BYU’s Touring Program: 50 Years of Shared Vision, Values, and Excellence

Ed Blaser, Contributing Author

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hroughout the past 50 years, BYU’s performing groups have traveled across the world instilling hope, triggering smiles, lifting heavy hearts, and bringing joy to hundreds of thousands of joyful recipients. In return, the hearts of the participants of BYU’s performers have been brightened and changed for the better as they have journeyed from this place into all the world.

Along with educational objectives, the BYU touring performers strive to meet the following objectives:

  1. Lift the hearts of their audiences and fellow performers through sincere concern and personal righteousness.
  2. Entertain and edify audiences with excellent performances that will increase their sensitivity to the artistic experience and their understanding of our culture.
  3. Broaden the student’s knowledge and understanding of other peoples, cultures, and languages and to provide an opportunity for cultural exchange.

This article will showcase stories and experiences that have occurred throughout the past 50 years in each of these objectives. Although the performers had different and unique experiences with their respective tour groups, they shared the same vision and values.

Lift the hearts of their audiences and fellow performers through sincere concern and personal righteousness.

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any performances and kind acts have been performed on and off the stage by the BYU performing groups throughout the past 50 years. BYU performing groups frequently provide shows at treatment and care centers, orphanages, children’s hospitals, and similar facilities. The purpose of these visits is to lift and inspire those in difficult circumstances. Performances may also be used to raise funds for worthy not-for-profit and charity organizations, such as the Young Ambassadors performance in 1999 when they raised 300,000 Singapore dollars for charity.

Service

Young Ambassadors

In 1996 the University Singers performed for the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit in the Starship Children’s Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand. Rosy Horton, president of the charity foundation said, “The Singers sounded like angels. They brought peace to the faces of these very sick little children.”

The Folk Dance Ensemble visited Armenia in 1993 with the goal of spreading hope to the people who had recently experienced an earthquake. Tina Belousova, the Armenian coordinator for the tour told the group, “You are like my own children. We would love to have you come back.”

In 2005, the Dancers Company had a wonderfully memorable experience visiting and performing at an orphanage in Cambodia. During that time, the company members blew bubbles, made balloon animals, danced, sang for the children, and found delight in bringing smiles to the childrens’ faces.

Folk Dance Ensemble

Botswana

Young Ambassadors

In 2012, the Young Ambassadors traveled to South Africa where they visited with children in orphanages. They participated in 14 different outreach programs during the tour in addition to performances and media events.

Edward Blaser, Director, BYU Program Manager said, “As their reputation spreads with the leaders of the world, BYU performers continue to change individual hearts. They proclaim their message in song, dance, and example, showing their audiences that life’s most important messages are better felt than spoken.”

Entertain and edify audiences with excellent performances that will increase their sensitivity to the artistic experience and their understanding of our culture.

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s BYU performers have traveled from this place throughout the world over the past five decades, they have lifted audiences to new heights with memorable and impressive performances and have also given many a taste of BYU culture and values.

For example, following a performance from the Ballroom Dance Company in 1979 in England, the Mayor of Dudley said, “I have to say that I have never seen before and doubt if I shall ever see again such grace, elegance, expression, and quality of dancing or such superb dress.”– Gwen Homer, Mayor of Dudley.

Ballroom Dance

Ballroom Dance

One journalist noticed something special about the Dancers’ Company, not only because of their dancing, but also because of the type of people they were, during a performance in Octagon, Perth in 1995. The journalist reported: “The company is a celebration of the best things of the American way of life. For jaded modern dance fans it makes a nice change… Here is a bunch of kids with neat hair cuts, dazzling smiles and oodles of talent… They’re so peppy and appealing you almost want to sign on as an American.”

Folk Dance

Folk Dance

During a performance by the Folk Dance Ensemble in 1987, Jean Thielen, President, CIOFF Delegate for Luxembourg, wrote, “Let me take this opportunity to say a big THANK YOU to the Brigham Young University for being kind enough to send over to Europe such a lovely group of young people. They have all the positive points that you can only ask for: They are excellent dancers, they have a lot of discipline, they were always cheerful, they accepted our hospitality without any complaints, the audience instantly loved them, and we are certain that they would have watched their performance for hours.”

