Two hours a week on Thursdays. That’s what it costs 45 young people from several stakes in the St. Louis, Missouri, area to be in—as they call it—swing choir.
The real name of the choir is Rising Generation, and its style of performing is like a choir that sings upbeat songs and sometimes adds choreography. The youth choir was organized five years ago by youth leaders to encourage musical talent and provide entertainment for the local communities. It was also to be a missionary effort, to introduce the people of St. Louis to some great Latter-day Saint teens.
But that’s not all. Those who participate in the choir get all sorts of bonuses, such as making new friends, learning how to sing great songs, being around others who share their standards, bringing tears to listeners’ eyes, and laughing and talking and having loads of fun.
Doesn’t sound like too much of a sacrifice. “It’s not that much time,” said Ryan Roberts of the Parkway Ward. “It’s a nice break during the week.” A chorus of voices adds to Ryan’s comment. It’s unanimous. Not a single choir member can think of a better way to spend a Thursday evening.
“Thursday is my favorite day because I get to go to swing choir,” says Angela Denton of the Dardenne Creek Ward.
Sitting close by, Laura Noble of the Parkway Ward explains her feelings in more detail: “Swing choir has given me a lot of hope for the future. I’m blown away by these young men, who say they want us girls to be modest, and the young women, who say they’re not going to date until they’re 16. I’m so proud of them all.”
In talking about what a good example the boys in the choir are, Jessica McLaws of the Rockwood First Ward says: “We’re such good friends with the guys. They treat us so well. You can really tell they have the gospel in their lives. They have testimonies. They treat us with respect. I think it’s cool to come to a place where everyone treats each other with respect. We have a special bond.”
When asked what was the best thing about being in the choir, a chorus of boys’ voices said, “The girls!” Matt Morgan of the Lake St. Louis Ward says, “We’re all friends, and as a bonus, they are perfectly nice, temple-worthy girls.”
The choir is also a serious boost in the lives of individual members. Brian Johnson of the Oakville Ward says, with a note of grave sincerity in his voice: “If I weren’t in this choir, I wouldn’t have known any of these guys, and we wouldn’t have become such great friends. This choir has changed my life completely.”
Just in the past two years, the choir has added some instruments, and they are working toward having an orchestra. They all like singing with live musicians rather than the taped backgrounds they have sometimes used.
Everyone in the choir and the orchestra makes a sincere commitment to the group. “This is the first choir I’ve ever been in,” says Trevor Slezak of the Lake St. Louis Ward. “I’ve started singing more and loving music because we sing spiritual songs. I love feeling the music.” Trevor now sings in several choirs at school.
The choir leaders work with the region’s public affairs office in organizing places and times to sing. The choir is often included in public performances where the audience is not well acquainted with the Church. When asked about their most memorable performance, they immediately mention a Christmas program held at the local YMCA. Rachel Neifert of the Maryland Heights Ward says: “There were all kinds of choirs there. We sang, ‘This Is the Christ.’ Afterwards people were asking us, ‘What was that feeling?’ It was the best we have ever done. I didn’t know we could sound that good.”
“I think before every performance at least one person says, ‘Let’s try and make this like the YMCA performance.’ That was the most spiritual experience,” adds Carolyn Rees of the Spencer Creek Ward.
Trevor remembers a lady holding up her cell phone during one choir performance and saying into it, “Listen to this.”
Kevin Stauffer of the Lake St. Louis Ward explains just how awesome it is for the choir when they are performing well: “Whenever we get to perform, it brings a really strong emotion. It often brings us to tears.”
Although a few have never quite conquered the butterflies while performing, they have all learned the power of being involved in good things like swing choir. Carolyn Rees says: “I think when other teenagers see us, it hits them hard that we are people their same age that have strong beliefs. I love being a part of this.” Who knew that dressing up in white tuxedo shirts and bowties or shiny blue blouses and getting up in front of an audience could do so much to bring such good feelings into so many lives.