A History of Performing Arts Management
BYU Performing Arts Management has a rich history of sending performing groups all over the world. Stemming from the Program Bureau in 1971 and originally called the Office of Performance Scheduling, Performing Arts Management was created to facilitate the coordination of booking, travel, supervision, and promotion of all official BYU groups that perform globally. The office was initially directed by Bruce Olsen and soon after by Edward Blaser, who oversaw the program’s title change to Performing Arts Management in 1994. After nearly 40 years, Blaser passed the torch in 2015 to longtime assistant director Rex Barrington, who served until his retirement at the end of 2020. Barrington was succeeded by assistant director Shane Wright in 2021. Performing Arts Management represents the Ballroom Dance Company, the BYU Singers, the Chamber Orchestra, Contemporary Dance Theatre, International Folk Dance Ensemble, Jazz Legacy, Living Legends, Men’s Chorus, Mountain Strings, Noteworthy, the Philharmonic Orchestra, Synthesis, Theatre Ballet, Vocal Point, the Wind Symphony, and the Young Ambassadors. These ensembles represent Brigham Young University’s finest in the performing arts. In addition to presenting concerts worldwide, group members also participate in international festivals, competitions, conferences, conventions, and other community outreach events. Presenters from all over the world reach out to Performing Arts Management to have BYU groups perform in their area. These presenters include arts councils, civic clubs, schools, charities, and other private groups. Performing Arts Management typically organizes more than 400 performances annually in 140 cities and 20 countries. Over the past 50 years, these talented artists have entertained and uplifted more than 15 million people in 101 countries. Through the efforts of Performing Arts Management, BYU has helped foster important international relationships for the university. For example, in 1979, BYU performing arts groups were invited for the first time to tour China, a country just opening to the world. With the support of the Chinese government, the tour’s concerts burst with audience members trying to get a look at one of the first Western performing groups to enter China. Under the guidance of Wright, Performing Arts Management has a vision to build on the success of their predecessors by creating and maintaining relationships with members of the international community. Performing Arts Management looks forward to the next 50 years of sending groups to perform, learn, and serve all over the world.
To the Uttermost Parts of the Earth
One of the crowning achievements of BYU Performing Arts Management has been their establishment of international relations, friendships, and artistic excellence with China. In President Spencer W. Kimball’s 1978 missionary address, he focused on the obligation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to spread the gospel to “the uttermost parts of the earth,” and at that time China seemed unreachable. For decades before the 1980s, China was a close-knit country with no US diplomatic relations or tourists. However, upon hearing President Kimball’s message, then BYU president Dallin H. Oaks asked his assistant to prepare BYU performing groups to go to China. A little over a year later, the faith and previously established relationships of BYU officials paid off. Following Jimmy Carter’s announcement of an exchange of formal diplomatic recognition between the US and China, BYU became one of the first universities to receive a tentative invitation to perform in China. The first groups that went to China—the Young Ambassadors, Living Legends, and the Ballroom Dance Company—faced many obstacles in their preparations. China indicated the groups would be tourists and offered no official performance commitments. The groups were told four days before their departure to bring only simple musical instruments, significantly restricting their already minimal equipment. They were met at the airport in Guangdong Province by officials who demanded an immediate performance for inspection. Daunted but not discouraged, the BYU students performed for the officials in the middle of the busy airport. This pattern of proceeding with faith would follow them throughout their stay as they dealt with short notice for performances, scrutinizing audiences, and immersion in a foreign culture. When asked to reflect on the experience, Bruce L. Olsen, the senior university official on the tour, said, “It was clear [our] first performance was a test. . . . Prior to leaving for China, we were told not to expect anything but light, polite applause, but this audience demanded four encores and not only gave a standing ovation but also held their hands high over their heads while clapping. It was the most enthusiastic response I have seen anywhere in the world.” Thus, through patience, faith, and the power of song and dance, BYU and its performing arts groups began a longtime friendship with China. Click here to read more about BYU Performing Arts Management’s 40-year friendship with China. Many years later, BYU president Kevin J Worthen met with China’s minister of education, who elaborated on the impact of BYU’s first visit to China by saying, “If you were to ask people over 55 in China what are the great universities in the United States, it would [be] Harvard, Yale, and BYU—and not necessarily in that order.” Since 1979, BYU performing groups have been invited to return to China 28 times. On the 40th anniversary of that first tour, BYU took the university’s Spectacular show to China. The 2019 BYU China Spectacular included the Ballroom Dance Company, the Chamber Orchestra, the Cougarettes, the Dunk Team, International Folk Dance Ensemble, Living Legends, Vocal Point, and the Young Ambassadors. With an entourage of more than 200 people, it was “without a doubt the largest collaborative effort ever to be started at Brigham Young University,” explained Randy Boothe, artistic director for the Young Ambassadors. As they did in their original 1979 visit, the BYU groups had to go forward with faith. After shipping issues left them with inadequate equipment, they were forced to hastily shop for new props, rearrange their choreography, and rent and program borrowed tech equipment, all while in a foreign country. Nevertheless, their practice and persistence paid off. They connected with their audiences, became immersed in Chinese culture, and were even reunited with their original equipment for their final two performances in Shanghai to experience the beautiful culmination of their tireless efforts. Click here to watch the Beijing performance of the BYU China Spectacular.
