BYU Sounds at Home and Abroad
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“BYU Sounds at Home and Abroad,” New Era, Sept. 1979, 10

BYU Sounds at Home and Abroad

“After a good show you just feel like getting out and hugging the whole audience,” said one of the Brigham Young University Sounds, and that’s exactly what they did after each performance.

It was all part of a six-week tour in which the 36 BYU students sang and danced their way across the United States, Canada, Romania, and Bulgaria. “Shower the people you love with love” was the theme of their variety show that ended consistently with a standing ovation. And wherever they went they were deluged with hugs, kisses, tears, flowers, and requests for autographs.

The tour was a hodgepodge of rushing in and out of television studios and concert halls, sleeping through long bus rides, meeting Church members throughout the USA and Canada, and making friends with the Romanians and Bulgarians. It was also filled with people reaching out to others, like the group of Romanian high school students singing “Oh, Suzanna” in broken English to make the Sounds feel welcome, or the nonmember in Massachusetts giving a large gift of money to the group to show her appreciation for the “uplifting, clean entertainment” she’d seen.

But most important, it was an opportunity to spread the joy of the gospel through song, dance, and music. In fact, the Sounds unofficially call themselves the “performing missionaries.” They even held missionary training sessions before they left on tour to discuss how they could best answer the questions they might be asked.

They carried an excitement about the gospel with them wherever they went, an unbounded enthusiasm for sharing what was precious to them. It was a new experience for some, an experience well-practiced for the returned missionaries. It was also the driving force that kept them determined to please audiences throughout the tour.

“I’ve lived in Provo all my life, so it was really exciting to share my enthusiasm for the gospel and watch nonmembers catch the light,” said Kathy Kocherhans, a singer with the group.

“After the show, people would come up to talk to us, touched by its message. It was a common thing that happened every night. In the mission field I was lucky to teach in a month as many people as I taught in a week on tour,” said Steve Shaw, a dancer with the Sounds.

“I talked to a 17-year-old nonmember about the Church, gave her a Book of Mormon, and bore my testimony. It was the most exciting experience of my life,” said Tim Andersen, a trumpet player with the group.

“I was a bit nervous at first to approach people, but once I found a comfortable way to lead the conversation around to the Church by discussing family home evening or BYU, I found it to be one of the most rewarding things I’d ever done. It’s fulfilling to know that I might be a small link that could introduce someone to a new and better life,” said Michelle Milne, a singer and BYU’s homecoming queen for 1976–77.

“Even after two years experience in the mission field, this tour has been the most unique missionary experience I’ve ever had,” said Rob Hightower, business manager for the group.

“Talking to people about the gospel is sometimes a hard thing to do. But as it says in Moroni, ‘Perfect love casteth out all fear’ (Moro. 8:16), and once you surpass the line of holding back, giving of yourself and talking about the gospel go hand in hand. The key for me is to forget myself and be more interested in the other person than I am in myself,” said Jerry Hatch, a dancer with the Sounds.

“I placed five copies of the Book of Mormon one night with young men at the naval base who had been moved by our show to the point that they wanted the joy we felt. I loved to talk with people after the show and explain why we generate that warm glow during the show,” said Mike Farnes, a singer.

Then there were the fruits of their labors, not only in sharing the gospel and seeing people decide to be baptized, but also just in touching people’s lives.

A misty-eyed official in Turnavo, Bulgaria, asked the Sounds to assemble after their show. He told them, “You have brought the sun to us. We have seen America through your music and smiles. There is no distance between our countries today.”

One young girl pressed a card into the hand of one of the singers. It read, “You are remembered—we love you.” An older man drew another aside and told him, “I feel impressed to tell you that I know you’re my brother, and I love you.”

And there was the 23-year-old truck driver in Bulgaria who transported the sound equipment across the country wherever the Sounds went. Even though he spoke no English, at the end of his ten-day tour with the Sounds, he wept to see his friends leave. They wept too.

One of the highlights of the tour was at the Great Lakes Naval Base in Illinois where two officer trainees had seen the Sounds perform, talked with the missionaries, and announced at the preshow warm-up two nights later that they were to be baptized that week.

“You taste a little bit of the truth and want more and more,” said Bill Harvey, one of the officer trainees. “I have to join the Church to satisfy that thirst. I just hope that the Lord will be able to use my life so I can be a missionary and teach other people. That’s what I really want to do now.”

At a fireside given by the Sounds in Hamburg, New York, two investigators decided to join the Church. After a show in Ontario, Canada, another investigator decided to be baptized. And one family in New York hunted down Jerry Allman, who had toured there the year before, to tell him that a family had been baptized as the result of his placing a Book of Mormon with them the year before when they’d come to the performance.

The tour did have its disasters—an epidemic of sore throats, a spill down the Hill Cumorah by the pianist, the flu, a broken hand, and a run-in with a bus requiring stitches for one of the singers. But through it all, the Sounds maintained their determination to perform well and open their hearts to people.

“After a performance it’s hard to explain your feelings,” said singer and band member Denise Hatch. “It’s almost something you have to experience. You feel completely warm inside and happy, and you can’t stop smiling because you feel like you’ve really given something worthwhile, because you’ve given of yourself. It makes all the hours and hours of practice and frustration and tears that go along with the performing worth every second of it.”

Editor’s Note: The BYU Sounds are now known as one of two BYU Young Ambassadors groups.

Photos by Kathleen Lubeck

Illustrated by Shauna Mooney