“If I Were There,” Ensign, Dec. 2010, 25
The tune begins as gently as a whisper, a melody that fills your soul as quickly as it fills your ears. It becomes even more memorable when the choir begins singing:
If I were there to see this man arrive, this man, a carpenter called Jesus,
When I would see thousands flock to Him, would I not follow them and hear Him?
When I would see Him, with one glance would I know Him instantly?
Would I know that He is the Christ?
Look at the choir, and you can see that all the members are singing from their hearts. Look at the accompanists carefully constructing each chord and the sound technicians balancing the entire performance into well-blended harmony. Look and see the young adults of the Pretoria South Africa Stake, themselves a blend of backgrounds and experiences, joining their voices together in praise of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And at the center of it all is a 20-year-old conductor who penned every word, composed every note, coordinated each rehearsal and performance, and created what ended up as a Christmas present for his friends, for Church members, for the community, and even for his Savior and his Father in Heaven.
Michael McLeod, who will soon be serving a full-time mission, didn’t expect his celebration to grow into such an event—performances at four chapels, each one filled to capacity with hundreds of thrilled audience members. He was simply responding to an assignment given to the young single adults (YSA) of his stake to prepare a cantata, a program of music and words to help people worship the Savior. In fact, the program was originally scheduled for June or July 2009 but after several delays was moved to December.
“When the stake YSA representatives told me what they’d been asked to do, I instantly said, ‘Why don’t we use original music instead of borrowing other people’s music?’” Michael remembers. The YSA representatives agreed. And they also knew just the right person to put it all together—Michael McLeod.
Michael is a University of Pretoria student, majoring in English and mathematics education. “What I really want to be is a teacher,” he says. But Michael has always been interested in music. In fact, he studied it seriously until he was 17.
“Music became my hobby,” he explains, “and I still love it. I love the way music is able to touch people’s hearts. I love to conduct and to feel the energy that comes from a choir, especially when it’s a gospel song. I love to watch the congregation as the music draws them in and to feel the Spirit as they feel the Spirit. I think I’ll be involved with music my whole life because it means so much to me.”
But most of all, Michael loves to share his testimony of the Savior, and doing that with music at Christmastime became a perfect opportunity. “The whole point was to share our testimonies of the Savior through the music and the words of the cantata,” he says. “We wanted powerful music and at the same time to have powerful testimonies, so we used the testimonies from the scriptures of people who knew the Savior: Mary, Joseph, Anna, Simeon, Peter, James, John the Beloved, Mary Magdalene, and those Christ healed and taught. We tried to convey what they knew, and it’s powerful. We also used the Savior’s own testimony. It came together wonderfully.”