We Heard the Herald Angels Sing


It had been a difficult winter in our small Nevada town. The economy was in bad shape, and for several members of the Primary board it had been necessary to take full-time jobs to help support their families. As Primary president, I had struggled to keep all the necessary positions filled. During December, my first counselor, Terri Cherpeski, and I were in charge of Primary music until callings could be issued to others.

As a presidency, we had decided that for our winter quarterly activity, we wanted our Primary children to participate in a service project so that they might experience the joy of giving during this special time of year. We had made arrangements with a local senior citizens’ group for us to come to a luncheon at the senior citizens’ center and sing Christmas carols.

Among the music we had selected was the beautiful children’s carol “When Joseph Went to Bethlehem.” The children had fallen in love with the song but had difficulty learning both verses.

Shortly before the day on which our activity had been scheduled, Sister Cherpeski found a job. She wasn’t sure she was even going to be able to get that Tuesday off. Since she had been conducting the music in Primary and there were few others in the ward with the ability to lead music, things began to look pretty bleak. We considered canceling the service project, but we finally decided to make the best of the situation and keep our appointment with the senior citizens in spite of our apprehensions.

On the appointed day, the children began to assemble. It was the kind of clear, crisp winter day that Nevadans particularly enjoy. The tang of wood fire permeated the air, and the cheeks of the children were rosy.

My heart sank, however, as I looked over the group gathered in the cultural hall and realized that only half of our Primary had come. Sister Cherpeski had not arrived yet and it looked as if she could not make it. I asked another sister to do her best at leading the children through a quick warm-up. As I accompanied the group, my heart sank. Though the children tried their best, their volume was weak, and many were stumbling over words. Especially discouraging was their rendition of “When Joseph Went to Bethlehem.”

After words of encouragement to the carolers and a fervent, heartfelt prayer for divine help, we filled the cars with children and drove to the senior citizens’ center. Sister Cherpeski was waiting for us at the front door! I greeted her with a quick hug as she whispered that she had been praying hard that she would be able to make it.

We ushered the children into the hall and arranged them by the piano as the elderly luncheon guests smiled warmly. Sister Cherpeski took her position in front of the children and gave me the nod. I breathed another silent prayer and played the notes of the introduction to the first carol. I was astounded by the clarity and ringing quality of the keys. The tones were bright, yet infinitely sweet.

At first, as the children began to sing, the words came hesitantly. But as we continued, the volume began to increase until, in astonishment, I looked at the little group, amazed at what I was hearing. Their faces radiated joy and confidence. I could hardly believe my own ears as they sang “When Joseph Went to Bethlehem.” The words rang out, clear and strong. The teachers quietly wept, and I felt chills run up and down my back as the chorus of twenty-five sang like a choir of fifty.

At the end of our program, we wished our new friends a merry Christmas and went out into the radiant December sun. I listened to the children speak in wondering tones to one another. One little girl said to her friend, “I didn’t know the words to the song about Joseph, but I sang them anyway!”

Many years have passed since that December, but the memory is as vivid as though it were yesterday. In that tiny Nevada hall, our humble, struggling Primary was part of a miracle. We heard the herald angels sing.

[photo] Photography by Welden Andersen

Patricia Brower serves as Primary pianist in the Coyote Hills Ward, Fremont California Stake.