Members from nine Provo stakes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will combine their voices into a 350-person choir to sing in the Saturday session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of the church.
They will be under the direction of Jim Kasen, a Brigham Young University professor, and organist Joseph Peeples, according to choir member Sabina Michelle Safsten, a member of the Provo, Utah Stake. Tabernacle organist Andrew Unsworth is also helping with the choir.
Stakes are larger congregations, comparable to Catholic diocese, comprised of about a dozen wards, or smaller congregations, of the church.
The choir started rehearsing Aug. 18 and will sing three songs and the intermediate hymn, according to Safsten.
“It has been such a blessing,” Safsten said. “I’m the only woman singing tenor. It’s me and a bunch of guys.”
Safsten cannot say what songs the choir will offer, but said those who listen will hear what each member of the choir is carrying in their heart.
“It’s all about coming to Christ,” Safsten said. “Music is focused on the gift of Christ, the gift of mercy and the atonement.”
This conference opportunity is particularly precious and healing for Safsten.
“My mom passed away four years ago on conference,” Safsten said. “To be able to participate in a unique and focused way has been spectacular.”
Safsten added that she has been able to take her grief and some pain and put it into something that can help others throughout the world. She has felt her mother’s presence.
“There is so much power and meaning in the music,” Safsten said. “I have been able to sing with people I went to college with.”
Safsten said all aspects of singing in the choir has been a form of a blessing and renewal in her life.
“It is a full circle for me,” Safsten said. “Without knowing the specifics of our stories, everyone in the choir has a story.”
The story of the first tenor from the Provo Utah Stake, who didn't want to be identified by name, is a journey of faith and hope and courage. He hoped one of the reasons he was selected for the choir was because he has a good voice.
The tenor hoped having a personal invitation to sing has gone from just a great opportunity, to an epiphany of God’s love for him.
He has been a member of the church all of his life and said he loves God and knows the Savior loves him.
“I didn’t think (the choir) would be too special. What I didn’t realize is how spiritual it’s been to be in the choir,” he said. “There was prayer and fasting for a month and a half by the bishopric. The (Quorum of the Seventy) prayed and the Provo stakes were chosen.”
Each week, the director gives choir members a spiritual assignment as they prepare to sing. The first one was difficult for the Provo Utah Stake tenor.
“He said, ‘Some of you are going through things,’” he said. “What we’re doing is so powerful and the adversary is standing in your way. The Lord individually picked you. He wanted us to think about the lyrics we were singing that the words are the power.”
The Provo Utah Stake tenor is a return missionary from South Dakota and left the church after he felt a lot of his questions went unanswered.
“I didn’t feel there was a place for me. I left the church, broke my temple covenants. I’d come to church late so it wasn’t seen that I didn’t take the sacrament. I was living a double life,” he said. “I found myself living a life without the spirit. It is a very scary experience – It’s awful.”
For a time, he was living in Las Vegas and working was a drag queen.
“It was hard to let go of my passion for drag. It allowed me to be myself,” he said. “But there was no balm of Gilead, no answers. I knew God loves me and I’ve never been without that.”
Returning to church was very difficult for him.
“My bishop wouldn’t talk to me but two times a year. I came back on my own,” he said.
He moved from Salt Lake City to Provo and his new bishop said he wanted to help him be worthy to enter the church’s temples. He is now eligible to enter the temples and is serving in his ward’s elder’s quorum presidency.
He said if he hadn’t had faith, he wouldn’t have had time to practice in the choir.
He has hope from all the rehearsing and personalization of the spiritual meaning of the words in the hymns.
“When I perform ... I want a moment I can look back on and say (God) remembers me,” he said.