When Tubo-Oreriba Joseph Elisha of Accra, Ghana, first received an email last October inviting him to audition for The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, he dismissed the message, assuming it was too good to be true.
“I thought it was a scam,” said Elisha. “I know [that] to sing with the Choir you have to live within Salt Lake a certain distance … I’m not in Salt Lake so who would send me an email?”
“I said to myself, ‘Oh this guy has failed, he won’t get me.’”
However, a friend helped Elisha confirm that the email and its invitation were authentic. He soon found himself advancing through the virtual selection process to the final auditions with Choir music director Mack Wilberg and associate music director Ryan Murphy.
“Growing up as a young man in the Church, it has always been my dream to sing with them. I never imagined how that was going to be possible. I thought maybe someday … but not something that could happen in 2023,” Elisha said this weekend after his participation in the 193rd Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
It wasn’t until the opening of the general conference’s Saturday morning session that reality sunk in for Elisha and nine others as President Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency made note of their presence.
“Throughout this conference, the Tabernacle Choir will be joined by global participants who have traveled to Salt Lake City from Brazil, Ghana, Malaysia, Mexico, the Philippines, and Taiwan,” President Oaks announced to a 13,000-member audience at the Church’s Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah.
“It has been a great joy to be here,” Elisha said. “This is a proof to me that God called me to this assignment, and he will be with me all through the way [through].”
The Tabernacle Choir is made up of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its sponsoring organization. This was the first time singers from outside the United States joined during a general conference. The initiative is a pilot program that embraces the Choir’s broadened mission to better reach all of God’s children.
“Our participation here brought honor [and] excitement to all members of the Church in the Philippines,” said Ronald Baa, who lives in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines. Baa shared that many were anxious to catch a glimpse of him singing with the Choir. “It’s twelve midnight in the Philippines but they’re all excited, they’re all awake … we keep on receiving messages with our faces in screenshots.”
Millions around the world, including Latter-day Saints, friends of the Church and journalists, tuned in via radio, satellite, internet and television to listen as Church leaders shared Christ-centered messages punctured by the Choir’s sacred hymns.
The Choir sang in the Saturday morning, Sunday morning and afternoon sessions of general conference on April 1–2.
At the conclusion of the conference and the Sunday afternoon session, the Utah-based Choir members sang “God Be with You Till We Meet Again” to the global participants as a final farewell. Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé expressed his love and gratitude for the global participants’ contribution to the General Conference.
“I hope when you return to your country you will testify of this experience and you will raise a new generation of singers everywhere — all over the world,” Bishop Caussé said to the global participants.
Of the pilot program’s future, Choir President Michael O. Leavitt said it remains in the experimental phase, with a commitment to finding ways for the Choir’s influence to be felt throughout the world.
“We’re going about it in the only way we know how, which is one step at a time; learning, improving and asking the Lord for more guidance,” President Leavitt said. “With each step, it now becomes clearer that this can happen.”
President Leavitt said the global participants will maintain their designation as ambassadors for the Church of Jesus Christ for the foreseeable future.
“It is our hope that we can periodically have contact with you,” President Leavitt said to the 10 participants during a farewell reception on Sunday, April 2 in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. He further explained that the details of whether the same group will return to sing in a future general conference remain to be determined.
“In October, I think it’s clear that we have learned enough that we will proceed to bring another group from other countries to have an experience that will be informed by all that we learned in this first step,” President Leavitt said, adding that the Choir’s leadership will make final decisions on “next steps” at the end of this year.
The global participants were encouraged to share their experiences openly and freely with family members and friends.
“I will come back home as a different person,” said Thalita De Carvalho of Sao Paulo, Brazil, as she expressed her gratitude for the support and encouragement the group received from their host families, volunteers and the permanent Choir members.
The two-week experience helped Pei-Shan Chung, who lives in Taipei, Taiwan, feel a greater sense of connection and unity with her church community.
“We spent a lot of time with the Church music department. While meeting them, I truly felt that the Church leaders hope Latter-day Saints all around the world can have a deeper spiritual experience through music,” Chung said.
Georgina Montemayor Wong, from Monterrey, Mexico, shared that the global participants, who started out as strangers, grew close through their shared experience and became “siblings and friends in Christ.”
“I want to thank you because every time I felt my Heavenly Father’s love, it was because of you — all of you,” Montemayor Wong said during the farewell reception.
“It was such nice days — two weeks of miracles and blessings,” said Alvaro Jorge Martins, who explained that his experience was only elevated by the support of his family who traveled from Natal, Brazil, to watch him sing.
“It was a double blessing to also hear a temple will be built in Natal,” Martins said of Church President Russell M. Nelson’s announcement about building 15 new houses of the Lord. “Currently, our closest temple is in Recife, a five-hour drive from Natal.”
Meet the Global Participants
The 10 global participants represented six countries: Brazil (3), Mexico (2), the Philippines (2), Ghana (1), Malaysia (1) and Taiwan (1).
- Alvaro Jorge Martins of Natal, Brazil
- Rodrigo Domaredzky of Curitiba, Brazil
- Thalita De Carvalho of Sao Paulo, Brazil
- Tubo-Oreriba Joseph Elisha of Accra, Ghana
- Jonathan How of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- Denisse Elorza Avalos of Tijuana, Mexico
- Georgina Montemayor Wong of Monterrey, Mexico
- Ronald Baa of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines
- Sundae Mae Indino of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines
- Pei-Shan Chung (Kylie Zhong) of Taipei, Taiwan