Youth revel while ringing in new year

Quality entertainment by popular LDS musicians lead youth in 'First Night'

The Salt Lake Tabernacle, filled mostly with youth of the Church, was very much alive one more time on New Year's Eve before its scheduled closing for seismic upgrading and renovation this year.

Quality entertainment by popular LDS musicians gave the youth an appropriate celebration leading up to the New Year at the "First Night Youth Concert."

The 2 1/2-hour program led the audience on a fast-paced journey alternately through cheers and laughter, and the quiet reverence of faith and testimony, ending in time for everyone to get outside to ring in the New Year at midnight.

Taking the stage to introduce the evening to the youth were a pair of their peers — co-emcees Hillary Dodd and Aaron James Karr. Hillary introduced herself as a Beehive from the Lundstrom Park 2nd Ward, Logan Utah East Stake. Aaron announced he is a priest in the Rose Park Center Ward, Salt Lake Rose Park Stake. The two might not have been as well known as other artists on the program, but they demonstrated ample vocal talent, especially side-by-side singing the finale, "These Are the Days," backed up by the rest of the evening's cast.

They both said they enjoyed the opportunity. "I'm so glad I got to do it," said Hillary, who also held her own singing a duet with Cherie Call, a featured singer on the program.

Early in the show, the audience was welcomed by Young Women General President Susan W. Tanner and Young Men General President Charles W. Dahlquist. Side by side, the leaders spoke of some of the activities of youth around the world throughout the year. Brother Dahlquist introduced "A Great and Marvelous Work" as not only the theme for the concert, but as the 2005 "worldwide mutual theme for all Young Men and Young Women."

They spoke of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith coming up in December and the 175th anniversary of the organization of the Church in April. They reminded the youth that, though they are young, as Joseph Smith was when he experienced the First Vision, they are important to the growth of the gospel.

"We love you," Sister Tanner said. "We trust you."

"We believe in you," Brother Dahlquist said. "We pray for you," Sister Tanner said, then adding her testimony.

The presidents also took part at other times during the program.

Brother Dahlquist introduced special guest Kasey McCallister, an 18-year-old young man who lost his legs in an accident when he was 6 years old but has accomplished a great deal in spite of it. Kasey, who was on the cover of the June 2004 New Era , coasted onto the stage in his wheelchair and wowed the audience with a series of tricks including wheelies and handstands. Leaving his chair, he demonstrated the mobility that has enabled him to complete a 50-mile hike on his hands and finish second in the Oregon state high school wrestling championships while attending McNary High School.

Now a student at the University of Arizona, he took some time to answer questions from Brother Dahlquist. He talked about his future goals of getting married and having a family. Then he bore his testimony to the youth who were listening with rapt attention.

Later, Sister Tanner returned to the stage to introduce a video of a TV news segment featuring Young Women of the Harris 1st Ward, Mesa Arizona Central Stake, who had successfully petitioned local department stores to stock more modest clothing for girls. Their story was the subject of an article in the May 2004 New Era. After the video, Sister Tanner introduced the ward's Young Women president, DeLynn Bodine, and Bishop Dale K. Robinson who were at the concert.

Music presented by Jon Schmidt, Voice Male, Providence, Jessie Clark, Cherie Call, Colors, and Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band was greeted enthusiastically by the audience. It was spiced up by a spectrum of color splashed on the geometric stage backdrop in front of the famous Tabernacle organ pipes as well as on the building's white-domed ceiling.

Brother Schmidt startled the audience by asking if there was anyone who could do an improv on a standard blues riff in the key of C. One brave young man, Spencer, marched onto the stage, sat at the piano and masterfully played his part of a duet. As the audience cheered at the end of the piece, Brother Schmidt admitted that Spencer is his son.

Though they received loud ovations for their music, some of the performers also brought reverence to the audience as they shared spiritual experiences and bore their testimonies.

Before the finale, Hillary told her peers, "These are our days to make a difference," to which Aaron added, "Let's go to it!"

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