Spirit and music: Special youth choir prepares to bring spirit to priesthood session

Published: Saturday, Oct. 5 2013 6:10 a.m. MDT

The congregation sings during the opening session of the 183rd Semiannual General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

MURRAY, Utah — “I know what some of you are thinking out there.”

Kelly DeHaan was looking out over more than 300 young men gathered in the Murray Utah Parkway Stake Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on a recent Sunday evening. Part music teacher and part choir conductor, DeHaan wasn’t quite getting what he wanted from the teenagers as he patiently worked to shape them into the choir that will provide the music for the priesthood session of the church’s 183rd Semiannual General Conference on Saturday.

“Some of you are thinking, ‘I’m not a singer, I’m a basketball player,’ ” DeHaan said, his face damp with perspiration born of the warm summer evening as well as the seemingly boundless energy he expended pulling soft, round tones out of strong, angular boys. “But we’re not shooting baskets for God right now. Right now, we’re singing praises to God, and you need to be a singer! Right now you’re not a basketball player — you’re a singer singing praises to God!”

He invited choir members to take off their suit coats — almost all of the young men were dressed in dark suits, some of them borrowed for their participation in the choir. Then he asked them to stand and take one more pass through “God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand,” one of the songs they will sing during the priesthood session.

“How many of you see a mission in your future?” DeHaan asked as he prepared to give the downbeat. Immediately, almost every hand shot skyward. “So that’s what we’re going to show the world through this song. We’re going to show the world the future of missionary work!”

As the boys sang, DeHaan moved through the sea of white shirts and conservative ties, beating out a steady rhythm and barking words of instruction (“Don’t get all wimpy on me!”) and encouragement (“That was brilliant! Brilliant!”). Delight was etched on his face as the last “Amen!” of the hymn reverberated around the chapel and into the gym.

The young men stood silently, breathlessly, motionlessly — just as they had been instructed to do. DeHaan smiled broadly.

“I hope they have one of those boom shots that pulls out to show the whole choir on that finish!” he exclaims. “The world needs to see who is testifying to them!”

“Testifying” is exactly what this choir — as well as other choirs that are given the opportunity to participate in general conference sessions, right up to and including the Mormon Tabernacle Choir itself — is all about.

“One purpose of music in our general conference meetings is to contribute to an environment in which the Spirit can flourish,” said Ray D. Robinson, director of music and cultural arts for the LDS Church Priesthood Department. “We want the people who participate in these choirs to have a building spiritual experience, to be sure. And that will happen best through the presentation of music that supports the purpose and spirit of the meeting.”

DeHaan, who teaches choir locally at West Jordan High School, said he couldn’t agree more.

“It is the Spirit that matters most of all,” he said. He pointed that out to choir members during the Sunday night rehearsal, when he observed that “there are men who are going to speak that night who have a message that the world needs to hear.”

“Our job is to bring the Spirit into the room,” he said, “so when those men speak it’s there to testify that what you are singing about, and what those men are saying, is true.”

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