A Message Reflected in Performance


The brass horns rose in a single motion and attacked the silence. Musicians silhouetted in gold light, a sax, guitars, and a piano came to life, adding a mellowness to the quick-paced tempo. At the same instant lights flooded the stage and dancers swirled out in color and motion. Young men dressed in white costumes with sequined vests and young women in long, elegant, shimmering white gowns all swayed with the rhythm. The music softened, and then their lucid voices reached the audience with a sound that was soft yet alive.

The words and music of the song were written by the director, Lee Gibbons:

“Here ’n’ now,
This is the moment.
Somethin’ that’s ready to happen is now goin’ to start.
Dim the lights ‘n’ strike up the music.
Just leave your worries behind and we’ll give you a lift. So smile.
Feelin’ here we’re bustin’ to share it!
Somethin’ you’ll hear in a way that you’ll understand.
And there’s nothin’ else to do so let’s get goin’. All right!
Meet the Young Ambassadors.
We’re the Young Ambassadors.
Won’t you come and take our hand?”

Fast-moving, polished entertainment has made the Young Ambassadors from BYU one of America’s most popular college performing groups. Since the group’s organization in 1970, they have been well received by audiences in the Orient, the Caribbean Islands, Europe, South America, Mexico, Canada, and in nearly every state in the Union. A South American magazine rated the group’s performances “9” on a scale of one to ten. Only one other performing group had received a higher rating.

Popularity and excellence in performance are only part of the Young Ambassadors’ story. There is another quieter but more important part. The director of the group, Lee Gibbons, believes they should do more than just entertain an audience. “We have a message to give, and our performances should reflect that,” he said.

One of the Young Ambassadors, Kim Novas from Blackfoot, Idaho, said, “Music is an overwhelming way to communicate. We have what it takes to be happy, the fullness of the gospel. We like to think being in the Young Ambassadors is like a full-time mission. Our message is in our music. There’s nothing neater than feeling the words you’re singing.”

After a performance in a California high school, a student came up to Kim and another performer in the group, Ellen Mathias, and said, “I’ve seen a lot of performances, professional performances, but I’ve never seen anything like yours. What do you have? What makes all of you so happy?”

Ellen is a dancer in the Young Ambassadors. “That happens a lot,” she said. “We want to reach out in our performances to the one person who really needs us. If we do our part, the Lord will help. You’ll walk up to them after a performance, and they’ll ask—they’ll always ask—‘What do you have?’”

Not all of the success of telling their message comes from the performances. For Dave Palfreyman, the group’s emcee and business manager, one of his most memorable experiences with the group happened at a stop at Sutter’s Fort, California.

“We had stopped to eat and stretch our legs. Some of the members went on a tour of the fort. Those of us who had already taken the tour were left with free time.” Dave and four girls decided to visit a hospital that was across the street. They told the head nurse who they were and asked if there was someone who didn’t receive many visitors. The nurse told them about an elderly lady.

“I was a little nervous,” Dave explained. “But I took the initiative to speak. The woman was Mrs. Daugherty, 84, a widow and a grandmother of two, and she was alone in a world of millions of people. As soon as I introduced us, the girls swarmed around the bed. We found a very beautiful woman—a child of God just like us. I became silent and watched my friends put an old German saying into practice: Geben ist selger als nehmen (To give is much more precious than to receive). I was asked to say a prayer. Prayers,” Dave concluded his story, “should come from the heart, and if they do, one knows deep within that our Father and his Son are happy. They were. Mrs. Daugherty knew, we knew, and none of us will forget it.”

The success and fulfillment of the Young Ambassadors are examples for all of us. For some, like the Young Ambassadors, this fulfillment involves an ability to sing and dance; for others it might be an ability to carve feeling into an old block of wood or speak a kind word. in the words of the director of the Young Ambassadors: “We have a message to give, and our performance should reflect that.”

[photos] Photos by Laird Roberts