As Catholics we hear quite a bit about the love of God. We are reminded…
Meet Ian Mulder: A Christian composer who brings listeners to God
Not only is composer and pianist Ian Mulder’s music a feast for the ears, it is also a feast for the soul. And the award-winning artist wants nothing more than to help others grow in relationship with God.
A Netherlands native now residing in the United States, Mulder lives what he calls a “peaceful life” spent mostly composing and playing. While Mulder is humble about his talent, those who have heard his playing and compositions can tell how gifted he is. Music is clearly his passion, but he notes, “For me, it was never a choice. I was born to do this. I just followed my instincts,” he said, adding with a smile, “the less I think, the better it goes.”
Mulder’s music can be heard on the UK’s Classic FM radio and on SiriusXM radio, and he is one of Amazon’s bestsellers for Christian music, selling to around 20 countries on a daily basis. Mulder performs concerts for large crowds around the country, and each Christmas returns home to the Netherlands to perform for capacity crowds. His recordings feature collaborations with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and the London Symphony and Philharmonic orchestras and feature contributions from vocal groups like Libera and artists such as Andrea Bocelli. He recorded a PBS-aired concert in 2009.
Before Mulder moved to America in 2007, he had already made a name for himself in his home country. But with the secularization in Europe and the small size of the Netherlands, Mulder knew it was time to move on. After televangelist Dr. Robert Schuller from California discovered Mulder’s music and extended an invitation to the former Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Mulder knew America was a place he would very much like to live.
“A big reason why I left the Netherlands was, in thinking for the future of our kids, that it is better to move to a country where Christianity is more accepted,” Mulder said, citing the very low percentage of practicing Christians back home. But that also had an impact on his career, as well. “If I lived in the Netherlands at this moment, I don’t think I could regularly fill concert halls and churches,” he said. “I’m very happy that I’m here now. It’s a great pleasure.”
Mulder began studying music at the instigation of his family at age 6. He came from a family of notable musical talent, as his father’s brother was one of the Netherlands’ most famous organists, conductors and composers of his day. While growing up, after attending Sunday church services with family, Mulder — whose grandfathers were both pastors at large Dutch Reformed churches — would return home to begin writing down the notes he committed to memory from some of the organ pieces he heard. “They never believed me and thought it was impossible to write it down from memory. But I believed it, so that is what counts,” he recalled.
Mulder was the only one of his siblings to pursue music professionally, and he moved on to studying under an accomplished teacher from Romania, which he regarded as “a blessing.” She recognized Mulder’s unique talents early on and encouraged his entrance to the Rotterdam conservatory. There, Mulder studied piano, organ and composition, which situated him well for a career in music.
Mulder is extremely dedicated to his craft and sees his talent as a gift from God. He has composed more than 1,000 pieces and recorded over 200 albums of music in the first decade of his career alone. Most were with choirs and orchestras accompanying him on the piano.
Mulder composes his music for a wide-ranging audience. He has many albums of secular music, often filled with emotion and romantic themes. In 2012, though, Mulder turned his attention to composing religious inspirational music. “Somehow, I thought about the idea of making a solo album with only hymns,” he said. With that, the “Love Divine” series of albums was born, the seventh of which Mulder expected to record this year in London before the pandemic necessitated a delay of plans.
Mulder, who worships at a Baptist church near his home, did not necessarily intend to move in the direction of Christian music so directly. But after the release of the first “Love Divine” album, he said it was clear that God had other plans.
“I didn’t come up with a plan for multiple albums, but we just made the first one,” he said. “Because of how well received, it was … a huge message from above that we had to continue this.”
The Christian music Mulder composes, plays and records represents a mix of traditional and contemporary hymns. There are timeless, classic and perpetually popular hymns such as “Amazing Grace,” “How Great Thou Art” and “Holy God, We Praise Your Name.” On each, he leaves his own mark of interpretation. Within his repertoire, Catholics will find favorites such as “Ave Maria” (Caccini) and “Lead, Kindly Light” (lyrics by St. John Henry Newman) and others. He also offers his unique renditions of contemporary Christian favorites such as “Above All” and “In Christ Alone.” Mulder also is very committed to the right-to-life effort and composed a piece called “Heartbeat” for “Love Divine VI” as a kind of ode to the pro-life movement.
Though Mulder fears that, as time goes by, he will run out of material, he keeps finding more hymns to work with. And he listens to his audience, taking into consideration what people want to hear.
“As long as people want to listen, I continue to compose and record more,” he said. While lamenting that “people don’t like classical” music, Mulder observes they do enjoy scores from films such as “Harry Potter.” Thus Mulder identifies his secret in composing: “That’s my formula, [to compose] like film music; everybody can enjoy it, every age.”
Mulder’s music is notable for its complexity, detail and beauty, and as such, reperated hearings leave something new to be discovered. “I never write one note too much,” he said. Mulder said he makes his music “as good as possible, so that professionals can say this is really upscale stuff,” but also writes “for all kinds of people, so you don’t need to have a musical background to understand it or enjoy it. … I want to make it for everybody. That’s very difficult, [and] that’s why it takes months to come up with new material.”
Mulder’s composition process begins with writing down ideas in note form every few days and revising them after storing them in a desk drawer. Even though most of his recordings contain no singing, the lyrics for the hymns remain vitally important to Mulder, as he hopes is true for his audience.
“The lyrics are very, very important,” he said. “I want to capture the meaning of the lyrics. That is kind of difficult to do. I print the lyrics in all the booklets with the CDs. Every chord that I use has a meaning. If there is a happy word, I use a happy chord at that moment. If it is about angels flying through the air, you can hear them flying.”
It usually takes Mulder about two weeks to compose a piece, and he begins with just the piano part. Then comes the compositions for a 65-piece orchestra, which are both complex and time-consuming. The pandemic, though, has offered Mulder the opportunity to devote more time to his art. “I’ve never composed so much in my life,” he said. His upcoming album, “Love Divine VII,” once recorded, will contain about two CDs’ worth of music.
Mulder said that his composing is the fruit of a process of prayer.
|Finding Christ in the Crisis|
Mulder recently donated a special compilation of seven songs to OSV to accompany sales of “Finding Christ in the Crisis: What the Pandemic Can Teach Us.” It features a mix of traditional favorites and original compositions, several of which are featured on Mulders five gold or platinum records. To order, visit osvcatholicbookstore.com.
“If something is between God and you, then you have a problem, an obstacle,” he said. “I believe I have a huge mission to write, or to record, or to give [his music] to the world or to Christians or people who are not Christian yet.” He said part of his mission is to bring others to God — especially those who might not know him or are estranged from him. “That is why I also promote my albums that are secular,” he said. “Some people get to know me through those and then maybe they get to hear the Christian music and read the lyrics. Maybe that inspires them to go to church.”
For Mulder, his work is not about personal acclaim.
“I never write things to get applause,” he said. “During concerts, I am embarrassed when people applaud. I don’t need a lot of that. It’s not written to get a standing ovation.”
Rather, he believes he was created to do this unique ministry.
“We are here for a reason. I do not have any other talents. I do not have anything else to do. If I don’t do this, I have nothing. So,” he laughed,”I am also forced to do this.”
Mulder’s orchestrations and instrumentalization lift the human spirit and mind to God. And many who love his music do so for that reason.
“That is the biggest compliment I can get,” he said. “Many people feel closer to God when they listen to my music.”
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of OSV’s Simply Catholic. He writes from Indiana.