Members of the university’s choirs participated for the first time since the pandemic in a choir festival in Honolulu, and John Zenger, a junior from Rexburg, Idaho, who specializes in cross-cultural peacebuilding and music, said that a unique aspect of the event was a guest conductor from a university or professional choir coming to lead the ensemble of choirs in a piece which they performed together at the end of the day.
BYUH Hoʻolōkahi Chamber Choir and Seasider Singers attended the festival titled “Praise the Lord!” on March 21 organized by the Kawaiaha’o Church. Part of the festival took place on campus with the American Heritage School Chamber Choir of American Fork, Utah, and the rest took place in Honolulu at Kawaiaha’o Church.
This was the first festival that Dr. Erica Glenn, visiting assistant professor of choral activities and voice in the Faculty of Language and Performing Arts, has attended as a BYUH professor.
John Lidang, a Las Vegas junior majoring in political science, said that to prepare for the festival, he listened to the bits of the songs they had to learn every day. Although students usually go into “serious mode” before an upcoming event, Lidang said, it was unique this time because the festival was on a Monday. This meant that the choir members had two days before the festival where they did not sing together.
Additionally, Abish Baliwas, a second-year student from the Philippines majoring in biology and anthropology, said she prepared for the festival by revising her music to ensure she was confident and safe in her roles. She emphasized that she listens to the other members of the choir to make sure they all blend in.
She said it was important to follow Dr. Glenn as she led them, especially when it came to dynamics. “I don’t work for myself but for the whole choir,” Baliwas said. She added that it took a team effort to make the choir work well.
Kenneth Makuakane, senior pastor of Kawaiaha’o Church, opened the festival with a prayer and an introduction from the choirs. Makuakane said the festival is sacred to the Kawaiaha’o Church.
Choir member Brandon Sorilla said he was very happy to perform “Leron, Leron” at the festival because it is a Filipino song. Sorilla, a junior vocal performer from the Philippines, said he worked on this song with the Seasider Singers in 2020 before the pandemic, but they never got a chance to perform the song. “It was great to hear people sing it now,” he added.
The festival was open to the public and admission was free. Members of the local Kawaiaha’o Church community attended the festival as spectators, and during the festival, students from around the world worshiped while singing along with members of the church.
The festival started with two numbers performed by the two choirs. The first piece, “Praise the Lord”, was arranged by Ralph Johnson. Next, the choirs sang “The Spirit of God as a Fire Burns”, arranged by Mack Wilberg. BYUH students John Zenger, Cris Wilson and Sam Hansen were the soloists for this song.
Following the opening numbers, the BYUH Seasider Singers performed four numbers, including “Tongo”, by Greg Gilpin; “Of course in this shining night”, by Morten Lauridsen; “Cantar! by Jay Althouse; and “I Sing Because I Am Happy,” by Charles H. Gabriel, arranged by Kenneth Paden and Rollo Dilworth.
Next in the program was the American Heritage School Chamber Choir conducted by Rob Swenson. His pieces were “Exultate Deo”, by Alessandro Scarlatti; “Come This Way”, by Kyle Pederson; “Ko e Lupe (The Dove)”, by Hiva Usu and transcribed by Rob Swenson; “Amazing Grace”, arranged by Bruce Stevenson; and “Still I Rise”, by Rosephanye.
Anna Wright, a freshman from Gilbert, Arizona, majoring in psychology is a member of the Seasider Singers. She said “Ko e Lupe (The Dove)”, by Hiva Usu was a favorite of many students because it is a Tongan play.
Wright shared that this number was her favorite due to the history associated with the song. “Oral histories can fade because they’re not written down,” Wright said. “So to write it into a song and keep it that way is just amazing.”
Next, Buddy Nalua’i performed an organ solo, which was an improvisation on “Beautiful Savior”.
The Ho’olokahi Chamber Choir followed the organ solo and performed four pieces titled “Alleluia,” by Jake Runestad; “Ohtul”, by Part Uusberg; “Earth Song”, by Frank Ticheli; and “Leron, Leron”, which was arranged by Saunder Choi.
The closing number was a traditional Hawaiian song titled “Hawai’i Aloha”, and was performed by all three choirs as well as the congregation.
Iese Wilson, student director and BYUH alumnus, introduced this number and shared the story behind its meaning. “It’s a privilege for us to join hands and keep this tradition alive,” Wilson said. The festival ended with everyone joining hands and singing “Hawai’i Aloha” together.