“Go try out for the choir.”
The unexpected phone call came the first day of the semester. My friend knew I had wanted to audition for one of the choirs that would end up singing in General Conference later that year. She also knew I didn’t have the money to spend on a choir dress.
A check came in the mail a couple of days later.
Because of her kindness and generosity, I had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of singing in General Conference. I cannot hear Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of “Redeemer of Israel” without remembering that day. I can’t read Mosiah 15 or Isaiah 52 or other scriptures without remembering another song we sang.
I will never forget having the prophet of God look back at us and raise his fist in the air in a gesture of “Keep on going! Keep the faith!” My testimony of a living prophet was strengthened that day.
My dad had the opportunity to sing in General Conference last year. He wrote the following about his experience. (Don’t let his self-deprecating words fool you; he has a beautiful voice.)
About 45 years ago, when I was an 18-year-old San Diego boy attending BYU, I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sing in the Tabernacle during General Conference. The University Chorale was an everybody-else choir, but following our performance the director shared that he had never led a better choir… we were certain that angels had joined us. Indeed, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience because the proceedings now emanate from the Conference Center.
However, a few months ago a once-in-the-rest-of-my-lifetime opportunity unfolded. Eight stakes were asked to sing at the Saturday afternoon session of the October 2009 General Conference. The rigorous, mandatory rehearsal schedule required some invited singers to drop out of the “combined ward choir.” As a second choice, our stake president asked me, among others, to fill in. I jumped at the opportunity, as I never thought I would be able to sing at General Conference again. Practices were indeed rigorous and time-consuming. I commented after the first rehearsal, though, that I would be willing to do this, even if I couldn’t sing at Conference, just for the spiritual experience of raising my voice with 340 others in gorgeous arrangements of moving hymns bouncing off the walls of our stake center chapel and overflow. Michael Huff, the conductor and arranger, required and brought out the best we had to offer to the Lord in this sacred responsibility. Many millions would be watching and listening, some of whom might be touched by the spirit of the music, especially if we would add our sincere spirits to the effort.
Just before our final warm-up and rehearsal in the small theater of the Conference Center, I was privileged to share a short devotional thought. “I know that my Redeemer lives” was the testimony I shared to start (which was also the title of one of our numbers). Quoting Alma 34:15-16, I felt strongly that we had an opportunity to individually, as well as collectively, touch the souls of certain of God’s children watching and listening. We could represent the Living Christ and reach out with figurative open arms and have them feel that, truly, His mercy “encircles them in the arms of safety.” We could invite them to exercise a renewed or new-found “faith unto repentance” which could bring “about the great and eternal plan of redemption” in their lives. (It was heart-warming to then hear Elder Neil Anderson testify of the same things in our session.) We would need to put our whole heart and soul into our probable “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity as we bore witness through music that afternoon.
It was thrilling to sit in the choir loft of the Conference Center and look over the congregation, 21,000 strong, knowing also that the air waves would carry the messages through song and word to many millions more. I do believe, however, that the miracles of communication that we mortals marvel at today are just a minute part of the real, not-understood miracles that are enacted constantly through the communication of and by the Spirit of God. Such communication happened that afternoon as part of another marvelous General Conference session. I was humbled, honored, and touched by being a small tool in that process.
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Listen to the music sung by the choir my dad was in: