LDS cadet choir sings praises to God, country

Singing hymns of faith and anthems of patriotism, the LDS Cadet Choir - one of five officially accepted choirs at the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colo. - performed in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square Feb. 13.

Earlier, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve visited with choir members at a rehearsal on Temple Square.Forty-seven of the choir's 70 members traveled to Salt Lake City by bus for the special performance. All choir members are students at the academy and participate in the Colorado Springs LDS Institute of Religion. Four of the singers who traveled to Salt Lake City are not members of the Church; several others who are not LDS sing with the choir. About half the choir members are returned missionaries.

The only person with the choir who is not affiliated with the Air Force Academy is its director, Chris Brady, a former bishop and a dentist, who volunteers his time to rehearse with the singers at least once a week. Brother Brady pays his own expenses when the group travels.

John W. Hasler, director of the Colorado Springs Institute of Religion, said that the choir began performing in May 1997. The choir was organized at the suggestion of the academy's head chaplain, Col. Robert Gilman. "He visited an institute class a couple of years ago and heard 80 to 90 cadets singing in the most incredible manner," Brother Hasler said. "He came to me later and said, `You need to form a choir.' "

Brother Hasler said that each of the five choirs at the academy has its own distinctive style and blend of music, from a predominantly African-American choir that focuses on spirituals to groups that perform popular-style Christian selections. The LDS Cadet Choir concentrates on "grassroots" hymns and patriotic renderings.

The concert in the Assembly Hall was a sample of a typical performance, featuring hymns and anthems, interspersed with brief messages from choir members. Some messages related trust in and reliance upon the Lord during the rigors of cadet life. One told of finding his way back home after becoming lost in the mountains during an exercise. Another spoke of overcoming her fear before jumping out of an airplane for the first time.

Brother Hasler described the LDS Cadet Choir members as "remarkable." He said, "If you could see their schedules, you wouldn't believe what they do. They have extremely heavy class loads and rigorous demands placed upon them. They have, perhaps, an hour a week to practice with the choir."

The choir, he said, is open to anyone affiliated with the institute who wants to sing.

He credits part of the success of the LDS Cadet Choir to Maj. Steven Merrill, the first LDS chaplain to serve at the academy. He said that Maj. Merrill has helped with many of the logistics of "putting the choir on the road." He rode the bus from Colorado Springs to Salt Lake City, along with the officer in charge.

The LDS Cadet Choir is scheduled to perform at a satellite broadcast of a Church Educational System Fireside originating in the Air Force Academy's famed chapel on May 3.

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