A Journey of 50 Years
BYU Performing Arts Management (PAM) is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Throughout the past 50 years, PAM has been the primary managing agency for BYU’s touring performance groups. PAM produces tours for these groups with an annual outreach of roughly 140 cities in 20 different countries. These professional-level ensembles put on more than 400 performances each year, delighting upwards of 15 million audience members worldwide and reaching billions through foreign and domestic television and radio, the internet, and social media. With the help of PAM, BYU’s performing arts programs have enjoyed enormous success over the years and have enabled students to build character, enhance their intellect, and gain spiritual strength. Here’s a brief look back at the history of BYU’s outstanding and beloved touring ensembles: the Ballroom Dance Company, the BYU Singers, the Chamber Orchestra, Contemporary Dance Theatre, International Folk Dance Ensemble, Living Legends, Noteworthy, Synthesis, Vocal Point, the Wind Symphony, and the Young Ambassadors.
A Journey: Young Ambassadors
One of the original groups represented by Performing Arts Management, the BYU Young Ambassadors have been performing their inspired medley of dance, song, and storytelling across cultural boundaries for half a century. The group was welcomed to India by Indira Gandhi, met Mother Teresa and her sisters, and performed for a princess of Thailand. In Thailand the profits from their performance built an entire wing of the Queen Sirikit National Institute of Child Health. When the United States started to forge diplomatic relations with China in 1979, the Young Ambassadors were one of the first Western university performing groups to be invited into the country. Their first appearance was a test, performed in front of artistic elite. Throughout the rest of the tour, they were warmly received by more than 14,000 audience members. Their success prompted China to extend an invitation for them to return to China the following year, when their live performances were recorded and broadcast across the country. These performances would be shown on China Central Television daily for several months after their initial tour, establishing BYU as one of the best-known American universities in China for years to come. Since then, the Young Ambassadors have traveled across thousands of miles to touch millions of hearts in 68 countries, each time with their reputation for excellence and wholesomeness preceding them.
A Journey: Living Legends
BYU’s Living Legends honors the native cultural heritage of North America, South America, and Polynesia through a vibrant spectacle of energy, music, costume, and dance. The ensemble has performed in a variety of locations, including Russia, Central America, the South Pacific, Brazil, and China, and they danced in the opening ceremony of the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. During their 2016 tour to Tonga, the group had the opportunity to meet the royal family and perform in front of the queen, the crown prince, local government leaders, and other dignitaries. Living Legends has also played an important role in building relationships for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Eastern Europe. In 1991 the group traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, where they performed for approximately 5,000 people, including influential officials. Elder Dennis B. Neuenschwander recalled, “At the end of the group’s traditional numbers, in a spontaneous expression of love for the performers, the children rushed the stage. As the children approached the performers, [Living Legends] began to sing ‘I Am a Child of God.’ The Bulgarians had never heard the song, but it had such an effect that everyone stopped and reverently sat down, filling the stage. [This] convinced me that the Spirit knows no borders.”
