Sundae Mae Indino of the Philippines grew up watching The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square perform on projected screens. It was a dream to hear the choir sing in person.
Indino, who sings first soprano, not only got to hear the Tabernacle Choir sing in person — she also sang with them.
She is one of 10 vocalists from six countries who came to Salt Lake City to sing with the Tabernacle Choir for the April 2023 general conference. They sang April 1-2 in the Saturday morning session and the two Sunday sessions as part of a pilot program to help support the choir’s expanded global mission. It’s the first time singers outside the United States have joined the choir for general conference.
“It was a powerful and indescribable feeling only tears can express,” Indino, of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, shared on social media after general conference.
In addition to Indino, the singers are Alvaro Jorge Martins of Natal, Brazil; Rodrigo Domaredzky of Curitiba, Brazil; Thalita Gonzaga de Carvalho of São Paulo, Brazil; Tubo-Oreriba Joseph Elisha of Accra, Ghana; Jonathan How of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Denisse Elorza Avalos of Tijuana, Mexico; Georgina Montemayor Wong of Monterrey, Mexico; Ronald Baa of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines; and Pei-Shan Chung (Kylie Zhong) of Taipei, Taiwan.
“It’s been like a dream come true for all of us for sure. A dream that we never thought would be possible,” Domaredzky, who sings baritone, said in an interview with the Church News.
De Carvalho, who sings second soprano, noted that while they are from different places and have different backgrounds, they do have many things in common.
“We all believe in Jesus Christ, and we all have a strong testimony of Him,” De Carvalho said.
She added: “We do know that Jesus Christ is our Savior, and this is the best thing that we could do to show our love through music and testify about Jesus Christ.”
“I hope when you return to your country, you will testify of this experience and you will raise a new generation of singers everywhere — all over the world,” Bishop Caussé said to the global participants.
Choir officials worked with leaders in six of the Church’s areas to identify people, Choir President Michael O. Leavitt said in an interview.
The application process mirrored the annual four-stage, months-long application process for those who live within 100 miles of Salt Lake City — they had to demonstrate singing ability and knowledge of musical theory, do a recorded video of musical exercises and virtual auditions reviewed by the conductor and assistant conductor, and also be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in good standing. Additionally, they needed to be able to travel to the United States and demonstrate English proficiency.
For Chung, because of the time difference in Taiwan, her vocal audition ended up at midnight. “I was afraid to wake the neighbors up,” said Chung, who sings first alto. And while it was initially intimidating, the conductor and assistant conductor “were so loving and encouraging.”
For How of Malaysia, who sings second tenor, he had COVID-19 when the auditions were being scheduled and had to postpone his audition.
However, prior to his illness, he had two lessons with a former choirmaster, which “helped me prepare myself and get through the audition.”
Elorza of Mexico, who sings second soprano, said she enjoyed the process. She told herself, “If I’m not asked to the next phase, I just have to be happy to be able to participate.”
After being selected, they were sent music to practice and virtually joined the choir’s rehearsals. They had 11 songs to learn. For Chung, that meant studying the lyrics.
“When I got closer and got more familiar with the lyrics, I feel like those really become like a proclamation and testimony that we are going to share with the whole world. So I’m truly grateful that this time, I can really sing those testimonies.”
Coming to conference
They arrived March 18-20 and spent two weeks rehearsing with the choir, attending Choir School and seeing Temple Square, including the Salt Lake Tabernacle organ, and other sites. The 10 singers had stickers with the flags representing where they were from on their Tabernacle Choir name tags.
“I’ve known the choir, from afar, to have very high standards. So coming in, I wasn’t sure how I would fit in,” Elisha of Ghana, who sings second tenor, said. “The way they do things when you watch the video, everything is perfect — from the conducting to the singing to the videography. Everything is so perfect.
“So, I kept wondering, ‘Can I fit in?’ But when we came, everybody welcomed us with open arms.”
When they toured the Tabernacle, organist Richard Elliott showed them the organ, Domaredzky said, including pointing out where the original pipes were and playing an arrangement of “Come, Come, Ye Saints.”
“And one part of his arrangement, it’s just that particular part of the organ playing … and was a very special moment,” he said.
For Baa of the Philippines, singing “Come, Come, Ye Saints” and hearing the pioneer history of the song was emotional for him. He had challenges with his visa to come to the U.S. and almost gave up. “I remembered the experience of the pioneers,” he said of what helped him to continue.
For Indino, after being set apart for the calling to sing in the choir, “it felt so different because we were empowered by God to do this mission that we’re called.”
The singers have also helped review submissions for the Church’s new hymnbook that were in their native languages, President Leavitt said.
“Having trained musicians with different language skills was helpful to them. And so they used their proficiency and language to just help them identify promising sacred music,” President Leavitt said.
Reviewing the hymns felt like “being a part of history,” Elisha said.
Representing the world
“An important component of this is the sense of belonging that it gives to people in countries outside the United States,” President Leavitt said. “It reflects the global nature of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It reflects the worldwide mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Martins, of Brazil, who sings baritone, said that prior to general conference, he was receiving messages from people around Brazil saying how happy they were to have three Brazilians singing and that they felt represented.
He’s also heard from others in South America too. “This friend of mine wrote to me and said, ‘We in Arequipa, Peru, are really happy and feel represented as there are people from South America.’ So that was really inspiring.”
