There is something about a shared faith that binds Church members together, erases borders and makes them immediate friends, even family. The language of music is the language of the Spirit, which also binds hearts together. On July 9th, the Utah Valley Children’s Choir boarded their tour buses in Spanish Fork with high hopes and a song in their hearts. In fact, hearts filled with songs bound for British Columbia, Canada. “Our purpose is to share sacred music wherever we go,” they state. And they were going to Canada. Not for the first time either. The Choir has traveled every year for the last 30 years and has visited other US states and foreign places such as Great Britain, Mexico and Canada to bear witness of Christ through music. The official Utah Valley Children’s Choir mission states: “We are a private music academy whose mission is to 'Sing for the Lord' using sacred religious music to teach spiritual values and improve singing skills.”
Under the direction of Suanne Bowcut, daughter of choir founder Beverly M. Thomas, and Ryan Eggett and assisted by Suanne’s husband Carl, the 170-member concert choir practises weekly and prepares for the tour by earning funds to support their expenses. They also rely on the open hearts of Church members in the cities that they visit. Members in Abbotsford, Surrey and Victoria British Columbia Stakes responded to the call and embraced the 8 to 18-year-old singers by opening their homes to boys and girls for two nights each. Many of the BC host families expressed immediate bonding with their visitors and while they greatly enjoyed the inspirational music, they treasured most the time spent with their new friends. It’s a great trust to send children into the homes of strangers, but with the discretion of Bishops, the Spirit, our shared faith and values, it works out well.
Their first stop was the Abbotsford Stake where the Choir offered a rare, but valuable experience for local ward organists and choir directors by hosting a free organ and conducting workshop. The workshop featured experienced and respected choir conductors Eggett, Bowcut and world renowned organist Don Cook, currently Professor of Organ Performance at Brigham Young University and the choir's talented, longtime accompanist, Jodi King of Lindon, Utah. The Choir took in some of the local outdoor activities enjoying an invigorating dip in the lake at Cultus Lake Provincial Park before their Saturday evening concert in the Abbotsford stake centre.
Jamie-Stacy Vermeeren, Abbotsford Stake host coordinator, commented on her experience: “I can’t say enough good about the choir visit. Thank you all for coming to Abbotsford! We enjoyed your performance very much. It was a definite spiritual lift. I have had several host families come to me and say, ‘Thank you for giving me the boys/girls you assigned to our home, they were the best.’ Of course they were wrong, ours were the best. What I think it boils down to is that the entire choir is full of kind, respectful, loving and faithful youth! Thank you for sharing them with us.”
After their stay in Abbotsford, the choir met their host families in Surrey Stake. There came an immediate bonding. “We had a great time talking and playing games well into the night with the boys that stayed with us,” said Tracy Teizeira, wife of Bishop Carlos Teizeira of the Delta Ward. “They were so much fun; I wish we could just keep them forever.” First counselor, Dave Walton felt the same about the boys that stayed with them. “We talked and played games and even took them out back and blew giant bubbles with them and they laughed just like my grandkids.”
The same sentiment existed in the members of the Choir. A good meal and clean bed made a welcome relief for the weary travelers. The choir had the opportunity to attend Church services with members of the Surrey Stake prior to their Sunday evening concert. It boosted not just the numbers, but the strength of the members at each of the meetings. The ward congregations became extensions of the choir during the worship services.
Missionaries invited investigators to the performance that featured testimonies in word, picture and music about the prophet Joseph Smith and the gospel plan of Salvation. “Our investigators loved it,” said Elder Hall, a missionary serving in the Canada Vancouver Mission who happens to hail from the Choir’s home base in Spanish Fork, Utah. “The performance of the Utah Valley Children’s Choir was an incredible experience. The spirit was so strong. It inspired me and our investigators; in fact, one remarked that he felt ‘warm’ and ‘good’ after the performance. He has no Christian background, yet he felt the warmth of the songs about our Saviour. I gained a better appreciation for the power of hymns.” Elder Kelly, also originally from Utah but now serving in the Delta Ward remarked, “The choir was absolutely amazing. The spirit of their music was tangible, very real. It was an excellent opportunity for our investigator there to feel the spirit. We as missionaries and members seldom get to convey the appropriate feelings, emotion and spirit felt while listening to hymns and songs praising our Heavenly Father.”
The visual images that accompany the music don’t just look nice, they reinforce the message, engaging one more of the senses we use for understanding. Elder Nelson from Nevada, now also serving in Delta said, “During the concert, I got the opportunity to teach our investigator about the law of tithing after he saw some of the images of the temples and church buildings and wondered how the Church was funded. It prompted other questions and answers as well. The Spirit was so strong that it literally sucked us in.”
“The strong testimonies of these young men and women deeply impressed me as they sang.” Elder Maloy of Tooele, Utah said. “As they sang with their whole souls, ours were touched. It was an enriching experience for members and nonmembers alike. It’s nice when missionaries can bring investigators to these kinds of things and rest assured that they will feel the presence of the Spirit.”
On Monday morning, Surrey hosts relinquished their new friends to the ferry bound for Victoria. “The choir had a great ferry ride, complete with an impromptu concert on the top deck!” Zak Nyberg, father of a choir member exclaimed. Once on Vancouver Island, the choir performed at some prominent Victoria sites, including Christ Church Cathedral. “The concert in this Anglican cathedral was fantastic! The acoustics were amazing, and the clergy and caretakers were very accommodating. What a beautiful and sacred place to perform,” Zak said. “The choir also performed a great flash mob on the pier in downtown Victoria.” The tour concert in Victoria thrilled and inspired the audience.
As part of the final segment of the concerts, the choir members walk into the congregation and surround the entire area with song. This intermingling of participants gives each person an intimate moment to see, feel and hear the strength and testimony of each singer and allows the Spirit to witness the truthfulness of the messages. It would come as no surprise if some of these same choir members return to Canada, maybe even British Columbia, in a few years as missionaries of the Church to act on these testimonies.
The Choir’s sentiment and the feelings of the Canadian stakes can be summed up in one father’s statement. “The tour was awesome! It was a great experience for all.”
After all, there are no borders to faith and harmony.