Good, Better, Bestor


Sometimes you can’t get a great piece of music out of your mind. This popular LDS composer clues you in on where the music comes from in the first place.

You may not know his face or his name, but you’ve heard his music.

Think back to the last time you caught the beginning of a Monday Night Football game. The bold, energizing music practically reached out of the television and made you feel you were about to take your position on the field, pull that 60-yard kickoff into your arms, and dodge countless 300-pound tackles to race for the game’s first touchdown.

Thank Kurt Bestor for that eager, animated feeling. He wrote the music.

If you watch TV at all, chances are you’ve heard Kurt’s music. His projects have included composing for movies, program introductions, promotions, commercials, and major sporting events including the Olympics. He’s also written the scores for a number of Church-produced movies and videos and has released several albums. He’s one of the busiest composers around, and there’s a reason for that.

There’s something about Kurt’s music that makes you feel—the wonder of creativity, the tenderness of prayer, the warmth of Christmas, the elation of success.

And those feelings are not accidental. Kurt felt them when he wrote them, and he knows how to convey those feelings through music. He is fully aware of the strong influence music has on people. We asked Kurt to share a little of his insight with you.

Q. When did you first become involved in music?

A. My parents always had music around the house, and some of my relatives had been professional musicians. But I started taking legitimate piano lessons when I was seven.

Q. Did you immediately take to it?

A. No! I hated practicing. But taking lessons and practicing was something I was expected to do, with no other options. It turned out to be a smart thing.

Q. When and how did you make the switch from hating to play to loving to play?

A. I think it began when I started getting attention for playing. Aunt Violet would come over, and I’d be asked to play for her, and I enjoyed the attention. What kid doesn’t? Oh, and I started liking it better when I started creating.

Q. How did you start creating?

A. My teacher was great. She would give me a piece by Bach and have me learn it the way he meant it to be played, but then she’d let me improvise. I’d make it a bit jazzier here and there. I guess that was composition in embryo. She’d even let me play it both ways in recitals. That’s when piano started becoming fun.

Q. Now, when you create, where do you get your inspiration?

A. I often turn to prayer. Sometimes I go for walks behind my house where there’s a forested area, or I’ll go up to the mountains and try to get in tune with God and his creations and with myself.

Sometimes I go to the temple. Unfortunately, I don’t always have the time to do those things, so it’s important that I keep my life clean and my thoughts pure. Then I don’t have to hurry and clean up my act to get my mind in the right place.

Q. So the gospel helps you with your composing?

A. Musicians don’t just write notes; we write feelings. And there aren’t any deeper or more spiritual feelings than what is inspired by the gospel. Since I joined the Church after my senior year in high school, everything has become more meaningful to me.

Plus the gospel gives me balance in my life. As important as music is, it’s not the most important thing. Once upon a time, the glitz and glamour of the business got to me, and I started worshipping the wrong things. I began to be depressed all the time and didn’t do a good job in my music. But I went through a reawakening and was able to put things back into perspective.

Q. What caused your reawakening?

A. A number of things, but part of it was my family. I have two daughters, and both were born with spina bifida, which basically means they’re paralyzed from the knees down. When Kristin was born nine years ago, she helped me realize some very important things. She was happy. I became aware that although she’d probably never perform great physical feats, she had everything she needed to be happy in this life and to return to our Heavenly Father. So I asked myself, “What are you doing, Brother Bestor? Why are you going for the fame and fortune of the world? You don’t need all that.”

Q. There was another time you altered your career plans for other goals—when you took two years off to serve a mission. How did you make that decision?

A. It was difficult. To be honest, I met this girl (whom I ended up marrying. Her name is Melodie. It’s perfect). And when she started talking about the kind of guy she wanted to marry, she said he had to be an “R.M.”

I misunderstood her and thought, “Why is it so important for her to marry a nurse?” But then she explained. I thought, because I’d joined the Church later, I’d be off the hook with the mission thing. She didn’t buy that theory, and I knew it wasn’t right either. But I was worried that I would come back and I wouldn’t have my music anymore. I think athletes go through the same thing. They’re afraid they won’t be able to play when they get back.

Q. And what happened?

A. I went to Yugoslavia. I was able to use my music a little. I played piano for church and for city things, but I really didn’t do a lot of music on my mission. So when I got home, I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only had I remembered how to write music, but the maturity, perspective, and depth that I’d gained really helped. Plus I realized the power of music.

Q. What is the power of music?

A. Music is a powerful medium that can affect lives for the better or for the worse. It can lift people up, and that’s my goal now—to be a missionary in that way. Missionaries don’t just preach the gospel; they lift people eternally. I feel I can do that through my music. Now, I don’t just write happy-go-lucky music all the time. I try to write music that moves people—that makes them think deep and spiritual thoughts.

Q. How can you tell the difference between music that uplifts you and music that doesn’t?

A. You use the same thing you use every day to differentiate between good and evil—the Holy Ghost. It’s not always easy. But if you’re honest, you can tell. When you hear a piece of music and it makes you angry or uncomfortable, you know it’s not good to listen to. But if you don’t heed that prompting, it’s easy to become desensitized to a lot of things that are popular right now.

As a composer, I know that if you feel melancholy when you listen to my music, that’s because I wrote it when I was feeling melancholy. If you feel happy, it’s because I wrote it that way. If you feel angry or upset, that’s the way the composer was feeling, and that’s the way he wants you to feel. It’s a powerful medium. God gave it to us for our benefit, but Satan uses it to hurt us. It’s important to know the difference.

Q. Is there anything else you’d like New Era readers to know?

A. I would challenge them to experience the joy of music—all different kinds. Don’t be one-dimensional. Don’t just turn on the radio and listen to the same songs over and over again. That can dull your senses. Listen to symphony, listen to pop, listen to country-western, etc. You’ll enjoy your favorite kind of music more if you listen to others, too.

[photos] Photography by Craig Dimond

[illustration] Lettering by James Fedor

[photos] Kurt didn’t always love the piano. “I hated to practice,” he says. “But quitting was not an option. I started enjoying playing when I started getting attention for it—and when I started creating.”

[photo] “Music is not just my job; it’s a part of me,” says Kurt. “But it’s not the only part of me. The gospel helps me see what else is important in my life.”