"The music of conference intensifies the spirit," said Jane Fjeldsted, director of the 364-member family choir that performed in conference during the Saturday afternoon session on Oct. 5. "The music, if it's prepared, expresses what we are all feeling as we are sitting there watching. It was an honor to have that responsibility."
Each boy who participated in the 351-voice Aaronic Priesthood choir from Murray, Utah, would likely echo Sister Fjeldsted's words. Sharing testimonies through song for a global audience marked a singular, once-in-a-lifetime event for the two choirs. Each was formed exclusively for the 183rd Semiannual General Conference.
The family choir consisted of families from nine stakes in Roy, Kanesville, Hooper and West Haven, Utah, who were chosen by their local priesthood leaders. All of the stakes got people from every ward, rather than dividing up the responsibilities to just a few wards.
"They were prepared, not just with the music, but they were prepared in their hearts," Sister Fjeldsted said. "Their spirits were ready to feel that collective spirit."
One aspect of this choir that made it special were the 61 young children who participated, Sister Fjeldsted said, adding that the wiggles and the yawns made it "charming and loving and real," reminding all who watched and listened that children have a place in general conference.
"They just blossomed," she said. "To stand up in front of 21,000 people — it came out so beautifully."
Rather than sitting in parts, the choir members were sitting in families.
"All the families sat together, just like they were sitting in a congregation at church," she said. All of the numbers performed by the family choir were carefully selected and arranged by Sister Fjeldsted. Since the children were involved, she had to incorporate parts for children.
For many families who participated, the experience went far beyond their performance in the Conference Center. It was an opportunity to invite the Spirit into their lives, as well as an opportunity to bring their family closer together — especially while practicing at home together.
As the daughter of a former Mormon Tabernacle Choir assistant director, Donald Ripplinger, and a former member of the Tabernacle Choir herself, Sister Fjeldsted loves the opportunity to participate in the music during general conference.
"To be able to contribute to the spirit of conference is — there just aren't words," she said. "Conference is so important, and every year gets more and more important to people younger and younger. ... Most active Church members can't wait for conference because the Spirit is so strong. To know that [we] contributed to the Spirit in a beautiful way fills my heart."
The Murray young men who came together to become a choir worthy of performing at the priesthood session of general conference were a diverse lot. Some who reported for the choir's first rehearsal last August hailed from a notable musical background. They had sung in church choirs, performed in high school musicals and grew up playing an instrument or two. But many others couldn't distinguish a bass from a treble clef.
No matter, said choir manager Kenny Favero. Each young man who sang in the choir was a worthy Aaronic Priesthood holder. That sacred office qualified them for a spot in the choir, regardless of their musical acumen.
"Each of the boys grew musically and spiritually," said Brother Favero.
The Aaronic Priesthood choir that performed at the Oct. 5 priesthood session of general conference was formed from seven stakes in the Murray, Utah, area: Murray Utah, Murray Utah North, Murray Utah South, Murray Utah West, Murray Utah Parkway, Murray Utah Little Cottonwood, Salt Lake Little Cottonwood stakes. The boys began rehearsing in mid-August and were required to practice each Sunday for a couple of hours.
Brother Favero said the dress rehearsal inside the majestic Conference Center a few days before conference doubled as a dramatic reminder of the magnitude of their performance. Collectively, the boys came to realize they would be performing for the Lord's prophet and a worldwide audience of millions. When they stood tall to perform "Sing Praise to Him" during the opening moments of priesthood session they were no longer a diverse collection of Murray boys — they were a choir.
Organizers hope the boys will forever reflect on their Aaronic Priesthood choir experience each time they sing the hymns of the Church or enjoy a session of conference. More than a dozen members of the choir have already received mission calls. Many more will likely be in the mission field this time next year.
"We wanted the boys to be able to draw spiritual strength from this experience," said Brother Favero.