Singing elders took Korea by storm

Quality musical performances gave Church positive exposure

One of the first concerns of new Korea Seoul Mission President Eugene P. Till when he began service in 1974 was raising awareness of the Church among the people. A survey he conducted after arriving showed that only 7 percent of Koreans knew anything about the Church.

New Horizons reunion tour of Korea, 11/08.
New Horizons reunion tour of Korea, 11/08. Credit: Photo by David Peck

The best way to reach the greatest number of people was through music, President Till decided. The result was New Horizons, a missionary musical group that evolved from an interview with Elder Randy Davenport, a guitar-playing composer of good folk music.

The group became a hit in Korea, contributing to a survey President Till did at the end of his three-year mission showing 70 percent of Koreans were aware of the Church.

President Till and two members of New Horizons — Philip Munoa and Robert Bunce — reminisced during a Church News interview about the group’s missionary experiences as well as a reunion tour they recently enjoyed.

Although he had an abundance of musically talented missionaries to choose from to fill the group, that wasn’t his primary criteria, President Till said.

“The intent from the very beginning was not to call in the most musically talented elders,” he said. “I interviewed for the spirit. . . . Those who were the most tender hearted and loving and kind and humble and had the spirit of Heavenly Father with them were the ones who were called.”

New Horizons missionary musical group in Korea.
New Horizons missionary musical group in Korea. Credit: Photo by Duane Mckay

Joining Elder Davenport in the original group was a young, talented composer and arranger, Elder Mack Wilberg, along with Elders Lonnie Gunter, Brook Richan and Clyde Robins.

The group’s popularity took off as they sang Church music, folk songs and uplifting pop music in Korean. They appeared on television and radio and even had a song make the pop charts. New Horizons was equally popular singing in English on U.S. military bases.

An added attraction at New Horizons concerts was the Tender Apples, a singing group of talented Korean girls up to age 14 from a children’s home. Money raised from four albums — two vinyl and two cassette tapes — produced by the combined groups went to support the home.

New Horizons boosted the missionary work by bringing positive exposure to the Church. Other missionaries would be at concerts to answer questions, pass out tracts and speak to fans.

New Horizons missionary musical group in Korea.
New Horizons missionary musical group in Korea. Credit: Photos by Duane Mckay

Brother Munoa and Brother Bunce said the group would often set up in courtyards among apartment complexes, stringing cords into apartments to borrow electricity for equipment. As they performed, large crowds gathered and other missionaries mingled with them to share the gospel.

“All of our missionaries felt that they were a part of the whole program and that they participated in helping the little girls’ home,” President Till said.

Brother Till, Brother Munoa and Brother Bunce estimated there were probably about 14 elders who rotated through the group during its existence. When President Till’s service ended, and the group’s purposes had been fulfilled, it faded away.

The magic was rekindled when the original New Horizons members, except Brothers Davenport and Wilberg, were joined by later members Brothers Munoa, Bunce and Gaylon Jones on the reunion tour Oct. 31-Nov. 9. They performed five concerts in Church meetinghouses and did firesides each Sunday.

They were accompanied by Brother Till, their wives, other family members and five of the Tender Apples who now live in the U.S.

New Horizons missionary musical group in Korea.
New Horizons missionary musical group in Korea. Credit: Photo by Duane Mckay

Brother Till, Brother Bunce and Brother Munoa said they were enthusiastically received by fans, many who were also fans in the 1970s. Those fans included Elder Yoon Hwan Choi, an Area Seventy and member of the Asia North Area presidency who helped organize the tour, and In Sang Han, a former member of the Seventy.

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