in Greensboro.)