Jazz in Northern Europe
Synthesis continues to dazzle audiences around the globe, leaving its mark on the world of jazz with a repertoire that has both the band and audience members dancing. But the music is not the only thing that makes Synthesis so appealing to audiences worldwide. In addition to performances, Synthesis band members make the most of their opportunities to interact and connect with individuals from the areas they tour. This summer during their tour to Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Sweden, Synthesis exceeded expectations as the group overcame obstacles, made history, gave back to the community, created new friendships, and performed amazing shows.
On their journey, Synthesis performed in market squares, festivals, historic restaurants, and concert halls and accompanied guest performers Louise Ringheim Foss and Lembit Saarsalu. In Riga, Latvia, Synthesis members had the chance to play for government officials and prominent community members at the opening of a chapel for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The students’ faces light up when they talk about their visits with Church members. “It was very cool to see how alive these people are in their faith,” says trombone player Marcus Anderson.
Each show came with a different opportunity and a different challenge. Because of rainy skies and outdoor venues, Synthesis had an ongoing battle with the weather. The group learned how to be flexible with their schedules and remain optimistic during times of opposition. Trumpet player Abby Castleton remained positive by using the extra time from the delays to build relationships with the audience and community members. She says, “It rained on purpose so that we could reach out to more people.”
Throughout their tour, Synthesis members showed their dedication by getting back up after falling down—literally. During a performance in Vaasa, Finland, Synthesis played “Sing, Sing, Sing” by Benny Goodman as a part of the encore. In the middle of playing a captivating extended solo, Synthesis director Ray Smith ran out of breath and collapsed onstage. Even in this shocking moment, Smith knew that they needed to finish their performance, so he completed his solo while sitting on the ground, and the band joined in to end the song with a bang. The band members were bursting to share the experience: “[That was] one of the classiest moments I’ve witnessed during a performance,” says artist manager Troy Streeter. Taking this as a learning experience, jazz singer Brigitta Teuscher says, “[In that moment,] Ray taught me that no matter what happens, I can always come back.”
Despite the setbacks, Synthesis had many successful moments, including one that will go down in history. As the last act of the night at the Saulkrasti Jazz Festival in Latvia, the band performed an encore and exited the stage, but the audience members remained even after the lights were turned off. They crowded around the stage and clapped until Synthesis came out again for a second encore. “The managers backstage told me that this was the first time in 19 years that the crowd wouldn’t go home when the lights were turned out but insisted on an [additional] encore,” Smith recounts.
In Estonia, Synthesis members performed at a benefit concert to raise awareness for Estonian foster families and were touched by the words of Jane Snaith, who has dedicated her life to raising awareness and money to help these struggling families. “I was amazed by her spirit,” says trombone player Daniel Burt. “We were all in awe at her life’s mission.”
Another highlight of the tour was their performance at the black-tie gala in Stockholm, Sweden, for the 50th anniversary of Festinord—an LDS young single adult conference with approximately 900 participants from more than 30 countries. Synthesis not only performed a lively show but also participated in the conference activities throughout the week. Regarding the people she met and what she learned at the conference, Castleton says, “We are unified. We are similar despite our differences.”
To summarize the tour, Teuscher says, “All in all, we are just a bunch of jazz cats who want to jam. . . . When you get a group of people like Synthesis together, you’re going to enjoy it, you’re going to love it, and you’re going to be on the edge of your seat.”
During the Festinord Gala Night in Stockholm, Sweden, Synthesis accompanies guest soloist Louise Ringheim Foss.
Synthesis jazz singer Brigitta Teuscher (right) greets a young fan at the historic Kaivohuone Restaurant in Helsinki, Finland.
Synthesis performs at the Saulkrasti Jazz Festival in Riga, Latvia. Photo by Kristaps Kitners.
A crowd braves the rain to hear Synthesis perform in Old Rauma, Finland.
Service and Friendship in Africa
When Young Ambassadors tours, audience members know that they are going to watch a spectacular performance, meet amazing cast members, and create memories that will last a lifetime. From America to Europe to Asia to Africa, the public is never disappointed. This past summer, the members of Young Ambassadors left their mark on the hearts and stages of South Africa and Zimbabwe. Spreading the universal message of love through song and dance, the performers embodied the spirit of charity on and off the stage. From performances, interviews, and VIP receptions to service opportunities, exciting adventures, and workshops, Young Ambassadors used every moment to truly be with the people, embrace their culture, and love them. “Friendship was the message,” says Young Ambassadors artistic director Randy Boothe.
