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Young Ambassadors kick off 40th anniversary celebration

Brigham Young University's Young Ambassadors performed the kickoff show of their 40th anniversary concert Thursday night in the de Jong Concert Hall in the Harris Fine Arts Center on BYU's campus.Performing for the queen of Thailand, meeting Mother Theresa and visiting 66 countries around the world: These are the accomplishments BYUs Young Ambassadors are celebrating this weekend.Kerry Siggard, a BYU alumnus, said that the Young Ambassadors were formed just after he began attending BYU in 1969. He loved being back."I think it's great," Siggard said in between acts. "It's good to hear the music and dancing."Janie Thompson founded the singing and dancing group in 1970 when she was invited to prepare a group from BYU to represent the United States at Expo 70 in Osaka, Japan, the first World's Fair ever held in that country.The original name of the group was the Brigham Young Ambassadors, but over the years it simply became the Young Ambassadors, said Randy Boothe, artistic director.Listing off countries from Australia to Scandinavia, Boothe said many of the countries invite them to come perform and as they build up friendships, they are invited back."We've been to the Peoples Republic of China seven different times, he said. We were invited by the Ministry of Culture and the Chinese government has welcomed us with open arms."Boothe was a member of the first Young Ambassadors group as a freshman at BYU. After serving a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, graduating from BYU Hawaii and working for Disney, he returned to BYU in 1977 as artistic director for the group.Each spring, the group goes on tour, traveling nationally and internationally to perform shows they rehearse for months, Boothe said. As they travel, they give night performances, usually in the biggest concert hall in the city.During the day, the group spends much of their time in hospitals, rest homes, orphanages and schools, which is what the group loves most, Boothe said."Their favorites would definitely be being one-on-one with people who are out there in the trenches," he said. "Being able to go to an orphanage or a hospital, going to people who would not necessarily have that interaction if we didn't go there."Ed Blaser, director of performing arts management at BYU, books tours for the music group. He said the Young Ambassadors have been wonderful to represent over the years and it has been a good outreach program."They are really committed to this idea of sharing friendship through music and dance," Blaser said.Sharing friendship is a key element in what the group is about. Touring is not only a great educational experience for the students as they live with host families, eat native food and try to speak the language, but it also builds friendships that have grown strong over the years, Boothe said.To ensure the students don't miss out on sightseeing and experiencing the country because of their busy schedule, they take a class the semester before they travel that teaches them about the political history, arts, lifestyle and language of the countries they will visit.Once there, instead of hiring tour guides, past acquaintances or local members of the Church take them around to the important sites."It's so much more fun to interact with the people who live there," Boothe said.This year, the group is made up of 38 students — 20 singers and dancers, 10 show band members and eight student technicians, all of which go on the tours. The students must re-audition each April if they want to participate the following year, beginning rehearsals in August and performances in November.The Young Ambassadors' 40th anniversary show is full of Broadway hits, popular songs from the '60s and '70s and popular contemporary songs.Six guest artists who were once in the Young Ambassadors group are coming back to perform, including Summer Naomi Smart, who is now a well-known film and stage actor.Along with the core group, 70 alumni will perform with the group in the remaining shows Friday and Saturday night, and the Saturday afternoon matinee.One-hundred-sixty alumni will perform with them at a fireside in the LDS Conference Center Theater Sunday night.These performances are a celebration of the many years of friendship and service rendered by the Young Ambassadors.As Boothe said, "Friendship is our message."


E-mail: rcampbell@desnews.com