A Journey: International Folk Dance Ensemble
Since its founding in 1956 by Mary Bee Jensen, BYU’s International Folk Dance Ensemble has become the largest and most versatile performing group of its kind in the United States. The ensemble showcases an array of international folk cultures in addition to presenting American folk traditions in festivals around the globe. Folk music group Mountain Strings adds their prowess to create a captivating, intercultural experience. International Folk Dance Ensemble has performed in more than 54 countries, including the former USSR in 1978, South Korea for the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and the United States for the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics. Among their many tour highlights over the years, they produced a show for German national television called “America Through Dance,” which reached 20 million viewers, and they performed in Monaco for Princess Grace and an audience of 31,000. Current artistic director Jeanette Geslison said of the ensemble, “We play an important role in shaping and defining the future of traditional dance by giving voice to the past and present.” The group continues to build global relationships by participating in community outreach, exchanging folk music and dance, touring in foreign countries, and inviting other international folk dance experts to come to BYU to teach cultural traditions.
International Folk Dance Ensemble
A Journey: Ballroom Dance Company
BYU’s Ballroom Dance Company continues to maintain a tradition of excellence. As the current US formation champions, the Ballroom Dance Company has also won both the prestigious British Ballroom Formation and British Latin Formation Championship titles more than 25 times. Beyond their accolades, the Ballroom Dance Company has also built relationships across borders. In 1984 the company toured China for the first time, where their elaborate performances were broadcast on Chinese national television. The company’s beauty and artistry captivated a young girl named Qu La Jia, also known as Jia Jia, who later studied ballroom dance at BYU with her husband, Chen Bing. This couple later became artistic directors for the Guangzhou Art School in China and started a ballroom dance revolution in their native country. In 2014 the Guangzhou Art School and BYU celebrated 30 years of a cross-cultural bond by putting on several collaborative performances in Guangzhou. Chen Bing said, “The best part of this opportunity is that our students got to feel what we felt at BYU.” Current BYU ballroom director Curt Holman summed up the experience: “Common languages are music and dance. Everything we do can reach out and touch someone, and they can pay it forward in the next generation.”
Ballroom Dance Company
A Journey: Chamber Orchestra
Working alongside Performing Arts Management (PAM), the BYU Chamber Orchestra has earned numerous accolades and enjoyed many successful performances. One such success was when the orchestra performed in Carnegie Hall in 2008, a historic first for BYU orchestras. Rather than sell the tickets for a profit, the group distributed them to 22 stakes surrounding Manhattan. Another success was the group’s 2017 tour to the Philippines, where they performed with Broadway star Lea Salonga. They were applauded by a full house, which included Cardinal Luis Tagle of the Catholic Church. PAM artist manager Justin Smith said of the experience, “We’re doing this for the students. We want to enhance their education by giving them what our university president, Kevin Worthen, calls ‘inspiring learning.’” The orchestra also put together a collaborative album with Salonga titled The Story of My Life: Lea Salonga Live from Manila, which received the 2020 Broadway World Album Award for Best New EP/Solo Release. For a university orchestra, it was not only a prestigious achievement but, in the words of director Kory Katseanes, virtually “unheard of. . . . It’s unbelievable—but not undeserved—that BYU won.”
A Journey: BYU Singers
The BYU Singers are the university’s elite choir and were the first BYU ensemble to perform at Carnegie Hall. Since then, the BYU Singers have produced seven solo albums and traveled to 27 countries, where they have performed at historic cathedrals filled to capacity and have met a variety of audience members, from dignitaries to children. In addition to their extensive touring, the BYU Singers have received several choral awards. They were selected to be the US representative at the 4th World Symposium on Choral Music in 1996, received the PEACE Award at the Cork International Choral Festival in Ireland in 2009, and most recently took 1st place in Slovenia’s virtual 2021 Aegis Carminis International Youth Choir Festival. The group also inspires audiences across the globe. In 2015 the BYU Singers had the opportunity to perform with a prestigious university choir in China. While there, then director Ronald Staheli talked with Wenhao Mu, an architect who dreamed of becoming a professional conductor. A year later, influenced by the love and light spread by the BYU Singers, Mu left his job as an architect, and he and his wife enrolled at BYU as master’s students
A Journey: Vocal Point
Among BYU’s many notable organizations is the Emmy-winning men’s a cappella group Vocal Point, who entertain and inspire with their stunning voices and energetic performances. The group has produced more than 30 music videos, which have garnered upwards of 130 million views on YouTube. On Spotify alone, the group has 1.9 million listeners. In 2006 the group won the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella, considered by many to be the world championships of a cappella, and led one reviewer to say, “Their performances had everything one should look for in a champion: technical and musical precision, choreography, humor, polish, style, and flair.” Five years later Vocal Point took their harmonies to the prime-time stage to compete on NBC’s show The Sing-Off, where they made it to the top five. Ben Folds, a judge on the show, said of Vocal Point, “There is this intangible thing—where the singer is completely being himself and is translating something that you can’t even put your finger on, but you know it’s big.” In 2019, Vocal Point signed a recording contract with Universal Music Group and a performing contract with IMG Artists.