Full of compassion and excitement, the members of Young Ambassadors turned their tour into an experience to be remembered. Each day was filled with activities that gave the group many opportunities to let their personalities shine as they served the communities they visited and completed numerous humanitarian-aid projects. “[It was a] short amount of time to give it your all,” says 2015–2016 Young Ambassadors president Tanner DeWaal.
As part of their humanitarian-aid efforts, Young Ambassadors members visited and served in nursing homes and care centers and reached out and donated to relief organizations and orphanages. At the orphanages, each performer brought copies of his or her favorite childhood book to read and then donate to the libraries there—a tradition that Young Ambassadors hopes to continue on future tours. At every stop, the group sang and danced and took time to get to know the people. Hannah Pyper, 2016–2017 Young Ambassadors vice president, says, “[We were] interacting in the universal language of song and dance.”
Members of Young Ambassadors had many life-changing experiences along their journey. In Johannesburg, South Africa, the performers visited Children of Fire, an organization that works to help children who were burned (many intentionally) and crippled by fires. In addition to their formal performance, members of Young Ambassadors danced, sang, and played with the children; they also donated clothing and toys. The performers were astounded by the optimism that radiated from each one of the children despite the challenges they faced. “I got the impression that those kids just loved life,” says 2016–2017 Young Ambassadors president Preston Taylor.
In a village outside of Harare, Zimbabwe, Young Ambassadors members experienced another amazing encounter. Anticipating the arrival of Young Ambassadors, the village schoolchildren waited in lines for almost two hours. These children, whose parents have died of AIDS and other terminal diseases, are taken care of by grandparents and other village members and educated by teachers who volunteer their time and skills. The performers were able to interact and spend time with the children. “[It was] touching to hold their hands, sing for them, [and] remind them that they are loved,” says DeWaal.
In addition to the various service opportunities, the group had many adventures, seizing every occasion as an educational moment. The performers began their learning with a culture class before the tour, and while on tour they observed wildlife in sanctuaries and during game drives, witnessed Victoria Falls (one of the seven natural wonders of the world), visited national monuments, and immersed themselves in different cultures.
Members of Young Ambassadors continued learning by participating in workshops to help hone their musical performance skills. While visiting the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, the group had a chance to watch native song-and-dance numbers performed by the students, who afterward taught the routines. Young Ambassadors also had the opportunity to perform with and learn from the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) Chamber Choir. They practiced the music using the SABC Chamber Choir’s method—through verbal repetition, rather than sheet music. “No matter what our cultural differences are, music and dance bridge those cultural differences almost instantaneously,” says Boothe.
At the end of the tour, members of Young Ambassadors did not want to leave their newfound friends. “We got pretty attached,” says Taylor. “We felt we had known them for longer than we actually had.”
Taylor concludes, “You go with the mindset that you are here to serve them. You come back and realize that they served and taught you. . . . At the end of the day, the most important message was love.”
Young Ambassadors performs at a thank-you party in Johannesburg, South Africa, for area employees of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Young Ambassadors performs at a thank-you party in Johannesburg, South Africa, for area employees of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
BYU students Tanner DeWaal (left) and Preston Taylor read a book to their new friend at Lebone Village in Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Young Ambassadors members Whitney Hatch (right) and Megan Sackett pet an elephant at the Elephant Sanctuary near Pretoria, South Africa.
BYU Performer Tanner Forbes is surrounded by local schoolchildren in a village outside of Harare, Zimbabwe.
Students who audition to be part of the performing group Living Legends generally do so to draw closer to their heritage. The Living Legends show, Seasons, presents the traditional dances and cultures of Native America, Latin America, and Polynesia. “Living Legends has helped me connect to my culture by teaching me to understand the symbolism and the meaning of my roots,” says Living Legends member Joel Fonoimoana. “It’s helped me to become a better person, understanding where I come from, who I am, and who I could potentially become.”
