After their long-awaited performance during the Saturday afternoon session of the 191st Semiannual General Conference, members of a multicultural choir received a surprise special moment with the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his wife.
As the general conference broadcast ended, President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Sister Wendy Nelson, walked up the stairs to the choir loft to greet and commend the choir.
Moments later when President and Sister Nelson walked away, a wave of arms across the choir moved to wipe away tears.
The unforgettable moment was more than a year in the making as the choir was originally selected to perform at the April 2020 general conference but couldn’t because of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their big opportunity finally came Saturday afternoon, and all involved said it was a heartwarming, memorable experience.
“It’s not the journey we expected, but it’s been amazing,” said Jamie Kalama Wood, the choir’s director.
What did the Nelsons tell the choir?
Wood was standing close enough to capture the message and later relayed it to everyone outside the Conference Center as they gathered for a group photo.
“He asked us how we found this amazing choir, and what auditions must have been like,” said Wood, who was swarmed by choir members who wanted a photo with her. “Then he said, ‘They sound just like the Tabernacle Choir,’ which is a wonderful compliment. ... What I do know is I felt such a wonderful spirit from the choir as we sang.”
After taking a group photo outside, the joyous, 180-member choir sang short renditions of “I Am a Child of God” and “We Thank Thee Oh God For a Prophet.”
It’s been an “incredible experience,” said Benny Yamagata, a Latter-day Saint originally from Los Angeles who sang in the bass section.
“President Nelson coming up meant the absolute world to us,” he said. “I think it’s the start of a new era and the church, one of the multicultural and global church as opposed to just one focused here in Utah.”
Alisha Moreira, an alto from Cape Verde who now lives in Provo, remembered watching the Tabernacle Choir when she was growing up and having the electricity go out in the middle of a song or general conference session. In singing with the choir Saturday, Moreira felt she was representing all of her friends and church members back at home.
“They’re all together with me. It feels like an honor and a pride to be here,” she said.
Tears began to flow when Moreira saw President and Sister Nelson approaching the choir.
“I felt honored because he recognized us,” she said. “Him saying thanks to us is like him saying thank you to the entire world.”
Thom Reed said the experience was hard to describe in words. He was also deeply touched that President and Sister Nelson would come recognize the choir.
“I’m still kind of basking in the spirit of this. It just was an amazing experience to add our voice to the voice of prophets, seers, revelators and our general church officers in a general conference session,” Reed said. “For many of us this will be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity to do that. It’s something I’ll cherish, and it’s been a great blessing for me.”