The BYU Philharmonic Orchestra also left an indelible imprint on the hearts of those in attendance at Chimo Senior Elementary School in Ontario in 1979. “The BYU Philharmonic Orchestra has given us a night to remember in the history of our town. Those of us who were fortunate enough to hear these beautifully trained people will talk about this concert for years to come… It was obvious that every member of the orchestra was giving of their very best and enjoying themselves in that fulfilling experience.” — R.G. Stewart, principal of Chimo Senior Elementary School.

Broaden the student’s knowledge and understanding of other peoples, cultures, and languages and to provide an opportunity for cultural exchange.

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he performances BYU tour members provide often provides a two-way exchange of culture, language, knowledge between the performers and the recipients of the performances. Oftentimes, relationships are strengthened through the strum of a chord, or a smile after a beautifully choreographed dance number when one’s heart is touched by a performance.

Since 1979, BYU’s performing groups have helped strengthen relationships in China. Dallin H. Oaks was pivotal in opening the door for this first performance to take place. At that end of 1978, President Jimmy Carter announced that China would receive formal diplomatic recognition on January 1, 1979. Elder Oaks traveled to China a month later to work through the China travel service to obtain an invitation for BYU to perform. He described his thoughts at a 1991 address at BYU:

“How would we obtain an invitation? As often happens when we are doing the work of the Lord and the time is right, friends were raised up to assist us. A BYU official had a friend on the island of Guam. As president of a friendship association with China, this businessman had been one of the first Westerners to visit that country. He identified the Chinese officials we should contact to seek an invitation. He also counseled us to enlist the help of prominent U.S. senators. Idaho Senator Frank Church, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote Chinese officials on our behalf. His enthusiastic endorsement of BYU was extremely helpful.”

Chamber Orchestra on the Great Wall

Chamber Orchestra on the Great Wall

BYU received an invitation to come, but were not guaranteed that they would be able to perform. The School of Music acted on faith and put together a group of Young Ambassadors. Upon arriving in China, the China Travel Service guides requested an impromptu performance to hear the lyrics and see the dances they would perform. The guides approved and the Young Ambassadors experienced a very successful first visit.

Since 1979, BYU has toured China more than 20 times with groups including the International Folk Dance Ensemble, Chamber Orchestra, Wind Symphony, Living Legends, Ballroom Dance Company, and Synthesis. Many of these performances were taped by China Central Television and aired consistently on the network, making BYU the most recognized American University in China.

Dancers performing with Beijing Dance Academy

Dancers performing with Beijing Dance Academy

In 1995, the Cougarettes & Ballroom Dance gave 26 performances in Beijing. Shen Chang Kang, President of Huaxia Arts & Media Co., wrote of the impact: “Your performance evoked nationwide repercussions among Chinese audiences. Your great dancing skills and each member’s enthusiasm towards the profession impressed us deeply. The response from the Chinese audience was very positive. Again, I extremely appreciate what you have done in America, which has no doubt made a great contribution to the deeper understanding and friendship between Chinese and American people. Indeed, I do not know how to express my gratitude for your warm cooperation and what you’ve brought to Chinese audiences.

Since 1979, BYU has toured China more than 20 times with groups including the International Folk Dance Ensemble, Chamber Orchestra, Wind Symphony, Living Legends, Ballroom Dance Company, and Synthesis. Many of these performances were taped by China Central Television and aired consistently on the network, making BYU the most recognized American University in China.

Wind Symphony

Wind Symphony

For the 2015 tour season, groups will again cover the globe. Living Legends will travel to British Columbia, Canada and cities in Alaska to perform for traditional dances for natives to their featured cultures. The Brigham Young University Singers will perform in China under the direction of Ronald Staheli. After 30 years directing at BYU, Staheli will conduct the choir for the final time during this tour. The Wind Symphony will return to Asia, adding Mongolia to South Korea and Japan on their list of toured countries. Contemporary Dance Theatre will participate in the New Prague Dance Festival in the Czech Republic before touring through Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, and Germany. The American Folk Dance Ensemble is preparing for the International Folklore Festival in Karlovac, Croatia, as well as two festivals in Spain. The Young Ambassadors and the Ballroom Dance Company will each perform nightly in historic Nauvoo, Illinois. Every group will leave with a charge to uplift and edify through their performances. In that effort, many performers will find themselves the recipients of priceless memories and friendships, just as many BYU performers have experienced over the past 50 years as they have journeyed from this place into all the world.

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