This summer Living Legends performed in New Zealand, Samoa, and—for the first time—Tonga. Touring the South Pacific allowed group members with Polynesian ancestry to visit the homelands of their forebearers. One member, Filemoni Tiatia, met family in New Zealand and his grandmother in Samoa for the first time. About his grandmother he says, “She is my example, and she has made so many sacrifices to ensure that we pursued an education. She always taught me the importance of receiving an education because in Samoa they don’t have the opportunities we have.”
This tour not only brought performers closer to their families and ancestors but also gave group members the opportunity to experience some of the cultures they represent. “There’s something special about dancing Tongan in Tonga or Samoan in Samoa or Māori in New Zealand,” says Living Legends member Jazmine Emerson. “There is a power and a spirit that you feel in your heart as you dance.”
On the first morning of the tour, students from Kelston Girls’ College in New Zealand greeted Living Legends with a welcome sign, leis for each member, and the hongi, a traditional Māori greeting done by pressing one’s nose and forehead to another’s that accepts the visitor into the community. “The Māori welcome was especially unique,” says Emerson. “I felt like they had been waiting and preparing for us to come, which was an amazing feeling because we had been preparing to meet them too.”
Living Legends members enjoyed reaching out to and performing for the community of Auckland, New Zealand. At Henderson Intermediate School, group members and students interacted and taught each other traditional dances. In the spirit of service, Living Legends gave a surprise presentation for the residents of the Ronald McDonald House and visited the Whakatakapokai Care and Protection Residence, a home for at-risk children and youth. The group connected with the young people through sharing life stories, music, and dances. “It was amazing to see these tough kids melt with love,” says Living Legends dancer Tiana Cole. “After [the presentation], they were very excited to get to know us. It was great to see them light up with joy and know that they mattered to us.”
In Tonga, Living Legends was honored to perform at an invitation-only event for the queen of Tonga, government officials, and community leaders. The crown prince of Tonga and his family later attended Living Legends’ last performance on the island. “I was honestly so humbled that the royal family came to our show,” says Emerson. “It really showed our group that we were welcomed and important to their island. It was an honor to dance for them and something I will never forget.”
Village chiefs in Samoa welcomed Living Legends with the ’ava ceremony, which is considered the highest form of respect and is reserved for distinguished guests. “Generally, the Polynesian people are all the same: big hearts, big smiles, so quick to love, and when they love, they love deeply,” says Tiatia. “There are little differences here and there, but the principles they value are the same: family, respect, love, honor, and faith in God.”
This uplifting journey is one that the students and the people they visited will not soon forget. “We learned a song from every island,” says Cole. “In Samoa we sang, ‘Tofa Mai Feleni.’ In the chorus, there’s a line that means ‘I will never forget you.’ It was an echo to me for the whole tour of how much of a life-changing experience this was, of knowing who you are, and of being happy no matter your circumstances. I never want to forget these people.”
Lauren Nabahe, a Living Legends performer, enjoys spending time with students at Henderson Intermediate School in West Auckland, New Zealand.
Living Legends members perform their Samoan number “Sasa, Lapa Lapa, Slap” for Pesega College students in Samoa.
The Latin American dancers of Living Legends (in yellow) teach their Chilean number to students from Universal College of Learning during a student exchange in Palmerston North, New Zealand.
Living Legends is greeted with a welcoming ceremony from students of Kelston Girls' College in New Zealand.
Living Legends members (left to right) Kamalu Kaluhiokalani, Michael Ikahihifo, Sia Fifita, and Janielle Christensen greet the queen of Tonga.
Students from Sauniatu Primary School in Samoa gather around the Native American hoops, which symbolize eternity.
Members of Ballroom Dance Company enjoy touring England's Gloucester Cathedral, a location used in the Harry Potter films.
Synthesis ventures through the bog at Kemeri National Park near Riga, Latvia.
Tanner DeWaal, a member of Young Ambassadors, plays with lion cubs in Lion Park, near Johannesburg, South Africa.
To Blackpool and Beyond
Ballroom dance is an art that calls for hours of practice and intense attention to details. For BYU Ballroom Dance Company (BDC), every element of their performance—every step, gesture, pose, and costume—is meticulously thought out and rehearsed. This year, first-year directors Curt and Sharon Holman guided the team of dancers to the prestigious Blackpool Dance Festival in Blackpool, England.
