THE STORY OF ANNIE MOSES AND THE ANNIE MOSES BAND
by Robin Donica Wolaver
Every prodigy’s early mastery of an instrument is generations in the making, as teachers and family members faithfully provide the ingredients. They hum, sing harmony, buy instruments, and employ patient mentors. They organize households, give companionship in practice, set performance goals, and help focus lives of discipline.
When I look back over our family’s life, and the lives of family members who preceded us, I can clearly see the finger of God, stuck in the dirt, plowing a path before us. He has shaped our music and our message for His purposes. But it has not been an expected path. It has been a path of switchbacks and surprises, of talent lost then found, of hopeless poverty kicked aside by grim determination, of musical opportunities withheld by God’s left hand only to be purified and reissued with His right.
The music in my life began with a soft hum in the black dirt of a Texas cotton field. It crescendoed under the influence of the gentle, mournful songs of the Choctaw Indians and the happy gospel hymns of a small church in the Oklahoma hills. It was tailored by a university’s erudite guidance and amplified by the partnership of my fellow musician and husband. It was tested by Nashville, Tennessee’s music elite, joined by our brood of children, and carried across continents. We have learned more than we ever thought possible.
As I nurtured my children artistically, I realized a gift bestowed by my own mother, and her mother. My husband and I, and our children, have been led by God to honor the gifts of our ancestors, passing them on to others through teaching and the testimony of our family’s story.
Many parents witness the fruit of God’s work in the music of the Annie Moses Band and approach me with questions about how to reach artistic heights with their own children.
The answer is not simple. As I look at God’s work through the generations of our family, I realize that there’s much more to our success than a single-minded interest in music. Our practice starts with something far richer and much deeper: the grace of God working through the disciplines of prayer and study to illuminate His path for our lives. His guidance has equipped our family to take our passion for music and grow it in ways we never could have imagined.
It can do the same for your family. Like prayer and spiritual contemplation, music is a discipline, a mandate of scripture. It fills the storehouse of a child’s heart with life-giving truths that will always be remembered. It puts into a child’s hands the tools of self-expression and the persuasive forces of a musical message conveyed with excellence.
Our family’s love of music can be traced in many directions, but the richest legacy comes from my maternal grandmother and our Band’s namesake, Annie Moses. Born in Melissa, a cotton town in north Texas, Annie was gifted with a delicate beauty, winning first place in the prettiest baby contest at the county fair. But that did not mean she would lead a delicate life. Cruel poverty staked a claim early, driving its flag into Annie’s heart, signing its name across that winsome face.
As for music, the simple folk sounds that reached her through the black and white of Texas dirt and cotton surely inspired her. But the family’s earnings afforded Annie only eight beautiful piano lessons. Her parents never really believed in her talent, and when harvest time hit, the fields reigned supreme. Even marriage to the jolly, lumbering Buddy Moses, didn’t free her from the fields, but she harbored no grief for her overlooked musical yearnings.
God is always constructing a new beginning, especially for a humble heart like Annie’s. On a hot August evening, in a tiny bedroom of a clapboard shack, Annie gave birth to my mother, a beautiful baby whom she named Ethel Jane, after her mother and grandmother. In His gracious, wonderful way, God piled on the talent. He wrote on Jane’s heart a passion for music, and he strung her voice—a high, light soprano—with finely spun silver.
Hope is born with a child, and, despite her field-hand poverty, Annie Moses dreamed of providing Jane with the education and opportunity to develop her potential.
It was a short-lived quest. Annie’s hard life drove her to an early grave; she died of cancer at the age of forty-nine. Yet, as hard as her short life was, she did not shrink from earthly tasks or toy with thoughts of escape. Her relentless loyalty, her work ethic, her strength of character, and her sensitivity to the Spirit of God left a legacy, a foundation, upon which every subsequent generation would build.
Annie planted in Jane her firm ideas of how a home should be run—and her conviction that music should reach into every life. These visions would profoundly affect my family’s destiny, both musically and spiritually. It would take two more generations of God’s guidance for the sound to build, but with my mother’s birth, the song of Annie Moses had begun.
A quarter of a century later, with three little girls and a baby boy in tow, my mother announced to my father that her children were going to have the best music teacher she could find. Daddy placed his cowboy hat over his heart, rubbed his eyes, and chuckled. He was willing, even eager, but it would not be easy.
Our family had settled into what would become a lifetime of missionary work in the Kiamichi Mountains. The Kiamichis are dark and rugged, hidden deep in the southeastern corner of Oklahoma. Daddy was a native son who had left to attend Bible College and returned, bent on a dual mission: to preach the gospel and to declare war on crime in the mountains.
He earned the badge of deputy sheriff, and from the pulpit of grisly personal experience—the murders of his father and stepfather—he delivered sermons with equal punch from the Bible or the barrel of a shotgun.
