Making a 'joyful noise' for a quarter-century

Over the quarter-century the Mormon Youth Symphony and Chorus has been making music, the arrangement has evolved, but the melody has remained the same - a "joyful noise" carrying the good news of the gospel.

It has been 25 years since since a group of young instrumentalists and vocalists was assembled in Salt Lake City, a "temporary" endeavor to make a library of recordings to supplement the Sunday evening radio sermons of Elder Sterling W. Sill. The results were so satisfactory, the group became a permanent institution that has brought credit to the Church through numerous concerts and appearances, television and radio programs and commercial recordings.(For a brief sketch of its origin and history, please see "Youth symphony and chorus look back on `modest dream,' " Dec. 9, 1989, Church News.)

Plans are being solidified for observing the 25th anniversary, according to G. Robert Ruff, president. Events will be announced in the Church News and elsewhere.

"We will have some major concerts," he said. "For one thing, we will have a special night in which we invite all the alumni of both the orchestra and chorus to come back. We'll probably do it in the Salt Lake Tabernacle. Whether it will be open to the public or not is under discussion, but it will be a great evening for all of the ones who have performed with the group in the past."

If most of them show up, it will be a formidable congregation. Chorus members are released at age 30. Symphony members are sometimes older than that, but the average age for both groups, Pres. Ruff said, is 25. Thus, former members probably number around 3,000, he estimated.

Though the Mormon Youth organization has far exceeded what was originally contemplated, the purpose has always been to further the missionary effort.

"There is no reason, in my mind, for this group to exist, if it weren't to be a missionary tool for the Church," said Robert C. Bowden, director of the symphony and chorus since 1974.

To that end, Mormon Youth reaches out to the public both in its repertoire and its presentation.

"I think some of our most satisfying experiences are the mini-concerts in the Tabernacle that we have on Tuesday and Wednesday of most weeks," Pres. Ruff said. "About 8 o'clock each night, Bob Bowden stops the regular rehearsal, and he will conduct a little concert for 15 or 20 minutes with special numbers selected just for the audience. In the summer we have several hundred people there. If we know ahead of time that a group is coming from, say, Germany or France, we will program the music to suit the tastes of the particular group."

Pres. Ruff does what he calls "exit interviews," asking people about the experience, sometimes making use of his "polyglot" capability to make himself understood in various languages. Virtually always, the responses are favorable: "Wunderbar!" "Molto benissimo!" "Fantastico!"

He never asks for missionary referrals, although they sometimes come. The goal, he said, is to plant a favorable impression of the Church and its members in the minds of people who may one day be contacted by missionaries.

To achieve that, director Bowden strives to make the music palatable to a wide audience. A typical Mormon Youth concert might include "How Great Thou Art" or Gounod's "Sanctus," but may also include lighter fare: movie themes such as "Magnificent Seven" or "Star Wars."

At the Feb. 19 concert, for example, the symphony and chorus performed "Storm Clouds" by Arthur Benjamin, the symphonic piece crucial to a suspenseful scene in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, "The Man Who Knew Too Much." Brother Bowden obtained the score through contacts in Hollywood, carefully cultivated over the years.

With such a sacred-light repertoire mix, the young musicians continue to make friends for the Church while the Kingdom rolls forth.

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