Missionary Music

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Sister Bell of the France Paris Mission sings 'Be Still My Soul'
via France Paris Mission Babin on Facebook

Such a beautiful song by a lovely singer, shared on the France Paris Mission Babin Facebook Page. Prayers for Paris from everyone here at LDS Missionaries.

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The Hearts of the Children in the Adriatic North Mission
via ldsmag.com - Cover image taken by Ivan Majc.

Sometimes things happen that can’t be explained. Big things. Amazing things. That’s how it was this September, in Southeast Europe, when an American Pianist came to Slovenia to research his wife’s family history.

What it was, really, was a convergence of sorts, of four points of purpose.

The convergence began in April when internationally acclaimed pianist Paul Cardall informed President David J. Grant of the Adriatic North Mission (ANM) that he and his Slovenian/American wife Tina, planned to come to her ancestral homeland in a family history quest. He would share his music, while there, if Grant would like.

President Grant, whose mission it is to expand the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in his five country mission gladly agreed to host the Cardalls. It would take a little time to define how best to showcase the popular pianist, but Grant knew he had a soul touching talent coming his way.

At the same time, my husband David and I were preparing to depart for a senior service mission to the ANM. Elder Hansen was assigned to be the acting President of the Celje, Slovenia Branch. I was intending to happily be his “help-meet.”

I could not have known that my knowledge of event-building, media and news writing, would soon be called forth to aid the ANM in a major undertaking.

And, unknown to any of us, at that very time, Slovenian citizens were anticipating an international report to be released in a few months, regarding questionable medical care for their children with congenital heart disease (CHD), in a small country where an estimated 200 children are born each year with CHD.

For a good number of years, Slovenians have been caught in the politically sensitive debate on the quality of that care. Standing with families and children are several support associations including the Slovenian Heart Foundation.

Tying all this together is Cardall’s heart transplant six years ago. Since birth, he suffered with CHD. He was born with basically “one-half a heart.”

Four points of purpose were aligning. Within weeks, all entities would arrive at a pinnacle where all stood for one purpose: Children and families who need community to be actively aware of the number one, worldwide birth defect and the need for more science and better care.

Upon our arrival at the Zagreb, Croatian mission home in late April, I was alerted by President Grant that I would coordinate a Paul Cardall tour, whose music I was unfamiliar with.

“But, President,” I protested, “I don’t speak the local languages, I have no social contacts. How in the world can this happen?” The President gave one of his tolerant smiles and quipped, “You’ll figure it out!” The next day we left for our assigned residence in Celje.

I would soon become humbly dependent upon the spirit that blesses humanitarian and missionary efforts worldwide and with that spirit, the gifts of divine intervention.

The apparent obstacle was the date of Cardall’s arrival. Summer was soon setting in. Cardall would arrive the first two weeks of September, leaving the summer months to organize an event that, even under good circumstances, could take up to a year. Plus, in the ANM region, citizens go “on holiday” en masse, thus it is nearly impossible to gather consensus or partners or turn-out when decision makers are absent.

But, I quickly discovered while within the “missionary bubble,” amazing things happen. With each prod and nudge, inquiry and plea, ideas blossomed and people would appear who were unafraid of the time frame.

After false starts, we made progress in Slovenia with the introduction of a Kranj Branch sister, whose husband Uros is a counselor in the Slovenian District Presidency. Sister Urška Štampe, a busy young mother, warned me, “I’m too busy to help you figure out how to get started, but I know I must.” And she did.

Of course, it was a given, cost had to be heavily controlled. The plan was to offer citizens a free concert, but a venue was needed, which would not charge rent.

LDS churches were too small for what we had in mind. It was Stampe who suggested using the parochial church of St. James, “a monument of mature baroque.”

The good Priest agreed. Joze Kokalj would open his chapel in Ljubljana City Center for the Mormon pianist.

Read the rest at Meridian Magazine


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photo courtesy of GarthSmithMusic.com

Garth Smith, a popular new LDS artist, released his first commercial CD in 2014, “Sacred Hymns, Arranged and Performed on the Piano by Garth Smith“. He was signed as an artist shortly thereafter by RLegacy Entertainment in Salt Lake City, UT. “Sacred Hymns” was met with critical success and was then added to the Deseret Bookstore catalog, BYU Stores, YourLDSMusic, and other popular LDS music outlets.

