Synthesis uses music as missionary tool

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    By Bernice Madsen

    BYU is sending out a new kind of missionary with a unique method of spreading the gospel.

    Members of the jazz band Synthesis tour places such as France, Germany, Russia, China and Japan to represent the church armed with saxophones, trumpets, drums and a whole assortment of instruments.

    “You”d be amazed at how much missionary work the jazz band is able to do,” said Ray Smith, director of Synthesis. “People will come to a jazz concert where they may not come to a concert of the Tabernacle Choir.”

    Synthesis will be performing on February 5 at the Conference Center as part of the jazz showcase in Winterfest 2003.

    The lure of jazz draws audiences to what they think is less threatening, neutral ground, Smith said.

    “They come to the concert and see these clean-cut kids playing so well,” Smith said. “Then they feel something coming from the stage that they didn”t expect and they start asking questions.”

    Synthesis does not proselyte in the areas they visit, but they do reach out to the community, said Rex Barrington of performing arts management.

    “They support the communities they visit by performing in the local jazz festivals, by presenting a positive, wholesome and clean image of the church,” Barrington said. “They also have special presentations for the mayor, city officials and youth in the community.”

    Synthesis participates in an international tour every other year, Barrington said. The four-week tours take up to four years of advance planning.

    On top of a missionary purpose, the group”s tours are intended to educate the band members about life as a performing musician on the road, Barrington said.

    “We hope the students will develop friendships and goodwill,” he said.

    More than 120 students try out at the beginning of every semester for one of the 18 to 19 positions in Synthesis. Smith said the band is a “musical melding of some of the finest young musicians at Brigham Young University.”

    Seretta Hart, 21, a senior from Monticello, majoring in music education, said she auditioned on a whim and never imagined that she would become the only female member of the band.

    Hart said it doesn”t strike her as strange to be the only female member.

    “I only notice on occasion,” she said.

    Since its organization in 1968, Synthesis has played with numerous renowned bands and received many awards.

    Although Synthesis performs all over the world, the students rarely play in the Salt Lake area, Barrington said.

    “I would dare say Synthesis is better known in Europe than in the United States,” Smith said.

    The February performance is a wonderful opportunity for people to come hear the band in Salt Lake without having to drive to Provo, Smith said.

    “I hope they take us up on it,” he said.

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