CALGARY, ALBERTA, CANADA
Hymns of praise, thanksgiving and testimony provided spiritual and edifying accents to the Calgary Alberta Temple dedication Oct. 28. From the first notes of “Arise, O Glorious Zion” to the final chord of “The Hosanna Anthem,” music was interwoven throughout the three dedicatory sessions. The hymns literally brought tears to many eyes — tears of gratitude, tears of awe and tears of humility.
Four choirs provided music for the three dedicatory sessions: a choir of young single adults sang outside the temple as they stood near the cornerstone where President Thomas S. Monson presided over its symbolic sealing and three choirs took turns singing in the celestial room.
Janis Kershaw was given the responsibility to oversee the four choirs that performed at the dedication. She and others on the temple music committee selected 60 members — 20 for each choir — that sang in the celestial room and 58 who comprised the young single adult choir.
“I felt very strongly that certain members needed to be in the choir,” she said. “The Lord knows us all and is aware of the experiences we need. This has been a blessing in my life.”
Many choir members said they felt that “voices of angels” joined them, that they sang beyond their capabilities. This was the case especially for the young single adult choir. One of its members, Ashley Johnson, 27, died suddenly. She had been in good health, going about her daily activities and loving her time at practices with fellow choir members. Her funeral was on Tuesday, Oct. 23, just days before the temple’s dedication. “Her choir” sang at her funeral.
Her parents, Wayne and Jocelyn Johnson, met with the choir on Friday evening as they assembled in the temple prior to rehearsing outside. “Ashley loved to sing,” Brother Johnson said. “She wanted me to tell all her friends goodbye and that she loved you, and to sing your hearts out.”
On Sunday morning, a space was left vacant – Ashley’s place — as the choir sang at the temple’s cornerstone. Several choir members said they felt she was there. When Michael Cutler, the director, was asked to confirm the number of choir members, he said, “There were 58, including myself; 59, including Ashley, who was here in spirit.”
Rebecca Sherwood said she was honored to join her voice with 19 other members of the choir in the celestial room and those of “many other unseen voices … who were there. I am unable to describe the spirit felt as I was singing and listening to our prophet, but the feeling has been ingrained into my soul.”
Bruce Hall said, “This experience has given me a glimpse into how it must feel to sing with the heavenly hosts in praise to the Lord our God.”
Janielee Williamson said, “I have learned that when we take the time to see and hear and feel the Spirit in our lives the Lord teaches us. Through singing in this choir, I have tasted Zion; together we have been of one heart and of one voice, totally stretching for perfect unity.”
Mardene Francis, who has made singing her career, said she was concerned that her voice was “so big it doesn’t fit into small groups.” She was surprised and honored when she was accepted as a choir member. “I have sung opera, oratorio, musical theatre and much more, but nothing has touched my heart as much as this experience,” she said.
Megan Comin found comfort and reassurance as she prepared to sing with one of the choirs. “Two weeks ago we found out that our daughter (Caroline, age 9) is rapidly losing her eyesight. It was a complete shock and devastating news to us. That night, I went into the choir rehearsal feeling broken and overwhelmed. As we started to practice the hymn ‘Arise, O Glorious Zion,’ the words of the third verse really hit home in my heart as it talks about walking the narrow road with patient, firm endurance while we go through painful tribulation. Then, I wept as I could feel the arms of my Savior come around me as we sang the ‘Hosanna Anthem.’ I knew that the Savior loves my family and my little girl and He knows what she is going through and there is a reason for it. Being in the choir has helped heal my spirit when I needed it most and for that I will be eternally grateful.”
Members of the choirs spoke of miracles. Karen Baker, who directed one of the choirs, said, “As we began to prepare, miracles started to happen. There were miracles at the auditions … one brother, undergoing radiation treatments, sang with the voice of an angel even though his mouth and throat were full of sores. One family, who have been trying to adopt a baby, brought their new son home from the hospital on the night of our last rehearsal. Hearts of family members were touched and softened. We have struggled with work schedules and health issues. Time after time, the blessings were very evident as we received the miracles we needed.”
Sister Kershaw said that on Saturday morning all the choirs took turns rehearsing in the celestial room. After the third group had finished, the organ’s technician was there “to fix a couple of little things.” However, the power to the organ went out.
“For over a half an hour we just prayed. [Tthe technician] is not a member of the Church but knew of the importance to us to have the organ working. … He flipped the switch and there was power; we knew that there had been a miracle. When I asked the technician what he had done, he replied, ‘Nothing. It just worked.’ We had to turn it off as it had an auto-off switch anyway, and then we couldn’t turn it back on again. Because it had turned on before the technician knew it wasn’t the organ but a power disruption somewhere in the organ. After about an hour he found the circuit board with the problem, took it home, did some micro-soldering and replaced the board; he bypassed the auto-off and the organ remained on until after the dedication. Emails went out to all the choirs to have them pray for our organ. Miracles still do happen!”