Playing a Different Tune

Every missionary has to give up something to go on a mission. Elder Beus is giving up three to six hours of practice a day.

At age five, most children are learning to tie their shoes, ride a bicycle, and recite the alphabet. Stephen Beus was learning how to play the piano.

At age nine, Stephen made his first symphony appearance with the Oregon East Symphony. At age 11, he played in his first international competition and took fifth place. He returned to the same competition three years later and placed first.

The older Stephen got, the more piano became a major focus in his life. He won numerous state, regional, national, and international competitions. He appeared on stage with renowned conductors and famous orchestras. He performed and was interviewed on national radio. A television station from his home state of Washington produced and aired a documentary about him. He also gave benefit concerts and solo recitals. And through all of this, he was able to excel at school and keep his focus on living the gospel.

At age 18, most aspiring piano performers are practicing three to six hours a day and learning new pieces to help them gain prominence and earn entrance into prestigious music schools. Stephen is putting all that aside to serve a mission in Finland.

Setting priorities

Although he loves piano performance, he realizes that the most important performance at this time in his life won’t be at a piano, but behind a badge engraved, “Elder Beus.”

“I won’t be learning new repertoire, and all the other pianists will be home practicing,” Stephen says. “But I think it’s more important for me to go on a mission right now.”

Although he will be putting a promising career on hold for two years, Stephen doesn’t believe that this is different from what all missionaries do. “Every missionary has to give up something to go on a mission. Some people leave girlfriends, careers, college, sports, and other things.”

Along with practicing daily, which Stephen has done for three to six hours a day except Sunday, he will also be giving up recitals and performances. “I may not be heard for two years, which is not usually ideal for pianists. I have just begun to receive invitations for recitals and performances, which is a long-awaited mark in my short career.”

But Stephen believes the blessings outweigh the sacrifice. “I’ve been greatly blessed in my life with a wonderful family and with a testimony of the gospel. The least I can do is to share the Book of Mormon and the gospel with other people so they can experience the joy that comes with knowing and living the truth.”

Sharing the Spirit

As Stephen prepares for his mission he muses about the possibilities of using his musical talent to share the gospel. “If it’s effective, I’d like to do it.” He says there have been numerous times he has felt the Spirit through music and hopes that he can help others have that feeling. There have been piano performances when Stephen felt his playing was like bearing his testimony.

Although his testimony isn’t based on music, he says that music has helped strengthen it. “I think music is a supplement to my testimony. It’s just one of the beautiful things that God has given for our enjoyment. ‘Men are, that they might have joy’ (2 Ne. 2:25), and I think good music is one thing that can help us have joy, because it brings the Spirit.”

To be learned is good, if …

Stephen has been practicing the piano for 13 years. He has studied under prestigious teachers and performed in numerous venues. He has earned respect for his talent and learned to touch audiences. But he says his learning is worth nothing if he doesn’t first try to live what he believes.

He quotes 2 Nephi 9:28–29 [2 Ne. 9:28–29]: “When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. … But to be learned is good if they hearken unto the counsels of God.”

Stephen says that as much as he enjoys music, it would be selfish if he let that get in the way of his desire to serve a mission. “That scripture has had a powerful influence on me. Music is a beautiful gift from God, but if I were to let it interfere with the most essential things in my life, my music would then become foolishness.”

As much as Stephen loves music, his testimony and love of missionary work is stronger. “I know that serving the Lord for two years is more important than anything else I could do, even though it is hard to leave some things behind.”

Plans for the future

After he returns from his mission, Stephen plans on restoring any piano skills he might lose during his mission. He says he will have to work extra hard to catch up with the competition. Then he would like to refine his skill even further by leaving his hometown of Othello and attending the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Maryland or Juilliard in New York.

Stephen says the standards he chooses to live by aren’t always accepted in the music community. He hopes that serving a mission will give him more strength to be a positive influence in that community. He also hopes that going on a mission will strengthen the confidence he needs to share the gospel when he returns.

Whatever he does, Stephen hopes that the talent he has will give him the opportunity to serve others and share the gospel. He believes that’s one of the reasons he has his talent. “I think God expects me to develop my talent and try to bless other people with it.”

So his love for the piano won’t keep him from serving a mission. “You have to make a sacrifice to do anything worthwhile.”

[photos] Photography by Jed Clark and courtesy of the Beus family

[photo] Only another dedicated musician can appreciate how big a sacrifice it is to give up two years of practice, development, and performances. But Stephen says the blessings of serving a mission outweigh the sacrifice.