“The Choir Boys,” New Era, Nov. 1999, 20
What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word service? Do you picture raking the leaves off a widow’s lawn or cleaning up a city park? How about singing?
How about singing with the ward choir?
What’s that you say? You can’t read music? Can’t carry a tune in a bucket? Can’t imagine that anyone your age would belong in the ward choir?
Think again. The boys in the teachers quorum of the Sandy, Utah, Willow Creek First Ward did, and their quorum hasn’t been the same since.
Quorum members seem to be friendlier to each other than before. Ward members see the boys just a bit differently. And occasionally you might catch one of them humming a spiritual tune in the halls at school. But with all those changes, some things have stayed the same. These boys are a perfectly typical group of teachers who like to do all the things teachers quorums do.
“We like to camp and play basketball and ski together,” says Michael Olsen, “but those things aren’t centered solely on the Spirit. Singing together is a much different experience. It brings us together in a way that other kinds of activities just can’t.”
The coming together that Michael describes is the very thing the teachers quorum presidency were looking for when they decided to try this experiment. But they weren’t sure it would work. After all, they were going to have to ask their fellow teachers to give up an hour on Sunday to come and … sing.
“We wanted to do something that would serve the ward and also be good for the quorum,” says Dave Liljenquist, a former member of the teachers quorum presidency. “When the bishopric and our leaders introduced this idea, we actually laughed. But we said we’d give it a try.”
And so a handful of the boys started to go to choir practice.
“At first, I thought it was probably something I’d do until I became a priest, and then I’d stop coming,” says Cameron Benson, one of the first boys to participate in the choir. “But I’m a priest now and I really like it, so I still go.”
Cameron wasn’t the only teacher who discovered how much he liked the choir. All the other boys that were going were having fun, too. Pretty soon, their friends in the quorum decided to find out what was so great about the choir.
It wasn’t long before the teachers quorum was filling half the choir seats.
“At first, I felt some pressure to go to choir because my friends were going,” says Ben Young. “But after the first time I was going because I wanted to. Singing gives us more time together with our friends.”
But don’t misunderstand. “Choir practice” isn’t code for time to talk or horse around. These boys are serious about the choir. When they’re in choir practice, they’re either singing or quietly listening to the instructions given by the choir director.
And speaking of the choir director, Sister Naomi Bonney, what does she have to say about all of this?
“We have some sons singing in the choir with their mothers. I think that’s brought a nice feeling to the choir,” she says. “These young men are learning something valuable they will be able to use the rest of their lives.”
So if choir’s not a social hour, and it’s not a sport, what is it that these teachers find so appealing?
“At school, sometimes I’ll think of the words to a song,” says Mark Garbett. “You keep them with you, and they have good messages.”
Joey Ulrich says it wasn’t too hard to learn to read music, a skill he mastered pretty quickly even though he’d never done it before he joined the choir. And Paul Garbett says that being in the choir reminds him that, even though he could be doing other things on a Sunday afternoon, choir practice is a great place for him to spend time.
“Sunday is a day of worship, not just a day of rest,” says Paul. “Singing in the choir is another way to worship, just like praying or reading scriptures.”
But it’s probably Michael who sums up the choir’s appeal the best: “You know, sometimes you’re singing about something and you learn something new. And other times, when you’re singing about God, you realize that you know it’s true, that He’s real and that we believe in Him. It invites the Spirit. It makes you feel good.”
The average age in your ward choir is probably slightly higher than in the Willow Creek First Ward, but just like these boys, you can do the same thing in your ward and have fun doing it. You need a good attitude and a willingness to learn.
“There’s an attitude that to be in a choir you have to sing really well,” says Paul. “But ward choir is for anyone who wants to sing and praise the Lord in that way. It doesn’t matter if you have a great voice as long as you’re willing to make the commitment.”
So the next time you’re planning a service project, you might consider doing something that you know will beautify your surroundings: cleaning a park, raking leaves, or building a house. But you might also consider something that will improve your ward or branch through music.
And like these boys, you just might surprise yourself and everyone else with the fact that, just like a clean park or a freshly painted building, a heartfelt choir performance beautifies and improves everything that surrounds it.
Want to get your class or quorum involved in choir? Here’s how the boys in this ward did it:
Be prayerful. The boys wanted this project to be successful, so they went to the Lord to ask for help.
Invite everyone. No matter what their singing ability, everyone in this quorum is welcome to join in.
Get excited about it. These boys enjoy choir and are vocal about it. Hearing how much fun they’re having makes others want to come.
Use the no-pressure approach. No one has to come. These boys do it because they want to. If you force people, they’re much less likely to enjoy it.
Learn something new. Many of these boys have learned to read music. Some are singing a “part” rather than just the melody for the first time. Learning keeps things interesting.
Participate fully. This ward choir is glad to have these boys in the choir because they are on time to practice and listen carefully and do their best while they are there.