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Dan Lund, for the Deseret Morning News
Choir director Masa Fukuda works with his choir, which won the John Lennon-Yoko Ono International Dream Power music contest in Japan.

OREM — This story of the power of dreams begins with Masa Fukuda's 91-year-old grandmother, who was shopping in an Osaka, Japan, grocery store and saw a flyer with John Lennon's picture on it. She took it home to her son.

Isn't this a big guy? she asked. Wouldn't Masa be interested? The flyer was about the John Lennon-Yoko Ono International Dream Power music competition.

At his grandmother's urging, Masa Fukuda — who had come to Brigham Young University to study music and is still living and working on his music here — submitted a CD with a couple of songs on it.

Imagine his surprise when he heard that his Christmas song, "Innocence of Youth," was a finalist in the competition. The Dream Power people wanted him and the lead singer on the song, Jay Williams, and the children's choir (12 singers ranging in age from 4-14), and the choir's director Gael Shults, to come to Japan and perform the number in the competition.

"We had nine days to pull it off," said Shults. "We had to pay our own way. We did some fast fund-raising, got some fast passports. It was really a miracle that we got there."

Imagine their delight, however, when they saw their song take the competition's grand prize. (The contest was held in September and Fukuda and friends beat out five other finalists.)

"We were screaming, and hugging each other. It was really cool," said Jamie Hemingway, 13, who sang with the choir.

"We're still finding out just how big it is," said Shults. For one thing, they performed in front of 6,000 media and music-industry professionals, and will be part of a national television broadcast in October. And their song will be released as a single in Japan, with an English version and a karaoke track, and possibly a version done in Japanese.

"And we had just signed that song with a publisher in L.A.," said Jeannine Lasky, who wrote the lyrics, and also went with the group to Japan. "They are now including it on a compilation CD. So great things are happening on both continents."

It was not a choir competition, explains Fukuda. "It was a pop/rock competition." There were two divisions, one for original compositions and one for covers of other songs. Other finalists all came from Japan.

"I think the children won it for us," said Shults. "Yoko Ono was very taken with the children. She's very involved with children's charities." In fact, proceeds from the festival, which included a rock concert with Japan's leading rock stars, go to fund Ono's work building schools in Africa and Asia.

The group got to meet with Ono, which, truth be told, impressed the older members of the group more than the younger ones. "She was very gracious," said Shults. "I was teenagish when all that (Beatles) stuff happened. But she has a lot of dignity packed into a teeny little body."

"She doesn't look 60," adds Williams. "But she was very motivating, very inspiring. It's good to know that someone with that kind of money and power will do so much good with what she has. It's good to know that all rich people are not stuck up, that all famous people are not greedy."

But as exciting as all the events surrounding the competition were, the youngsters came home from their eight-day dream trip to Japan forever changed, said Shults. "It was a human-bonding experience, extremely enriching, mind-stretching."

The Fukuda family had arranged for them to stay with Japanese families in their neighborhood. Most of them didn't speak Japanese, and most of the Japanese hosts didn't speak English. "But at the end, they became such good friends they were in tears when they had to say goodbye," said Fukuda.

There were some cultural challenges. "My favorite thing was squid Jell-O," said Lexi Brown, 11. "But I didn't eat any." Eamonn Shults, 7, was glad that he got to go to Kentucky Fried Chicken, but his brother Willie, 11, "learned that I liked seafood." "I do not like fish," added Alyse Crandall, 12, emphatically, "but I ate one big shrimp, and I liked it!"

The kids got to attend the big rock concert, and they loved it. "People were going crazy," said Shawn Fifita, 12. "We got to jump and scream."

They also enjoyed seeing the country. "I liked going to Hiroshima," said Hemingway. "The island was so beautiful. It was sad from an American's point of view, though. It makes you not want to drop any more bombs."

The children are part of the larger Studio A Children's Choir, which has about 130 members in all, and which has a lot of diversity, said Shults. Fukuda brings an Asian background; Shults and her husband played Celtic music for years; and they have a lot of ethnic groups represented in the choir, which does both studio work and performances.

They participated in the 2002 Winter Games, have worked with local musicians Sam Cardon and Steven Kapp Perry, and with a producer from Nashville. "The children are all here because of their passion for singing," said Shults. "We have auditions for studio work, but anyone who wants to sing can join the choir. We're not in it for the money. It's a labor of love." (Studio A meets at Heritage Music in Orem; 801-756-5566).

When Fukuda first started writing and producing music, he said, people told him it would be too hard to work with children. "But I love to hear them sing. They sing with their whole hearts."

Winning this award, he said, "means a feeling of acceptance, a feeling the world needs this kind of song." And that's the power of his own dream. "As a composer, my goal is to fill the world with uplifting music."


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