The Blackpool Dance Festival is a weeklong event held in the Empress Ballroom at the Blackpool Winter Gardens. It is one of the most respected competitions in the ballroom world, hosting talented dancers from around the globe. Every three years since 1971, BDC has competed in the Ballroom Formation and Latin Formation Championships, and the company has won first or second place each time. “Blackpool championships are prestigious, and all the judges are longtime professionals. So it was a lot of pressure, but that made it so much better,” says BYU dancer
The month prior to the competition, the group increased their practice from eight hours per week to three to four hours a day. “Everything moves so fast, and we have to make sure our heads are facing the right way and that our eyes are looking in the right direction,” says dancer Chanel Kostich. Once they arrived in England, they practiced morning and night. Kostich explains, “We would wake up at 5:30 a.m. so that we were the first ones to get the floor to practice.”
The hard work paid off when the team was crowned champions in both the ballroom formation and Latin formation categories. “They took to the floor and danced a flawless, artistic, and energy-packed routine,” says Curt Holman. “Later a judge remarked that they were simply brilliant and did not disappoint.” Once the group was announced as winners, the emcee of the event, Marcus Hilton, said, “Now that is what formation dancing is all about!”
For the Latin Formation Championship, Ballroom Dance Company competed against seven groups, including their biggest competitor, Beijing Dance Academy from China. “The semifinal was a bit tricky, so before the final, [Curt Holman] had us get together, and then he just left us to talk,” says Ralph. “It was a very bonding experience with the team as we got to feel happy and grateful for where we were. We encouraged each other, so when we were out there we performed at our best.”
With their success at Blackpool still fresh on their minds, the company continued their tour throughout England, Scotland, and Wales. During the tour, the team got involved in several service and community outreach events. Of the group’s 12 performances, 11 raised profits to donate to local hospitals and health organizations. In addition to donating to hospitals, BDC visited, danced, and interacted with the patients of Royal Aberdeen Children’s Hospital, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary, and Velindre Cancer Centre. “It was a touching experience to dance [for the children],” says Ralph.
Apart from performing and reaching out to the community, BDC visited several of the iconic sights and historical landmarks of Great Britain, including the National Wallace Monument, Edinburgh Castle, Hadrian’s Wall, Shakespeare’s Birthplace, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. “The sites we were able to see in Great Britain were incredible!” says artist manager Justin Smith. “We [saw] the Roman Baths, which date back to AD 70, and Stonehenge, which goes back even further—to 2500 BC. This is thousands of years of history, and still today we were able to experience them.”
For the BYU students, one of the most memorable parts of the tour was interacting with the British people, especially the host families that the group stayed with. “We got to learn their culture and what they enjoyed,” says Kostich. Group members also interacted with the leaders of the community and greeted diplomats and dignitaries at VIP receptions before performances. In London, they met Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne and officials from the Houses of Parliament. The baroness asked if Ballroom Dance Company could visit the school she supports for handicapped children in Poland—and that wasn’t the only request the company received to perform again. Councillor Bill Moir, deputy mayor of Durham, England, said, “At the conclusion of the performance, I was compelled to leap to my feet! A must-see! . . . When will you return?”
Before their return to Great Britain in three years’ time, Ballroom Dance Company will take its show, Swing ’n’ Sway, to Argentina and Chile in the summer of 2017.
Members of BYU Ballroom Dance Company proudly hold the Latin Formation Championship trophy they won at the Blackpool Dance Festival in England on June 2, 2016.
Three members of the Ballroom Dance team (right to left) Alexi Ruffell, Ryan Podzikowski, and Joseph Nugent attend a VIP reception in Leicester, England, and meet the city's lord mayor, Stephen Corrall.
The BYU dancers have a post-show tradition of greeting and thanking audience members for attending. Pictured here are Clarissa McIntire (left) and Ashley Sutherland with young admirers in Cardiff, Wales.
Ballroom Dance Company members Jordan Ward (left) and Alexi Ruffell show off some dance moves while visiting a cancer ward at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary in Scotland.
Ballroom Dance Company dazzles with the number “Ode to Joy” during the Ballroom Dance Formation Championship at the Blackpool Dance Festival.
The Spirit of Nauvoo
In the historic town of Nauvoo, Illinois, BYU performing arts groups have interacted with the community, learned history, and performed on the Nauvoo Outdoor Stage.