Baa, of the Philippines, said a family friend who hadn’t been watching general conference broadcasts for the past 10 years reached out about watching it this time.
Several of the singers shared their experiences on social media and heard from people, including those who aren’t members of the Church.
“I think it’s like having a bigger impact than we thought it would be,” said Montemayor Wong, of Mexico, who sings second soprano.
Elorza, who is Montemayor Wong’s sister-in-law, had a friend who isn’t a member of the Church reach out asking her about her Church membership. “I’m so happy to share the gospel through music,” she said.
Bringing in Church members from around the world to sing with the choir was one of the pilot programs announced in November 2022.
“When we’re finished with this conference, we will evaluate. I feel very optimistic that we’ll take step two, which will be another cohort of global participants,” President Leavitt said. “We need to take it one step at a time.”
The second pilot program was developing foreign language versions of the weekly “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast. President Leavitt said the choir is working on Spanish- and Portuguese-language versions and plans to have the programs for testing in the next few months.
The third pilot program includes changes to the choir’s travel to take shorter, annual trips with a smaller touring company. Historically, the choir has traveled every other year and performed in multiple cities. The choir is scheduled to go to Mexico City, Mexico, in June, he said.
All three of the pilot programs are to support the change to the choir’s mission, which has added “throughout the world” to read: “The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square performs music that inspires people throughout the world to draw closer to the divine and feel God’s love for His children.”
“It’s a period of time when the choir’s influence needs to expand, and [we] need to use all of the tools available to us to reach hearts worldwide in enabling peace and healing,” President Leavitt said.
Each of the 10 singers shared what they have learned through their experience singing with the choir.
Denisse Elorza Avalos of Tijuana, Mexico
“I had the opportunity to hear the Primary songs when I was a little girl, and they touched my heart. Even when I couldn’t understand all the words, I felt inspired by the Spirit. I knew, after hearing ‘I Am a Child of God,’ that I really was a daughter of God. ...
“And now, to sing in general conference, people have asked me, ‘why is this so important — singing in the Tabernacle Choir instead of just singing in your ward or in your stake?’ I think the difference for me [singing in general conference] is that this choir sings in the same place where the Prophet stands to tell us what Heavenly Father wants us to hear. What a marvelous opportunity, to be able to prepare the hearts of all the people to be more receptive to feel, to listen and to live the truths that God has for us.”
Georgina Montemayor Wong of Monterrey, Mexico
“I’ve been pondering about singing with the Tabernacle Choir in this conference, and I’ve been thinking about all of the voices that had sung there before — not only last year or 10 years ago, but … many, many years ago.
“I’m grateful and thinking that I am joining not my voice, but my testimony of Jesus Christ and His Church with them. And I felt that power … when I’m singing with them. I feel that we are praising the Lord and people need to hear it.”
Pei-Shan Chung (Kylie Zhong) of Taipei, Taiwan
“I’m truly grateful that this time I can really sing those testimonies [in the music].
“I can be … as an instrument to sing those testimonies and hope to echo. I hope people listen to it and [it echoes in] their heart to awaken their testimony of Jesus Christ.
“This is singing my testimony of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, ... doing Their work and They will help me to fulfill this calling.”
Ronald Baa of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines
“If I didn’t meet the missionaries 15 years ago, I don’t know where I would be. I love the Church so much. I’m grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ in my life. …
“I’m really grateful for His atoning sacrifice, and I’m grateful for the gift of music.”
Sundae Mae Indino of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines
“I’m very grateful for the talent that Heavenly Father has given me. This is my way of sharing that talent. To be able to touch and inspire people through singing, especially sacred music, is such a very fulfilling accomplishment in my life. And I am very grateful for the Church and for the gospel in my life. …
“This is such a huge opportunity to just give back and to serve my brothers and sisters and to share my testimony through music.”
Tubo-Oreriba Joseph Elisha of Accra, Ghana
“So when I sing, sacred hymns especially, I feel countless blessings, supernal blessings that guide me, helps me to stay true and give me that confidence to stand boldly to say, ‘I know that my Redeemer lives.’ I know that the Church is true and I know that God lives. …
“The center of it all is Jesus Christ. And I feel closer to God when I sing praises to God.”
Jonathan How of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
“Regardless of the language that you’re singing … when you study music, you understand that the elements — in terms of the techniques, in terms of the way of how they play the music — [are] universal. …
“This has been a huge opportunity, a huge blessing, to work with the members in the Tabernacle Choir and sing praises unto God.”
Thalita Gonzaga de Carvalho of São Paulo, Brazil
“I have learned that I need to help more and just share the gospel through all the world because the Lord is coming. And we must do our part and actually be a witness of the love of our Savior Jesus Christ and testify that because of His Atonement that we all can be together one day as families. And that makes me very, very happy, and also very humble because we are being part of this.”
Alvaro Jorge Martins of Natal, Brazil
“I feel humbled and amazed about how many people help where they can to make this work go forward. We have hundreds and hundreds of people serving as singers, musicians, [with] logistics in the choir and see that many volunteers doing what they can, what they know just to help the work move, just to bring this kind of happiness and this spirit to every home. … It’s just amazing how that works.”
Rodrigo Domaredzky of Curitiba, Brazil
“The Tabernacle Choir doesn’t need me, or specifically, each of us, but we need this for our lives. … This has strengthened my testimony so much. It has increased my will to serve and to be better in helping more in my city and in the Church.
“It has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life.”
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