In his second full-length album, “How Beautiful Thy Temples, Sacred Hymns, Vol. II” (released in 2015), Garth brings his masterful, reverent signature style to bear on hymns and sacred songs that focus on the beauty and eternal significance of temples. From “An Angel From On High,” an arrangement inspired by the statue of the Angel Moroni that sits atop many temples, to the children’s songbook classic “I Love To See the Temple”, Garth revisits sacred favorites and lends them new breath through arrangements that inspire us to think on the eternal. 

Reviews are outstanding, and reflect recognition of Garth Smith’s ability to bring a peaceful and inspiring tone to the listener:

Crawford Gates, famous LDS composer, has called “How Beautiful Thy Temples” a “fabulous recording.” Smith’s arrangement of Gates’ beloved Easter hymn “He is Not Here” (from “The Choirbook”) is included as track 8 on the album.

“This man has a gift. This is the type of music I can relax and enjoy with my family,” writes popular LDS blogger Cassandra (Cassandra M’s Place Blog)

Deseret News writer Wendy Jessen describes each song on “How Beautify Thy Temples” as “masterfully performed” by Smith. Jessen goes on to say that “The arrangements and performances are impeccable. Each of the 12 CD tracks invites a peaceful spirit into the hearts of listeners.”

“These ‘How Beautiful’ arrangements bring the listener an incredible sense of peace and clarity. Your soul will be uplifted and your spirit brightened,” writes John and Kara Huntington (LDS SMILE Blog).

Jonathon Decker, writing for Meridian Magazine, had this to say in his review of “How Beautiful Thy Temples”: 

“Smith strikes a nice balance between skillful arrangements and drawing attention to the sacred music more than his own talents; by this I mean he honors the hymns instead of turning into an overwrought personal showcase. I recently attended the Payson, UT temple open house; this album brought back to me those feelings I experienced in the temple. It’s the perfect music to set the tone around your home on the Sabbath or to invite the Spirit more fully into your life day-to-day. I highly recommend it.”

How Beautiful Thy Temples, Sacred Hymns, Vol. II” has proven to be Garth’s most successful release yet, having charted nationally at #21 on the iTunes Gospel new music chart. 

You can listen to the music on his website and buy a CD for yourself or someone else, by going to www.garthsmithmusic.com.

Garth Smith with his wife Diane, and daughters Megan and Susana
Garth Smith with his wife Diane, and daughters Megan and Susana

Garth also travels with his wife Diane throughout the United States presenting a Christ-centered multimedia fireside called “The Hymns: Another Witness of Jesus Christ”. This presentation has been made at Temple Visitors Centers, Wards, Stakes, Stake Relief Society Conferences, Multi-Stake Youth, Single Adult, and Regional Institute gatherings. 

Garth served a mission to the Arizona Holbrook Navajo Mission, graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in Design Engineering Technology, and is currently serving in the bishopric of the Vista 8th Ward, Vista California Stake. 

Before and After Mission Rap
(Image via Colby Ferrin on YouTube)

You can follow Colby Ferrin’s musical endeavors on his Facebook Page The DC Signal or on his YouTube Channel.

Colby Ferrin included this message along with his video on YouTube:
“It’s been a crazy long time, but after serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) for 2 years in Mexico City, I’m now back in Utah, and will be studying in BYU.

“My experience as a missionary was the best of my life and changed me forever, but now I’m excited to get into college life and especially to get back to making music. I’ve missed you all, and I hope that you can forgive my 2 year absence. I’ll be posting plenty of songs shortly, I promise!”

Lindsey Stirling, Piano Guys Help with Miracle Conversion Story
(Image via lds.net)

(From LDS.net; By Christopher D. Cunningham)

In January of 2015, some of the most talented living LDS musicians filed into a nondescript Institute building in Orem, Utah. Lindsey Stirling, Jon Schmidt, Marshall McDonald, all came to witness the culmination of a long string of miracles.

Matt Janovsky, a Pittsburgh native and extraordinary violinist, was being baptized, and Steven Sharp Nelson, the cellist of the Piano Guys, would be performing the honors.

Matt’s conversion story begins with what he describes as a miracle.

God Knows Us, Even in Dorm Rooms

Lindsey Stirling, Piano Guys Help with Miracle Conversion Story
Dorms at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown, where Matt Janovksy experienced a miracle. (Image via lds.net)

In early December 2012, Matt studied pre-med in at the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown.

