Spirit and music: Special youth choir prepares to bring spirit to priesthood session
That job for each conference starts just a few weeks after the previous conference. Musical needs for the next conference are identified, and choir possibilities are assessed. Care is taken to rotate the assignments among stakes and regions within comfortable traveling distance of Salt Lake City to give as many people as possible what may be the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of singing in the Conference Center for general conference.
Once the assignment is made, local church leaders begin the process of putting a choir together. In this case, the Murray Utah Parkway Stake, under the direction of stake President Stephen Hunter, was assigned as the host stake, with six other stakes in the area — Murray Utah, Murray Utah North, Murray Utah South, Murray Utah West, Murray Utah Little Cottonwood and Salt Lake Little Cottonwood — combining to form a choir for the general priesthood meeting consisting entirely of young men ages 12-18. Church officials asked DeHaan to direct the choir, and President Hunter called Kenny Favero to be choir manager, and several months of planning, scheduling and rehearsing were underway.
“It’s been kind of crazy,” Favero acknowledged, calling his work as choir manager “an adventure but very exciting!”
“We were assigned to assemble a choir of 364 young men from the seven stakes participating,” Favero said. “That broke down to 52 young men per stake and about seven or eight young men per ward. It was determined that to have a well-balanced group of voices, a maximum of two deacons would be invited from each ward and the rest should be teachers and priests.”
Bishops were asked to review the young men in their wards and select them based on musical ability and their desire and willingness to participate.
“All of these young men were extended an official call from their bishops to sing in the choir,” Favero said, adding that attendance, dress, grooming (including “fresh missionary haircuts” and being “cleanshaven”) and behavioral standards were clearly identified.
In addition to the young men, about 50 adult leaders and numerous parents have been significantly involved in providing transportation to and from rehearsals and helping with choir logistics. Some have helped with music, while others have helped with tracking attendance and working with the boys on those suits, ties and haircuts. And during the two-hour rehearsals, a number of adult leaders walk among the choir members, tapping them on the shoulder to get their attention when they are not participating as they should.
“Keeping 360 Aaronic Priesthood boys on task has been by far the biggest challenge of this assignment,” DeHaan said, “but I think we are making progress!”
That progress is apparent in the powerful, compelling sounds that come from the choir during the rehearsal — not constantly, at this point, but often enough that DeHaan is satisfied. And the young men seem to genuinely enjoy what they are experiencing — and feeling.
“I’m not really musical,” said Ethan Knapp, a priest in the Murray 25th Ward. “But I’m learning a little more about music, and today I really felt the spirit while we were singing. So it’s good.”
“This has been awesome,” said Cole Fetzer, a priest in the Murray 3rd Ward. “I’ve never really done anything like this before. But there’s a powerful feeling when we’re all singing together, and we’re singing songs that testify of Christ.”
“You can really feel the spirit,” William Lechtenberg, a priest in the Murray Parkview Ward, added. “It’s a powerful feeling.”
“I’m not really a choir guy,” said Daniel Powell, a priest in the Murray 12th Ward. “But I feel like we’re setting a standard to show that kids our age can show up and really do something.”
One of the young men showing up and really doing something is Isaac Kendell, a gifted musician who, at age 16, is the choir’s rehearsal accompanist. Playing the stake center organ with confidence and grace, he negotiates the demanding music with such skill that at one point during the rehearsal, DeHaan turns to him and says, “Isaac, we love you! You rock!”
But Issac’s service in the choir will end the day the choir moves to the Conference Center for its final rehearsal and performance. At that point, Tabernacle Choir organists will take over. Still, he faithfully practices the accompaniment and participates fully in every rehearsal even though he knows he won’t be at the organ when the choir performs during the priesthood session on Oct. 5.
“Yeah, I know,” Isaac said when asked about the inherent limitations of his assignment. “But it’s worth it to me. I still get to learn this music, and I still get to feel the Spirit during rehearsals. And when I hear them sing at priesthood meeting, I’ll know I was part of that.”
Part of the music. Part of the Spirit. And part of general conference.
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