A Journey: Contemporary Dance Theatre
BYU Contemporary Dance Theatre is a nationally recognized ensemble that performs a wide variety of modern dance compositions. Through the power of dance and the artistic drive of the students, Contemporary Dance Theatre has been able to establish international relationships and win numerous awards, such as the 2015 Grand Prix award at the New Prague Dance Festival. The group’s tour history includes an impressive repertoire of performing in 23 different countries and countless venues within the United States. During the group’s 2012 tour to India, the students danced on dirt floors, met with dignitaries, presented firesides, worked with humanitarian services, and performed in numerous sold-out shows. One audience member stated, “The lives of our friends out there were enriched and the dancers were deeply affected. The combination of performance and education is terrific. The performers open the doors and then when they meet with people and teach, lives become richer.” Another significant event in the group’s history was their 2014 invitation to dance at the National Center for the Performing Arts in China. At this event, Contemporary Dance Theatre performed a collaborative choreography with dancers from the Beijing Dance Academy to a full house and received a standing ovation.
Contemporary Dance Theatre
A Journey: Wind Symphony
The BYU Wind Symphony has used their nationally recognized sound to perform for international audiences since 1987. In 2005 their acclaim led to an invitation for them to perform at the United Nations Family Days celebration in Stockholm, where they later played a private concert for the US ambassador to Sweden. The symphony’s gift for uplifting audiences influenced their 2015 tour to Mongolia, where the Wind Symphony recorded an accompaniment track of the song “High on a Mountain Top” for a group of Latter-day Saint choir members in Mongolia. After the tour concluded, the Mongolian choir sent the Wind Symphony a video of the choir’s performances set to the symphony’s recording, a celebratory gesture of their time together and their shared faith in Jesus Christ. Clarinetist Josh Tsai said of his time in the symphony, “I am able to touch lives with this band and the bands that we play with; this is a gift that I am only able to give with [the Wind Symphony].”
A Journey: Noteworthy
BYU Noteworthy, the top women’s a cappella group on campus, is quickly rising to stardom. The group was founded in 2004 by Esther Yoder to create vocal performing opportunities for women. Since then, Noteworthy has been one of only two all-female groups to win the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. In 2009 the group competed on NBC’s show The Sing-Off, and their participation gave Noteworthy significant exposure. In the years after The Sing-Off, the group performed in the 2010 Hong Kong International A Cappella Festival and launched their own YouTube channel. Their “Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” music video has gone viral; with over 66 million views, it is the most popular video in BYU music history, even beating out athletics, interviews, and devotionals. When asked what the group means to her, current member Skylar Mertz says, “As a group of nine unique women, we have the special opportunity to show not only the range of female singing voices but also the huge range of positive qualities that women can bring to the table.”
