Concert Choir Prepares for Tour to Japan

University Relations
Friday, 3 June 2016


From June 14 to June 30, the BYU–Hawaii Concert Choir will literally traverse the whole of Japan by train, plane, and bus, from the distant southern island of Okinawa to the northern island of Hokkaido. The choir will perform at concert halls in Naha (6/17), Hiroshima (6/18), Osaka (6/21), Sapporo (6/23), and Tokyo (6/27), with an additional fireside in Sendai (6/25). With concert tickets already nearly sold out, the choir expects to perform for audiences totaling more than 5,000 people across the country.

“One purpose of these CES performance tours is to provide students with premier performing experiences,” says Jarek Buss (‘16, Political Science), tour manager. “This tour is going to do that.” In Tokyo, for example, the choir will perform at the 1,600-seat Tokyo Opera City Concert Hall, a world-class venue recognized by renowned musicians all over the world. After playing at Tokyo Opera City on its opening night, celebrated cellist Yo Yo Ma wrote, “This hall simply has some of the best acoustics in which I have ever had the privilege to play.”

“Performing on that kind of stage is really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity— without the tour, it would be impossible for those of us who won’t ever be professional musicians,” Buss continues. “And for the music majors in the choir, it’s the pinnacle of their academic experience at BYU–Hawaii.”

Students mingle with children on the 2010 tour to Taiwan

Concerts are only one part of the tour, however. Students will learn about the culture, history, language, and food of the cities they visit, seeing important sites like the Hiroshima Peace Park. More importantly, the tour is intended to give students as many opportunities as possible to share with and learn from the Japanese people everywhere they go. The choir will visit local elementary and high schools and attend local church meetings and YSA activities to share music and dancing, teach about Hawaii and the countries represented at BYUH, participate in English exchanges, and generally represent BYU–Hawaii, the Church, and the spirit of aloha.

“In the past, we know that these have been some of the most meaningful experiences for our students,” says Michael Belnap, director of the choir. “We’ve visited orphanages, schools for kids with special needs, and all kinds of elementary, middle, and high schools throughout Asia and the Pacific. Even when we don’t speak the same language, you just can’t come away from those experiences without feeling touched.”

On this tour to Japan, the choir also has a special opportunity to advance a positive relationship between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, a prominent temple in Japan’s native Shinto religion. The relationship dates back to the late 1800s, when a group of Japanese dignitaries, including priests from the shrine, got snowed into Salt Lake City on their way across the continental United States. The group was impressed with the industry of the Utah pioneers and particularly appreciated the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s rendition of “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” That introduction eventually led to other friendly exchanges between the Church and the shrine, and in 2004 the BYU–Hawaii Concert Choir was permitted to sing “Come, Come, Ye Saints” in the inner courtyard of the Meiji Shrine, the first and only Christian group ever permitted to do so. Now, returning to Japan again, the choir has once more been invited to sing that hymn at the shrine.

“This is a unique and very high honor,” says Buss. “Entrance to this courtyard, the second most sacred part of the shrine, is usually reserved only for dignitaries such as presidents and prime ministers. To be allowed to sing there is even more special. We are very grateful to our hosts at the shrine for arranging this visit.” In preparation, the choir has learned a special rendition of “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” switching out the fourth verse for the text in Japanese.

In preparation for the tour, the choir will perform a “bon voyage” concert this Saturday, June 4, at 7:30 PM in the McKay Auditorium. All are invited to attend.

Check back in the newsroom in July for updates and inspiring stories from the tour.

Ticket information for the concerts in Japan can be found at (in Japanese).

To learn more about the BYU–Hawaii Music program, click here.