Songs for the Lord

Monday, June 09, 2003

Songs for the Lord


While others are trying to break into the pop scene, one young Malaysian is quietly scaling a different type of chart. Praise and worship hardly ever register an enthusiastic response but Glenn Packiam is about to change that mindset. BRENDA BENEDICT finds out about the highs and lows of his vocation and his occasional craving for roti canai. 

Name: Glenn Previn Packiam 

Age: 25 

Hometwon: Petaling Jaya, Selangor 

Education: Bukit Bintang Boys Primary School; Bible Temple Christian School in Portland, Oregon, United States; Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma, US, with a B.A. in Theological/Historical studies and an M.A. in Business Management  

Current base: Colorado Springs, Colorado, United States 

Years abroad: 11

MUSIC runs through Glenn Packiam’s veins. Born on Feb 27,1978, this Malaysian’s love affair with music began at a relatively young age. Having collectively picked up the guitar, piano and trumpet by the time he was 10, it is hardly surprising that the 25-year-old is currently making waves in the American music scene. 

Packiam’s music, however, is not pop or rock. He is a praise and worship singer. This passion first took root at age 15 when he led worship sessions for the Youth Fellowship at the Full Gospel Assembly (FGA) church in Kuala Lumpur. He also played the trumpet and keyboard for the church’s Sunday services. 

He had made a name for himself the year before (in 1992) when he wrote the theme song for an International Church Conference organised by the FGA. Entitled We Arise it has since become a staple in many churches. 

BORN TO SING: Glenn Packiam had an affinity for music and today shares his gift with Christian worshippers worldwide.

In 1996, he attended the Oral Roberts University (ORU) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he studied Theology and Music. He served in the music ministry there and took teams to different cities in the United States as well as Europe, Africa and Malaysia. Upon graduation, he was appointed Associate Music Director of ORU, overseeing the music ministries.  

He wrote and recorded his songs on the ORU CD called Sacred Vow. He then joined the New Life Church in Colorado Springs as an Associate Pastor of Worship in 2000. He was recently appointed director of the Worship School there. Packiam has also written songs for the church’s worship CDs. 

Perhaps the most memorable experience of his journey was his first encounter with Don Moen in 1994. The latter is a world-renowned praise and worship singer, songwriter, musician and worship leader who also serves as Executive Vice President of Integrity Incorporated. The company, better known as Integrity Music, is one of the biggest Christian media communications companies that uses music, software, videos, printed music, electronic media and, most recently, books, to spread the Good News. .  

Since that first meeting, Packiam has had numerous meetings with Moen both at ORU and the New Life Church. It eventually led to recordings at Integrity. Two of Packiam’s songs, namely We Lift You Up and You Are are included in Integrity’s latest compilation called More Than Life. The album was released in Malaysia a month ago.  

And that is not all. Packiam has signed up with Integrity to record eight songs to be released in July this year in the United States. In an e-mail interview he shares his experiences as a praise and worship singer and being the first Malaysian to sign up with an internationally renowned recording outfit.  

What prompted you to pursue praise and worship music full time?  

Music was a gift God had given me and I decided a long time ago to use every talent and ability to bring glory to Him. It is something I can use to inspire others to glorify Him too. 

Were there any other career options that you considered?  

Yeah. I briefly considered being a doctor, but a few gory episodes of ER made me reconsider! 

When did you leave Malaysia and for what purpose?  

I first left when I was 10 with my parents and older sister. We moved to Portland, Oregon, because my parents wanted to pursue Biblical training at the Portland Bible College. We lived there for about three years and then moved back to Malaysia. Four years after that, I moved back to the United States to attend college. 

How long did you spend pursuing your studies in Theology and Music? What was that experience like?  

I completed my degree in three and a half years. It was a wonderful experience. I formed great relationships and had the opportunity to be involved in some great projects, including a CD with the university. 

What are your responsibilities as an Associate Pastor of Worship?  

I lead worship for the college. We have about 500 young people in their 20s who I lead in worship every week. That is a joy beyond words. I am also the director of the New Life School of Worship that conducts annual programmes training people to be worship leaders for churches. That is an immense responsibility, but also an exciting one. I do spend a good portion of my week in management type meetings, and in individual “life-coaching” appointments with people within our church and outside. 