The weather was too warm for snow and ice, but too cold to do anything outside but walk between classes. And the persistent drizzling refused to break into a full-hearted storm. It was lonely weather, perfect for studying, I suppose, if only Matt could focus on his chemistry book.

But Matt could only trudge through the study material for the classes he was on the brink of failing. Years ago he had stopped attending St. Mary our Lady of Guadalupe Church and gave up his position as an altar server. 

His YouTube playlist ticking along in the background, Matt rued the irony that while the loss of the church had felt so subtle at the time, now he longed desperately for its peace, its community.

Matt felt alone, lost, anxious, forgotten. He threw his book onto the ground. “I can’t do this anymore,” he said to no one. But screaming to himself reminded Matt of Who he used to speak to when he was alone. He turned his computer off and did something he had not done in years—pray.

Matt surrendered himself to the Lord, and in that little dorm room in that little town in Pennsylvania holiness communed with the ordinary.

Today Matt struggles to remember the precise words of the prayer, since what he communicated was more guttural, more conceptual than linguistic.

But Matt tries to reconstruct what he meant in that prayer on that sacred evening. “I know I haven’t been there for you, and I know I haven’t been the best I can be, but I’m lost right now. I don’t know what to do, or how to get out of this situation. Please help me, show me the way and I will follow you.”

His sleeping computer sprang to life, and this song began to play.

As Matt listened to the remarkable song by a group he had never heard of, he felt as though his prayer had been heard. And a conviction solidified that he needed to pursue music and that if he were faithful everything would work out.

Did an angelic hand reach down from heaven and start the music, or did Matt simply bump his computer that autoplayed a related video?

I’m not sure it matters if this was a sudden broad miracle or a subtle placement of all the right pieces for a young man’s heart to be softened. But for the first time since he left his Catholic faith, Matt Janovsky was on the path to God.

A Fan Becomes a Friend

A Fan Becomes a Friend
Matt Janovsky meets Lindsey Stirling whose inspirational words would help him on his journey to the Church. (Image via lds.net)

Matt left his dorm that day with two convictions. First he needed to return to church, to rebuild the relationship with God that he had abandoned. But while Matt felt the need to refocus on his faith, he felt the opposite toward his education.

Matt decided that it was time for a career shift. He abandoned pre-med to pursue violin performance.

Over the next months, Matt began attending mass, both at a church near his university and at the church he had grown up in when he visited his home. But Matt says, “I never felt like I was truly building the relationship I wanted with God.”

Just as Matt was beginning to refocus his career on his work as a violinist, Lindsey Stirling’s career as the weirdest, most popular violin player around was just starting to gain traction. Matt noticed.

When Matt talks about Lindsey, he starts to ramble like the fanboy he very much is, “I saw her on YouTube and immediately loved the whole idea of what she does. I never thought in a million years I would ever meet her.”

He reached out to her on her web page, at a time when she could still respond to fans’ emails. He began playing covers of Lindsey’s music. And she told Matt that she enjoyed them.

So when Lindsey went on her first ever tour and made a stop in Pittsburgh, Matt was there with a VIP ticket.  He later became an admin for Lindsey’s Facebook fan page and as a result, became acquainted with her sister, Jennifer, who worked as Lindsey’s assistant.

Later that year, Matt went out to Utah to see one of Lindsey’s shows at Saltair and meet with many of the friends he had made from around the world on the Facebook page.

The next day Jennifer invited Matt to come to fast and testimony meeting with her before his flight back to Pennsylvania.

When he walked in a few people welcomed him, but Matt felt a little surprised that anyone would even know that he was visiting. In fact, when you talk to Matt about his conversion story one word comes up over and over again: community. Even in one hour he recognized that this was the opposite of the loneliness he felt in that dorm room.

Read the rest at LDS.net

In 1996 President Gordon B Hinkley of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints uttered his famous challenge to the Chilean saints:

“Now is the time, this is the hour, to make a resolution within your heart to stand a little taller as a Latter-day Saint, to live the gospel a little more fully, to honor the Lord in your life, and to do the right thing at all times and in all circumstances.”

Damian Andres Vergara, a member of a devout Catholic family living in Vina del Mar, Chile, was just 3 years old when President Hinckley said this. It would be twenty years before these words would give meaning and purpose to his life.