A Journey: Synthesis
BYU jazz group Synthesis combines swing, blues, jazz, Latin, and fusion styles to delight domestic and international audiences. They won DownBeat magazine’s Top College Big Band award in 2013 and have performed for prestigious jazz showcases, including the Rio das Ostras Jazz and Blues Festival in Brazil, the Pori Jazz Festival in Finland, and the Umbria Jazz Festival in Italy. The group is no stranger to sharing the stage with some of the best jazz talents in the world—including renowned singers Stephen Duffy, Freddie King, and Todd Gordon—and have appeared several times on national television. The joy Synthesis brings to audiences is best summarized in their historic 2016 tour to the Baltic states. Their performance at the Saulkrasti Jazz Festival in Latvia was so captivating that the audience called for multiple encores, even after the venue had shut off the lights. To describe the appeal of Synthesis, Giuseppe Pasta, director of public affairs for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Italy, observed, “The public was involved by their joy, their unity, and their great music sound and sense of humor. All performances were terminated with requests for encore.”
COVID and the Virtual Tour
The effects of COVID-19 have been hard on everyone involved, including BYU performing groups, who were left without an audience for more than a year when the winter 2020 semester turned to exclusively online learning and in-person performances were canceled indefinitely. Performing Arts Management (PAM), like many others, learned to adapt during these uncertain times. We changed tour schedules and implemented safety precautions so groups could meet in person, and BYU students and staff members remained hopeful that they could find ways to uplift others through song and dance again. After seeing the success that our music and dance groups were having with virtual performances, PAM brought together BYU’s Ballroom Dance Company, International Folk Dance Ensemble, Living Legends, Vocal Point, and Young Ambassadors to put on a global virtual tour. The 2021 tour spanned a little over a week, from April 28 to May 4. Most days of the tour consisted of alternating performances from each of the five groups to account for different time zones, and two of the days were reserved for broadcasting devotionals. In addition to their performances, the ensembles worked with Stitching Hearts Worldwide, a humanitarian organization founded in Utah, to weave and distribute sleeping mats made from plastic bags to refugees, the homeless, and disaster victims. In total, people in 77 countries were able to view the tour, with a daily average audience of nearly 20,000 people. This opportunity was unique not only because of the extenuating circumstances caused by COVID-19 but also because the groups, previously accustomed to touring and performing individually, were able to come together to gain spiritual strength and uplift audiences in a time of global uncertainty. Click here to watch a video about the Virtual Tour.
Rex Barrington Retires After 40 Years of Tours
Performing Arts Management wishes a fond farewell to Rex Barrington as he retires from a long and fulfilling career at Brigham Young University. Barrington served as director of BYU Performing Arts Management for 5 years but was employed in the office for 40 years. During this time, he traveled to nearly 90 countries, established lasting international relationships, helped facilitate the workings of hundreds of domestic and international tours, and even taught at Utah Valley University as an adjunct faculty member for three years. Simply put, Rex Barrington was the foundation upon which performing arts students, faculty, and programs relied. When asked to share two or three meaningful experiences from his time in Performing Arts Management, Barrington reminisced by saying, “I hope you know what you have asked is simply impossible. More than 40 years traveling to 90 or so countries and making friends and connections worldwide—how do you condense that into two or three memorable thoughts?” Nonetheless, Barrington provided a plethora of rich cultural experiences with a type of adoring attention only someone deeply intertwined with the program could. Among these experiences was his 2016 Living Legends tour to the South Pacific, where he was able to work with the Tongan royal family and was even inducted as a Samoan chieftain through a special ceremony. This pattern followed Barrington throughout his career as he continually built relationships with people of different cultures, mentored students and colleagues, represented BYU to the highest standard, and shared the gospel through the performing arts. “Rex has been at Performing Arts Management for 40 years, and he will be greatly missed,” says his successor, Shane Wright. “His worldwide relationships, positive attitude, and outstanding work ethic have been an example to the office. His ability to mentor, his attention to detail, and his continuity have been core strengths. We wish him the best in retirement.”
New Director of Performing Arts Management
Congratulations to Shane Wright on becoming the new director of Performing Arts Management (PAM) at Brigham Young University. Wright has been with PAM since 2001 and earned an MPA with an emphasis in management from BYU Marriott. “Shane’s experiences in Performing Arts Management—coupled with his enthusiastic desire to build on the great foundation already in place in PAM—make him an ideal person for his role,” says former BYU international vice president Sandra Rogers. While at Performing Arts Management, Wright has trained students and staff, managed tours, created marketing materials, and worked with high-level VIPs throughout the US and internationally. He has also coordinated with all the performing group directors in the School of Music and the Department of Dance. For the past 20 years, Wright has booked thousands of concerts in the US and around the world. “I’ve known Shane from before he became a full-time employee at Performing Arts Management, when he was a student participant in our touring groups,” says Rex Barrington, Wright’s predecessor. “I have always thought very highly of him. He is not only a diligent and thorough worker and representative of BYU, but anyone who knows Shane recognizes his great personality, sharp mind, and kind attitude. We had some great times working together, both in Utah and in foreign lands—and I know he will lead PAM on to some great accomplishments in the future. I count him as a good friend, an energetic BYU worker, and just a great all-around person.”