When Mama issued her edict that her children were going to study music, Daddy reminded her that music teachers were not around every corner—and missionaries, in case she had forgotten, made very little money.
Mama crossed her arms and smiled, her pretty white teeth sparkling. No, it would not be easy, but she didn’t pick cotton for nothing.
She gathered my sisters and me around the keys and played for us while we sang, giving birth to what might be likened to a fusion of the Andrews Sisters and the Chipmunks.
Then she loaded her protégées into an old Chevy truck and bounced the rig down rutted dirt roads, through the cow pies, across the state line, and over the Mountain Fork River to the small town of Mena, Arkansas, to the piano studio of Mrs. Lela N. Johnson, a corpulent woman with a bombastic personality. Mrs. Johnson had no biological children but two counties full of musical children over whom she fussed incessantly.
While Mama taught us to sing and Mrs. Johnson taught us to play piano, Daddy was learning to fly. As his preaching reputation grew, he began to evangelize by air, flying our family to corn-patch churches across the heartland. We landed in cow pastures, beside freshly plowed fields, and on empty back roads. Our music and Daddy’s preaching made us a team. We learned to enjoy people, to own a stage, and to speak and perform.
Looking back, I realize that the stage of the small, rural church is one of the most powerful grooming grounds on earth, and so it should be. After all, we are commanded to “Sing to the Lord,” to “play skillfully,” and to “make His praise glorious.”
Through a series of miraculous moves, God sent me to earn a Bachelor of Music degree at Oklahoma City University, where my soon-to-be husband, Bill, and I became quick and lasting friends. Bill had his own musical legacy, a rich one, begun at the knee of his mother, Dorothy. In high-school, this simple beginning gave way to a breadth of harmonic knowledge and improvisational skill. By the time he began college, he was a tour de force, playing for musical theater, operas, jazz band, ensembles, as well as composing and arranging for his own band, “Promise.”
Bill was also nice, so nice that to be in his presence was to feel your own niceness sag with inferiority.
One day, sitting next to him in a music survey class, watching a little Asian violinist demonstrate the wonders of Suzuki learning, I heard an inner voice say: When you have a little girl, she should do that. The words struck deeply, clearly articulated within my spirit.
God gives everyone such divine moments, when His plans route the energies of our lives. It is our job to seize those moments, to make them our own, to watch patiently for His timing. That moment when the little Asian girl played “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” in Music Survey class was monumental for me—a divine appointment that will continue to ripple through generations to come.
Bill and I married and moved to Waco, Texas, where he worked as an editor for a Christian music publishing company—Word Music. The synergy of marriage and musical collaboration swept us into a robust professional partnership. In our seventh year in Waco, we wrote “Make His Praise Glorious” which became a multi-award-winning hit song for Christian artist Sandi Patti. Word offered us a place on their docket of writers, based out of Nashville, Tennessee.
We sold our cherished, freshly painted love nest on retro Reuter Street, packed up our belongings, and waddled to Nashville, with only two weeks to go until the birth of our third child. Remembering the word the Lord had given me, I took our eldest, five-year-old Annie, to begin violin lessons that fall. It never entered my mind, when I took her to that first lesson with Mrs. Sharon Rogers, that it might lead to the Juilliard School or to our family touring professionally.
One by one, we added each child to the program. As we fine-tuned their musical education, we found ourselves tuning out the noise of the so-called professional music world, the cynicism and hot-air of industry professionals. It was ten years later that we headed cross-country to begin enrolling the children in the Juilliard School—and to start the Annie Moses Band.
“Make His Praise Glorious” became, for us, not just a song but a theme song. As we reared our children, we sought a path to excellence, to playing skillfully, to performing as a family ensemble, to using music as a language of love. We wanted to share with others the joy of music as a spiritual discipline and an edict of scripture.
Today, a miraculous musical journey spanning four generations has brought our family to world stages as diverse as Carnegie Hall and the Grand Ole Opry, to the bright lights of Paris and London, and to countries as dark and unforgettable as North Korea.
We have traveled on the wings of music-making for almost two decades, and increasingly, our mission has grown to embrace teaching. We are passionate about the artistic development of other children and adults. We are eager to share our path with other families, congregations, and groups.
As the airwaves are bombarded with artistic and musical decadence— filth more spiritually disfiguring than any time in recorded history—we feel the urgency, the spur of God prodding us to enter the fray, to take up the bow and “Make His Praise Glorious.”
The Conservatory of Annie Moses is our response to that prod, and we are thrilled to share with you what we have learned. God has strategically appointed spouses, employees, students, and fellow-artists to help. Our troupe understands the modern-day import of a Kingdom community, one in which we build a throne of glorious praise for our Creator. We are drawn together in this purpose, expectantly awaiting His words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”