“I LOVE the Philippines. I love its people,” said Donald James “Don” Moen, an American singer, songwriter, pastor and producer of Christian worship music. “I have Filipino fans all over the world—and they’re the best.”
Moen was in Tagum City in Davao del Norte for his Praise and Worship Concert as part of his 2018 Philippine Tour. When asked how many instances he had been the country, he could not remember anymore. “Maybe 10, or 12 times,” he replied.
But what amazed Moen is that Filipinos are scattered all over the world: in the US, Canada, Africa, Middle East, Europe, South America, and Australia. “They are everywhere, and they pray for me,” he said. “And I’m so thankful.”
The people of Tagum were equally grateful that Moen had chosen their city as one of the venues of his concert, despite the fact that it is about a 2-hour ride from Davao City. People from neighboring areas also came to see Moen in person and hear him sing Christian songs that became popular in the country.
But what most Filipinos don’t know is that he 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 said. “There are four [of us] children, and she made us all to 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, you eat the food we provide for you; now, you need to play the piano.”
He eventually did, but hated it. “I decided that if I ever grew up, get married and have children of my own, I would never be so cruel to them—just like what my mother was to me,” he said. “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.”
Started with songwriting
MOEN didn’t become a singer overnight; actually, he started as a songwriter. “When I was the musical director of a Christian band,” he recalled, “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.”
It was while he was working at the Integrity Music that he recorded a cassette tape entitled “Give Thanks” in 1986. 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 sing.’”
But they insisted. “And that’s how it happened,” he said.
Before that, however, he was playing violin for orchestra. He also did something for opera and ballets. “I was young and I started feeling guilty that I love this kind of music,” he admitted. “I lover the power of opera, and it would give [me the] shivers.”
Moen was thinking that someone would come to him and tell him, “Hey, Don, embrace that and give that to God.” But his parents raised him conservatively and before he knew it, he quit the music and returned to his birthplace.
He worked in the woods north of Duluth as a logger. It was rough times then. “There, I was a bulldozer driver,” 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 auditioned at the Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma. Later on, he became a Living Sound musician for Terry Law Ministries and traveled with Terry Law for 10 years.
For more than two decades, Moen worked for Integrity Media and served as its creative director, then as president of Integrity Music and Integrity Label Group, and executive producer of Integrity Music albums.
Big in PHL
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 said. “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 car accident. And he never sang it at the funeral. “This is the song I put in a cassette and placed it above the kitchen sink,” he said. “If you’re washing the dishes and you would 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 about it. 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 also worked with Claire Cloninger, Paul Overstreet, Marin J. Nystrom, Randy Rothwell, Ron Kenoly, Bob Fitts, Debbye Graafsma, Tom Brooks, among many others. He collaborated with musicians Justo Almario, Carl Albrecht, Abraham Laboriel, Alex Acuna, Paul Jackson, Jr. Lenny LeBlanc, and Chris Graham. He was a catalyst in launching the careers of Paul Baloche, Darlene Zschech, Israel Houghton and Hillsong United.
Before he became a Christian singer and composer, 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 said.
“I don’t have anything against secular songs,” he revealed. “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.”
That was the beginning of it all. “I started writing and focused on my talent— not on radio and TV commercials—but on something to bring people to God,” he said. “Because of my songs, it just like Lord is saying: a lot of people will come to know the Lord.”
On commercial or secular songs, Moen has this to say: “I don’t have any problem writing a secular song, a love song. I will probably write one for my wife. Love songs are great but I don’t think they will change a lot of lives completely.
He went on, “I have no problem with people who write pop songs or love songs. I believe that all music comes from God.”