Youth Music Festival a spiritual ‘recharge’ for youth worldwide amid COVID-19

McKenna Hixson closed Wednesday night’s Youth Music Festival with a song carrying a powerful and timely message for youth worldwide: “Strong.”

“I just hope that they are able to feel the strength that the lyrics give, that they will be able to know that they’re not alone in whatever they’re going through,” said Hixson, 21, in an interview with the Church News prior to the virtual global concert. 

“Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are always there for us, and they’re walking with us side by side.”

Hixson, who co-wrote “Strong” from the 2020 Youth Album, is known by many for singing the 2018 youth theme song “Peace in Christ.” A student at Brigham Young University studying musical theatre, Hixson has been singing and performing since age 6.

She is one of many youth artists who had the opportunity to share testimony through music during the first-ever Youth Music Festival that was streamed live in 11 languages on July 29. David Archuleta, Yahosh and Oba Bonner, Nicole Luz, and other artists around the world also participated.

‘Hear Him’

The theme of the pre-recorded event was “Hear the voice of the Lord.” In a joint message with his wife, Elder Ulisses Soares testified of the blessings that come from following President Russell M. Nelson’s invitation to “hear Him.”

“My young friends, what a fantastic time to be alive. In a world where uncertainty abounds, we can find hope and confidence when we look to our Savior Jesus Christ. … I promise you that you will continue to hear His voice as you strive to live His gospel and treasure in your heart the words of the Prophets, both ancient and modern,” Elder Soares said. 

Elder Ulisses Soares and his wife, Sister Rosana Soares, speak to youth worldwide during the Youth Music Festival on July 29, 2020.
Elder Ulisses Soares and his wife, Sister Rosana Soares, speak to youth worldwide during the Youth Music Festival on July 29, 2020. Credit: Screenshot ChurchofJesusChrist.org

Sister Rosana Soares added, “The Spirit speaks to each of us differently, but the Lord’s peace and love is for you, no matter your circumstances.”

With the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and uncertainty many youth may be facing, Elder Soares told the Church News he wants youth to know they have the abilities, talents, gifts and potential to overcome any challenges in life.

“The Lord has chosen them to be on earth at this time,” he said. “God trusts them and is very confident that through facing the challenges of these days, they will become stronger because of them and learn lessons that will bless them in their future.”

Young Men General President Steven J. Lund and Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon also spoke during the event and highlighted President Nelson’s promised blessings from heeding the Lord’s voice and the power of music. 

“He promised each of us if we would take time to hear and heed the Lord’s voice, we would be blessed with power to deal with temptations, struggles and weaknesses,” said President Cordon. 

Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon and Young Men General President Steven J. Lund film a segment for the virtual Youth Music Festival. Part of the event was filmed at the Conference Center Theatre in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 8, 2020.
Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon and Young Men General President Steven J. Lund film a segment for the virtual Youth Music Festival. Part of the event was filmed at the Conference Center Theatre in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, July 8, 2020. Credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News

President Lund said, “President Nelson also promised that we would see miracles in our relationships and daily work and feel joy even during hard times. Well, we’re going through some hard times right now, and we need to claim those promised blessings from our Prophet.”

One of the most powerful ways to hear the Lord’s voice is through music, President Cordon told the youth audience. “It invites the Spirit, and it tunes our heart to hear Him. The scriptures tell us repeatedly, ‘the Lord delights in song’ and encourages us to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”

Musical performances

Logan Shelton, 28, a former member of BYU Vocal Point, opened the concert singing a rendition of the hymn “Praise to the Lord.”

Shelton told the Church News he hoped the song would set a tone focused on the Savior. “With everything going on in the world, I think it’ll be a good thing because music is so uplifting,” he said. 

Video clips played from President Nelson’s worldwide devotional to the youth in June 2018, including his statements “You are among the best the Lord has ever sent to this world” and “You are the hope of Israel.”

President Lund and President Cordon then introduced a new music video for “Good Day,” performed by Liahona Olayan with videos of youth dancing and acting out the lyrics.

Other music videos shown during the event included Pierina Nieto from Peru singing “Luz del Mundo” (“Light of the World”) in Spanish; Yossandy Abreu and Ysaac Martinez singing “What Does He Think” in Spanish with ballerina Julliette Martinez in the Dominican Republic; and Nicole Luz from Brazil singing “Beautiful Savior” in Portuguese.

On the Conference Center Theater stage in Salt Lake City, Aaliyah Rose sang “Like Him,” and Yahosh Bonner and his younger brother Oba Bonner sang “Peace in Christ,” with Nik Day on the piano and Brady Bills on guitar. 

Yahosh Bonner, 35, from Spanish Fork, Utah, was the host for the Youth Music Festival. In an interview before the event, he said, “I hope this gives youth a recharge to be able to get through whatever, whether it’s loneliness or depression or not being able to physically connect with their friends at school — just to know that it’s going to be a brighter day.”

Drawing from the lyrics of the song he performed, he added, “Regardless of what’s happening in your life, you can find peace in Christ.”

Testimonies

Youth around the world submitted videos sharing their testimonies and experiences hearing the Lord’s voice. Youth spoke in Amharic, Cambodian, French, Malagasy, Italian, Portuguese, Setswana, Spanish, Thai, Zulu and Xhosa.

“How I hear Him is reading the Book of Mormon every day and praying with my family before going to bed at night,” said 12-year-old Koim Theanuth from Cambodia. 

David Archuleta spoke in a pre-recorded video about his experience singing the 2020 youth theme song “Go and Do.”

“I realized that I don’t have to be Nephi to be able to follow God,” Archuleta told the youth. “I can ‘go and do’ the way that David would. Nephi didn’t always know how he was going to follow God, but that’s where we just trust, believe in God, believe that He exists, and ‘go and do.’”

The event closed with a virtual performance of “Go and Do” featuring videos of youth around the world singing in multiple languages.

A video of the Youth Music Festival is now archived in the Gospel Library app and ChurchofJesusChrist.org. More songs and messages from Church leaders are also available in the Gospel Library app and on the Youth Music Festival 2020 playlist on YouTube.com/Strivetobe.