“My name is Damian. I’m 22 years old. I’m from Chile and I’m Mormon. This word may sound pretty normal for everyone in the LDS world, but a year and a half ago it wasn’t normal to me. Even now it is really hard to explain it to some of my family and friends,” said Damian.

Damian Vergara

“Everything started when I went to visit my aunt and her family in Washington. They are Mormon and I was not surprised when the first thing they asked me after our hellos was ‘Do you want to meet the missionaries?’ This was not the first time they asked me this and I said no, again. They probably thought that it was my time, but I didn’t know that. I always wanted to accept, but I was afraid of what my family and friends would say.”

“A week later they planned a trip to Salt Lake right on General Conference day. I knew the reason why they wanted to go that day, but we didn’t even have tickets so I was not worried about sitting with thousands of Mormons for two hours. Then someone told us that we didn’t need to try to get tickets because it was all full and they only had tickets for Internationals. It was true. I got tickets and had the opportunity to be at the Saturday Afternoon session and Priesthood session. When you are there you can feel that something special is going on. The Choir did a wonderful job, plus the talk of President Monson was the confirmation that I was waiting for.

“At that precise moment I decided to do what Heavenly Father wanted me to do, all the feelings that I had before went out of my head, and I was not afraid anymore. I knew that from that moment I will never be alone; He will always be with me.”

“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.”

– Pablo Neruda, Chilean 1971 Nobel Prize Winner, poet, and diplomat

Damian with cousin on Temple Square
Damian with cousin on Temple Square

“I got baptized three weeks after that. My family and friends in Chile didn’t know what was happening. Two days after my baptism, I flew back to Chile. My family noticed that I was different, not drinking tea or coffee, and they asked me what was going on. I tried to explain to them, but they didn’t listen. Three weeks later, they were still mad. They didn’t want to talk with me and every Sunday was a discussion, when I was going to church. It was a hard time for me, but I knew that it was not going to be forever, they will get used to it and they will understand.

Damian Vergara baptism

“During those times when I felt alone or sad, music was a great medicine to me.”

“I am so grateful for everyone who does music and especially [pianist] Garth Smith. I started listening to his music when all this was happening. During the hard times, his music always gave me happiness and hope. My favorite is Missionary Medley.

Pianist Garth Smith
Pianist Garth Smith

“Every step I take and in everything that I accomplish in life, I remember those [difficult] moments because those were the moments that made me stronger and made me work harder to be a better son, a better brother, and a better man.

“Missionaries are so important when you are new at Church. You spend time with them and you want to be like them. They do a wonderful job and I experienced that. They gave me the greatest gift that someone could get. That is why I want to repay that and I am preparing to serve a mission. I don’t care about the place where I will go—I only care about the people who are waiting to change their lives and need the happiness that only the true gospel could give.

“My advice to everyone out there is to not be afraid. Don’t close your door to happiness. Everything will work out and, if you have a time that you feel sad or lost, scriptures and music will help a lot.”

Viña Del Mar Mission
Damian’s home – Viña del Mar

Damian Andres Vergara makes his home in Vina del Mar, Chile. An award-winning writer, Damian recently completed a degree in International Business. He enjoys walking, running, and skiing. Vergara especially loves spending time in nature. “On the mountains or at the beach I feel something special for God’s creation and it is great opportunity to feel closer to Him.”

Wow! Sister Missionaries Sing the Plan of Salvation—'Let's Walk Each Other Home'

Sister Moorcroft and Sister Steffensen of the England London South Mission used their musical talents to write and perform this amazing song about the plan of salvation.

A post on Sister Moorcroft’s mission blog describes how the song is touching others, “In addition to knocking and street contacting this week, we sang on the street. It is AMAZING to see how MUSIC can soften the hearts of ANYONE. People would turn the corner looking SO SAD and once they hear the song that we wrote, THEY SMILE. The plan of Salvation or Plan of Happiness IS FOR ALL OF US. My companion, Sister Steffensen (the lovely Viking princess from Norway) and I wrote a song about the plan of Salvation. … Have a listen! This is the song we shared with everyone everywhere! We even would teach just by MUSIC!”

(The Dropbox link on her blog wasn’t working for us, but Iah Chan uploaded the video to YouTube—embedded below)