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.”