By Robert Weiler
As one of only four show choirs sponsored and subsidized by the Church Education System, the University of Utah Institute Encore show choir offers students school an opportunity to share their talents and testimonies through song and dance.
The choir is performing shows at local church Christmas parties to prepare for their spring tour to LDS stakes surrounding the Washington, D.C. area.
Don Keaton, director of Encore and CES faculty member at the University of Utah, said Encore is designated as a missionary choir to promote the church”s Institute of Religion program.
“We take current songs with value and present them in a way that teaches principles of the gospel in a non-threatening manner and gives the audience a chance to love these kids.” Keaton said.
“It”s a great recruitment tool,” said Candace Cook, 23, a graduate of Southern Utah University and current president of the show choir. “We do shows for high school students to let them know that college has a program for them as well and so they see that Institute is fun.”
Each year Encore selects a theme for their Christmas and tour shows. This year”s theme is “Dreams.”
“Dreams are associated with hope,” Cook said. “All of humanity had been waiting for the birth of the Savior, and their hopes and dreams came together that night. Part of the reason his birth is so important is that the hope of salvation came to pass on Christmas.”
“Our message includes dreams from around the world and dreams becoming realities when they are set within the heart of the Savior,” Keaton said. “We want his dreams to become our dreams.”
Members of Encore do not have to be students at the University of Utah. Encore requires that each member audition for the choir and be enrolled in an Institute class.
Ryan Ellsworth, 22, a junior from St. George majoring in mechanical engineering at BYU, is working on an internship located in Salt Lake City and wanted to be involved in a choir.
“My dad is a director at an Institute choir at Dixie College, and my aunt and uncle had been in Encore previously, so I knew it would be a fun thing to do.” Ellsworth said.
Ellsworth said being part of a missionary choir is an excellent way to be with great people and influence others to become great.
“When we sing spiritual songs, they look in your eyes to see if you really believe what you are singing.” Ellsworth said. “You can tell that you have their attention. The messages of the songs we sing tell our testimonies.”
While Encore targets youthful audiences, Ellsworth said part of their missionary efforts involve serving the community.
“Our very first performance was at a care center in Bountiful,” Ellsworth said. “There was this one lady that couldn”t stop clapping, and as soon as we were done, she stood up and yelled ”wonderful”. You could tell from their faces that they were enjoying it.”
Molly Davidson, 20, a student at the University of Utah from River Falls, Wis., joined Encore this year after being in the audience at an Encore performance two years ago when the choir toured through her hometown.
“I took my boyfriend at the time who wasn”t a member of the church,” Davidson said. “After seeing the show, he started investigating the church. I had been trying on my own for a while to get him interested, but it took 40 others to do it.”
Davidson said after seeing the show and its impact on others, she wanted to be a part of the choir. When the time came to apply for colleges, she looked at University of Utah and BYU.
“I got accepted to both universities, which made for a tough decision,” Davidson said. “My whole life I had been told that the University of Utah was a devil school and that I should go to BYU, but I knew that if the people in Encore I knew were going to the U, it couldn”t be a devil school.”
Davidson and her family served as a host family for two members of the show choir during their tour. One of the ways Encore encourages the missionary side of their purpose and limits their traveling costs is by staying in homes of members of the community, LDS or not.
“The guys that stayed with us were just so nice and fun,” she said.
Davidson hopes to be able to open the doors of the gospel just like the choir did to her friend.
“I really believe that there is someone out there who I can help,” Davidson said.
The choir has been working on their Christmas show and tour show since September. The choir practices five days a week at 7 a.m..
“I doubt many of them would just get up every morning that early if they didn”t know the spiritual aspects behind it,” Keaton said.
Keaton said the end of the year tour is when the choir can witness the fruits of their labor.
“Once I can get them out on tour they can see the great blessing that it is not only in their lives, but in the lives of those they come in contact with,” Keaton said. “It”s a unique missionary experience that I don”t think they would otherwise get a chance to serve in this capacity.”