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Conductor and choir are poised to praise

Few recognize the name Horacio Quiroga. He was the Spanish-language Edgar Allan Poe.

And few recognize the name Alejandro Gomez — the Spanish-language version of Craig Jessop, director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

That's how the 365 LDS Hispanic teens singing on Sunday night feel about him. In time, others will as well.

Such talk doesn't sit easy with "Hermano Gomez," however. Comparisons make him antsy. He likes to fly beneath the radar. Notoriety makes him flinch. He isn't looking to be a star.

He may not have a choice.

At 7:30 p.m. Sunday night, Gomez will lead his young chorus in several rousing hymns at the Hispanic Devotional in the LDS Conference Center. He did much the same last November for the "Luz de las Naciones" celebration. There, the results were stirring. Seldom has a choir sung with more verve and heart. Gomez wrings the best from himself and his singers.

"Almost all of the singers this time are the children of immigrants," he says. "They've been coming to Salt Lake City every Sunday to practice from as far away as Logan and Nephi. It has been a real sacrifice, especially for parents. But my motto is, do your best, the Lord does the rest."

What the young singers lack in experience they make up in enthusiasm. The key, Gomez says, is to stretch them, but always stay within a framework. It's a good plan for singers and quilters, both.

And Gomez provides a solid frame.

A native of Guadalajara, Mexico, he grew up in a musical family. His father played classical guitar but switched to popular music to help make ends meet. As a young college graduate, Alejandro applied for a music teaching position at the University of Guadalajara, though he had no music degree. They told him if he could pass a special test they would prepare with 80 percent success, they'd hire him. He asked them to set the bar at 90 percent. He passed with 95 percent. As a classical tenor, he has sung in several operas with Placido Domingo and studied with Mexico's legendary Daniel Ibarra at the National Conservatory in Mexico City and at BYU. He plays guitar, accordion and piano. And he's as at home singing "Rancho Grande" as "How Great Thou Art."

"Hispanic people are very musical," he says. "To impress the girls, a Spanish-language boy has to know how to sing or play an instrument. Musical skills are more impressive than athletic skills. So we have a lot of boys singing in our choir."

As for the future, Gomez plans to take it a step at a time. He currently works the night shift at Target to free up his days for music. He has been a vital link in getting the music of Lex de Azevedo and Janice Kapp Perry into the hands of Spanish-speaking members of the Mormon Church. He hopes to do more.

In the end, this Sunday night, the sight of 365 young people singing Spanish renditions of "The Morning Breaks," "Joseph Smith's First Prayer" and "The Spirit of God" will mean an end to months of planning, practice and prayer for all involved.

For Alejandro Gomez, however, this Sunday night just may be the beginning.