“The hills are alive with the sound of music.”
This phrase from a Broadway musical certainly rings true in the quaint, mountainous city of Otavalo, Ecuador. Strains of music can be heard from the homes and chapels of the Latter-day Saints from early morning to late at night.
So why is this such a unique thing? Because until just a short time ago, only one person in the 3,500 members of the Otavalo Ecuador Stake could play the piano. Only one person could accompany the Saints with their hymns. Today there are several who can provide this service, and among those are three talented youth: David Arellano, Blanca Campo, and Franklin Saavedra.
Each of these young Latter-day Saints had always wanted to learn to play the piano. But you need a piano to learn, right? Well, they didn’t own one. Also, don’t you need someone to teach you how to play? There wasn’t anybody. That all changed when Elder Alfred and Sister Phyllis Heywood, a missionary couple from Mesa, Arizona, began serving in that area. They also began to teach piano lessons to the eager Otavaloans.
At first, the Heywoods fashioned keyboards from cardboard with the names of corresponding notes written in place. Later real keyboards (called teclados in Spanish) arrived from a generous benefactor in Utah. The students had to share but willingly took turns.
Soon David, Blanca, and Franklin began to see a lifelong dream fulfilled—they could now play the songs of their hearts and share them with their families and fellow members of the Church.
David Arellano was 13 years old when he shyly entered the room full of people and stood behind everyone to take his first piano lesson by memorizing the cardboard keyboard. Within three weeks after David began practicing on a teclado, he was accompanying the congregation of his Cotama Ward with simplified versions of the hymns. He was so overjoyed, he wept.
During the next summer, David traveled with his father to New York City, New York, on a trip for the family merchandising business. David’s shyness did not interfere with his desire to play the piano in front of strangers. In fact, at the ward they were visiting, he bravely made himself acquainted with the organist and, as a result, he was given opportunities to play while he was there. Later, he was also asked to share his talents at a ward in Las Vegas, Nevada. However, the most thrilling moment came when David was invited to play the organ in the tabernacle in St. George, Utah. He returned home with wonderful memories of sharing his budding talent.
Blanca Campo, a 17-year-old at the time, was one of the first piano students of Elder and Sister Heywood. She was unable to attend the regular weekday classes because she spent six days of the week in another town marketing products for the family business. So the Heywoods scheduled Sunday afternoon classes just for her.
Blanca purchased her own teclado so she could practice the hymns during her spare moments at market. After three weeks of practice, she was prepared to play in a Christmas sing-along with other new piano students.
Soon after, Blanca was called by her father, Bishop Rafael Campo, to serve as the Paguche Ward pianist. As he set her apart, Bishop Campo was impressed to call Blanca as a teacher of music for their ward. She still serves in this capacity, sharing her talents with her family and ward members.
When Blanca accompanied a stake youth choir later that summer, and she heard a recording of herself playing “Carry On,” she humbly smiled and exclaimed, “I can’t believe that I am the person playing that music!”
Franklin Saavedra, also a 17-year-old at the time, was one of the first piano students to quickly use his talents to serve in his branch (now the Carabuela Ward) as pianist. He, too, accompanied a stake event—the priesthood session of one of the Otavalo stake conferences—only a few months after he began to use his newfound talent.
The Heywoods say that Franklin is very teachable (he practices until he can play a hymn to perfection), and he is a teacher (giving lessons after Sunday meetings to his family and ward members). Sister Heywood says, “Franklin is another example of the faith and dedication that are found among the sons and daughters of Lehi who are growing in the gospel in Otavalo, Ecuador.”
David, Blanca, and Franklin are aware that “every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God” (D&C 46:11), and they continue to use their gifts to edify and uplift others. The hills of Otavalo, Ecuador, will indeed continue to be alive with the sound of music, a gift given to each of these faithful young Ecuadoran Latter-day Saints.