What was your first meeting with Don Moen like?  

It’s actually quite humorous. He was in town for a big concert and seminar, and my family was invited to have lunch with him. I was nervous and a little awestruck. He was kind and humble, but I was quite certain he would not remember it. Last year, about 10 years after our first “meeting”, I was at the corporate headquarters of Integrity Music for a meeting. I recounted the story of meeting him and he remembered! Anyway, it was a great moment for a teenage boy with a dream. 

Did Moen’s work have any influence on you?  

Yes, to some degree. He has done an incredible job in spreading worship around the world and in providing inspiration to countless lives. I was certainly influenced in terms of the scope and significance of his impact. 

What are the challenges that you face in your career?  

There are many challenges. Keeping a pure heart is one. The Bible teaches us that the pure in heart will see God. As a worship leader, this is extremely important. I think the biggest challenge is making personal time for God.  

Who or what are the sources of inspiration for your songs?  

I get an endless supply of inspiration from God. 

Which, in your opinion, is your best song written?  

It is probably a new song called From You. It is taken from a verse in the Bible that says: “For from Him and through Him, and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever.” That sums up life. Everything has come from Him. Everything that lives exists through Him. And ultimately, all that is was made for Him.  

What is the greatest satisfaction you get out of writing praise and worship songs?  

The greatest reward is seeing people connecting with God in a real and personal way through songs that I have written.  

What’s your song writing process like?  

I usually get ideas during a worship service or in my car or something. It typically is a chorus. I then get my guitar or run to the nearest piano and hash out the frame of the song. There is usually some kind of creative mode I can feel myself in and at those times I’ve got to have an instrument in my hands! I let it sit for a few hours, or sometimes days, and then revisit it to see if I can craft better words, melodies or sections to the song. There have been those rare moments when everything fits all at once. Those are usually the ones I enjoy the most.  

Who influenced you as a young musician then and now?  

As a young musician, I was strongly influenced by singers like Michael W. Smith and Steven Curtis Chapman. Then when I started writing praise and worship music, Integrity’s music made an impact on me. More recently, bands like Delirious, U2, Dave Matthews, and Coldplay have made significant impressions on my tastes. 

How did your parents and friends react to your choice of vocation?  

My parents have always been, and continue to be, supportive. They have always wanted me to follow God’s will. They are to a large extent the reason for where I am today. Likewise my friends have been encouraging and have always welcomed me even in my worst, with open arms.  

How did you feel when the first song you wrote, We Arise, was chosen as the theme song for the International Church Conference in 1992?  

At 14, that was an honour I would have never dreamed of! Looking back, I’m not even sure how good a song it was! 

Two of your songs We Lift You Up and You Are are included in the latest Integrity compilation CD called More Than Life. How do you feel about that?  

Again, I am honoured and humbled. God is faithful and has chosen to open doors. There is nothing I can take credit for here. 

Are you the first Malaysian artiste to be featured by Integrity Music? If so, how does that feel?  

I know some Indonesians have been involved in project released in South-east Asia. I may be the first Malaysian in Integrity’s American market. Even so, it is nothing I can boast of. I am proud of my roots and my heritage. I’m honoured to be a Malaysian making a small bit of difference in a vast ocean of events. But there is a bigger story. And that is of God’s work here. I am truly honoured to be part of that story. 

Worship singing isn’t considered very “cool” among the younger generation. How does your music have an edge over more popular genres?  

Worship music is becoming more culturally relevant to younger people. In fact, I have an album coming out in the United States in August entitled Desperation that aims directly at my generation. I think young people are hungry for a genuine spiritual experience that God can give.  

When was the last time you returned to Malaysia?  

In September 2001. I used to come home about once a year before. Now unfortunately, that’s getting a little tough. 

What do you miss most about Malaysia?  

Apart from family and friends, it would definitely have to be roti canai. Do you have any you could send me? 

How would you like to be remembered?  

As one who gave everything for the glory of God.