Ministering through music — how BYU students use their voices for good

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BYU student volunteers and a participant in the BYU Adaptive Show Choir perform at the BYU Adaptive Show Choir spring concert. The students and participants met throughout the semester in preparation. (Chloe Peterson)

Brigham Young University’s motto includes a call to “Go forth to serve.” Students and faculty have taken that call to action, utilizing their talents as they minister to the world through music.

In winter semester 2024, several groups from BYU have demonstrated the power of ministering through music on campus, in local communities and even on an island across the sea. 

Outreach choir trip 

Audience members gather at the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, located in Pointe-à-Prite, Guadeloupe. A group of students from BYU Singers and the BYU Concert Choir traveled to the island of Guadeloupe on a choir outreach trip. (Andrew Crane via BYU School of Music)

On March 15-18 a group of 14 performers, assembled from members of the BYU Singers and the BYU Concert Choir, traveled to the island of Guadeloupe on a choir outreach trip.  

Professor Brent Wells, director of the BYU Concert Choir, and professor Andrew Crane, director of the BYU University Singers, led the trip.

“How does the school of music spread the gospel? I think for us, it’s really through experiences like this, through going out physically and sharing the gospel — both in word, and more importantly, through music.” Wells said. “I think it has a direct impact on what BYU is about.” 

While in Guadeloupe, the students partners with the Gospel Celebration Singers, a Seventh-day Adventist gospel choir, for an interfaith concert titled “The Family United in Christ.”

Lizzie Stein, a BYU sophomore studying classical musical performance and a participant in the outreach trip, described a faith-filled woman who walked five miles to the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul to attend their performance. The woman woke up at 5 a.m. in order to prepare a luncheon for the BYU students the following day. 

BYU students and members of the Gospel Celebration Singers collaborated for a choir performance on the island of Guadalupe. The choirs performed pieces separately and combined. (Lizzie Stein)

Though they did not all speak the same language, the students were able to connect in meaningful ways with local musicians and members of the congregations through their shared love of music. 

“Something that’s really special about music is that it can surpass language barriers. … If we were singing the same hymn or even just singing a song in our native language the spirit can work through that and can overcome that boundary,” Stein said. 

An academic article published in 2023 by Sage Journals explains that music can be used as a means of cultural understanding and connection, promoting cultural harmony. 

The article states that music is “a way of breaking down the barriers and prejudices which isolate people from one another: a way of moving towards a culture of tolerance.” 

BYU’s Adaptive Show Choir 

Chetna Hilton and a BYU student volunteer dance together during the BYU Adaptive Show Choir spring concert. The BYU Adaptive Show Choir is part of the Y-Serve program on BYU campus. (Chloe Peterson)

The language of music not only surpasses cultural boundaries, it can provide a voice to the voiceless. 

Chetna Hilton is a participant in the BYU Adaptive Show Choir. She and many other young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities are paired with a BYU student volunteer who assists them in preparing musical numbers which are performed in an end of year concert. 

Hilton is non-verbal, but her sister, Elizabeth Hilton, says that music gives Chetna a voice of her own. 

“It’s really given Chetna an opportunity to express herself, which we are so overjoyed with, also all these people are here to support her so it’s a great way for her to connect with her broader community,” Elizabeth Hilton said. 

At their spring concert this year, volunteers, participants and supportive friends and family filled the Smith Fieldhouse on BYU campus.

Katie Van Dyke is the mother of Bethany Van Dyke — a participant in the BYU Adaptive Show Choir. 

“When the special needs kids and BYU kids get together with music and dancing, it’s just an immediate connection and an immediate energy,” Katie Van Dyke said.

Bethany and her former BYU volunteer partner formed such a strong bond while participating in the program that they have kept in touch even after her partner graduated BYU. Together they have had movie nights and gone to ballets, and Bethany even attended her former partner’s wedding. 

“They are a blessing in our lives in major ways — not minor ways, major ways,” Blair Van Dyke, Bethany’s father, said in reference to the BYU student volunteers.

Partners in Music

Partners in Music is a BYU Y-Serve program. They work to pair BYU student volunteers with students at Dixon Middle School who are seeking both instrumental and vocal music mentorship.

Steel Manion, a BYU junior studying cell biology and a program director for Partners in Music, spoke about the impact this program can have on the lives of these middle schoolers. 

“I just think of myself as a middle schooler — how difficult that time was and how valuable it is to have a mentor or someone they can look up to. It’s a safe place for them to develop their musical talents,” Manion said.

The students meet once a week for 30 minutes of individual instruction. At the end of each school year, the Partners in Music program holds a recital where the students can perform for friends and family. 

“It’s important for BYU students to use their gifts and talents to serve their community locally, and I think it’s a good experience for the volunteers to be able to see a need in the community and how they can fill it through music,” Abbie Lee, a BYU senior studying molecular biology and executive director for Partners in Music, said. 

As BYU students minister through music, they fulfill the call to “Go forth to serve” and connect with their communities through a language that transcends societal, cultural and physical barriers.

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