Welcome Stacey Christensen
Performing Arts Management extends a warm welcome to our new artist manager, Stacey Christensen. Christensen joined BYU’s Performing Arts Management team in 2021. She holds a bachelor of arts in music with an emphasis in voice from BYU. Christensen has worked in the performing arts industry for 25 years. Most significantly, she managed projects for a large nonprofit organization, Millennial Choirs & Orchestras (MCO). During her tenure with MCO, Christensen served as the managing director for the Utah locale, comprising over 900 musicians. Working with the founders and music directors, she managed projects across five states and assisted with the launch of MCO’s locale in Dallas, Texas, and a new chapter in Davis County, Utah. New Director of Performing Arts Management internationally. Christensen’s expertise lies in organizing and directing largescale tours with a performance force of well over 1,500 people. She has managed and toured with MCO’s large casts at some of the finest venues in the United States, including Carnegie Hall, Meyerson Symphony Center, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, the Music Center at Strathmore, and BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium. Christensen’s broad experience includes concert production, organizational management, event planning, and VIP and community outreach. Christensen has a passion for spreading the message of hope, faith, and goodness through the performing arts. She is excited to continue her work to uplift audiences worldwide with BYU’s performing groups. She currently manages the BYU Singers, International Folk Dance Ensemble, Men’s Chorus, Mountain Strings, and the Wind Symphony, and she is the liaison between Performing Arts Management and BYU’s School of Music. Christensen and her husband, Chad, have six children.
Welcome Stacey Darais
Fond greetings to Stacey Darais, who joined the Performing Arts Management (PAM) team as the new office manager in the fall of 2021. After taking a 35-year hiatus from BYU, Darais graduated with her bachelor of arts in music with an emphasis in voice in December 2021. While challenging at times for her to juggle the demands of family, church, work, and school, she cherishes the knowledge she gained and the relationships she forged with fellow musicians. Darais most recently worked in the airline industry for 12 years, focusing her efforts on customer service. She embarked on this particular career path because of her love of travel, but she stayed for the people. During her tenure at JetBlue Airways, she worked with social media, customer recovery, and communications, and she also supervised teams of writers and reservation agents. Passionate about music from a young age, Darais played the piano, clarinet, and alto saxophone and sang in choirs throughout her public-school years. She was a member of the BYU Concert Choir during its inaugural year in 1984, and she is currently a first alto section leader in the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and serves on the choir’s social committee. Her position at PAM is the perfect merging of her travel industry skills, musical talents, and education, and she is thrilled to be part of the BYU performing arts family. Darais enjoys reading, going on road trips, taking bubble baths, and spending time with her family. She and her husband, Damon, have four children and nine grandchildren.
Welcome Julie Rivers
Performing Arts Management is thrilled to announce the office’s new accountant, Julie Rivers. Rivers joined BYU’s Performing Arts Management team in the fall of 2020. Rivers has a bachelor of science in accounting from the University of Utah and is currently working toward receiving her master of accountancy from Utah Valley University. Rivers worked in public education for 10 years managing the finances for several elementary schools and high schools. She loves working with students and administrators. She feels that a collaborative atmosphere works to create greater understanding for all participants and an increased likelihood of success in achieving workplace goals. For years Rivers has enjoyed attending a wide variety of BYU performances, and she is excited to be able to work with performing groups in a behind-the-scenes capacity. Rivers loves to be outdoors and enjoys traveling, hiking, paddleboarding, and cycling. She and her husband, Rod, have five children, three beautiful daughters-in-law, and two grandchildren. They live in Lindon, Utah.