This year the city was enlivened by Folk Dance Ensemble’s international dances and Noteworthy’s and Vocal Point’s a cappella renditions. Each group spent two weeks as the featured entertainment in Nauvoo. “There is such a special spirit in Nauvoo,” says recently graduated Vocal Point member Cody Phillips. “It has a unique power to [not only] bring us together as a performing group but also help us reach the people who we are performing for.”
Folk Dance Ensemble
While in Nauvoo, Folk Dance Ensemble (FDE) performed for the community and connected with the past. Through genealogy work, Folk Dance member Wesley Valdez learned that some of his ancestors lived in Nauvoo during the 1840s. While there, Valdez gained an appreciation for his ancestors’ sacrifices. “I really made a connection with my ancestors as I learned more about what they went through,” he says.
After Nauvoo, the group traveled to the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where Folk Dance Ensemble presented director Jeanette Geslison’s new choreography for her master’s thesis, “Hungarian Dance Works,” for the university’s employees and students. “It warmed my heart that my students were appreciative towards my work and so excited to help me,” says Geslison. The group also learned from local Serbian and Slovakian dance groups. FDE member Amanda Welch remarks, “The directors told us to make sure that we weren’t standing next to anyone we knew. . . . We were able to meet people from different backgrounds.”
To end their tour, the group performed at Peck Pavilion, a covered outdoor venue on the Milwaukee Riverwalk. As a special treat, many of the audience members—which included their new friends from the Serbian and Slovakian groups—belonged to the different cultures represented in the group’s repertoire. Reflecting on the experience, Valdez says, “Through dance we were able to show them that what matters to them matters to us.”
Thrilled to be going on their first tour, nine-woman a cappella group Noteworthy took center stage in Nauvoo from June 20 through July 3. “Noteworthy is such a special group because you learn so much about other people—the other members of the group, those we set up with, people you meet at each performance,” says Noteworthy member Alyssa Flake. “Being able to see that glimpse into all of those people’s lives and connect with them through music was my favorite part of the tour.”
On their last night of performing, the group members experienced what they call their “Nauvoo miracle.” Because of rainy weather, Noteworthy’s performance was to be moved to the stage inside the Nauvoo Visitors’ Center, but because it only has 250 seats, not everyone who wanted to hear them perform would be able to. Taking a leap of faith, artistic director Keith Evans moved the show back outside despite the weather. Noteworthy members, missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and even audience members worked together to dry the seats and stage so that the show could go on. Noteworthy was able to perform outside for all 800 people in attendance. “Everyone was working together to make the performance the best it could be,” says Flake. “I just loved being able to see everyone united in the same goals.”
Before and after Vocal Point’s performances in Illinois and Iowa, parents from the audience expressed their desire for their children to grow up to follow Vocal Point members’ examples of leading virtuous lives. “That’s really rewarding to hear that people are hoping that their kids will look up to us as examples, role models—not just as artists but as people,” says Phillips. “It’s more meaningful than feeling like a celebrity.”
While taking an unplanned visit to Hannibal, Missouri, Vocal Point ended up on the riverboat Mark Twain and decided to sing a few songs for the other passengers. Afterward the boat’s captain, Steve Terry, spoke with the group about his recently deceased daughter, who had been a singer and loved a cappella music, and about how Vocal Point’s singing comforted him. Vocal Point then sang “Nearer, My God, to Thee” for him. Captain Terry and his wife attended their show in Nauvoo that night. “We all just felt so grateful for that experience, for being able to use our music to impact someone’s life,” says Phillips. “It was a miracle that we were even in that town that day because we weren’t going to be.”
Vocal Point member Kyle Lemperle adds, “The whole purpose of Vocal Point is to uplift people with our voices and with the music that we sing. . . . [We also help] by being there and being a part of it and just caring about people.”
Folk Dance Ensemble member Mary Beth Johnson (right) talks with a member of the community during an outreach performance in Macomb, Illinois.
Noteworthy poses with the capacity crowd at the group’s final evening performance in Nauvoo, Illinois.
In Hannibal, Missouri Vocal Point spends time with Steve Terry, Captain of the Mark Twain Riverboat, and Elder John Porter of the Nauvoo Mission.