SPRING SUMMIT 2003 - Premiere Performances at BYU-Idaho

t’s a world premiere, and it’s opening night at BYU–Idaho. After weeks of rehearsal and perfecting parts, BYU–Idaho presented the premiere of two exciting works of art during the 2002-2003 academic year. One portrayed perfect harmony of musical melodies that sang to the spirit with Visions of Light and Truth. The other was a theatrical study of the discordant events and darkness that touched our universe on September 11, 2001, and left a Hole in the Sky. Though very different in their approach, both works had intense impact on student performers and audiences—a cause for reflection.

With pencils in hand and feet tapping measurements of time, students began in January to become acquainted with the newly-created melodies, harmonies, and rhythms of renowned composer A. Laurence Lyon. The music is masterfully written to bring together the richness of melodies, the eloquence of soloists, the harmony of full orchestration, the fullness of collegiate choirs, and the spirit of a sacred message. Every other year, BYU–Idaho commissions a significant new composition of sacred music. This latest addition to the Sacred Music Series contains 44 separate parts, including three orchestral intermezzos.
    A requirement of the Sacred Music Series is all text must be taken from the scriptures. When Lyon was given the commission to write the oratorio, he was impressed to give a choral treatment to the presentation of The First Vision. He enlisted the help of his twin brother, James K. Lyon, a professor of German at BYU. The text was carefully selected from scriptures that refer most directly to Joseph Smith’s vision of the Father and Son. Realizing this account would not lend itself to a full 90-minute presentation, the choice was made to include other visions or appearances to prophets of old, which support the witness that God does speak with his prophets. As he compared the ancient scriptures with the account of Joseph Smith, Laurence found “his vision fits the pattern of so many prophets, as revealed in the scriptures.”
    Another goal of the composer was to write music performers want to perform and listeners want to hear. The BYU–Idaho Symphony Orchestra, Collegiate Singers, and Men’s and Women’s Choirs were directed by Dr. Kevin Brower. Unified in purpose, the student performers bore their testimonies through notes of harmony to appreciative audiences at the campus premiere on March 9 and on the subsequent tour to Tempe, Arizona (joined by Arizona Mormon Choir); Las Vegas, Nevada; and Provo, Salt Lake City, and Ogden in Utah. (Recordings of Visions of Light and Truth will be made available. For additional information on this and past Sacred Music Series presentations, see www.byui.edu/sacredmusic.)

Productions held over due to popular demand are an anomaly at BYU–Idaho. And yet, the theatre production of Hole in the Sky expanded from two weeks to three as audiences gained better understanding of the fateful morning hours of September 11, 2001. For director and BYU–Idaho theatre faculty member John Bidwell the concept was born as a way to pay tribute to those whose lives were changed by the real life drama of terrorist attacks. His hope was for it to become a tribute for both those within the walls and those who witnessed from afar. Bidwell explains, “It was a universal thing that happened to everybody; and yet here we are in Rexburg, Idaho. We didn’t have a chain-link fence to stick flowers in. We didn’t have a place to put up an impromptu memorial. We didn’t get a release.”
    Shortly after the fateful day in 2001, Bidwell contacted one of his former Ricks students, Reed McColm, about the feasibility of writing a play for production on the BYU–Idaho campus. Together they visited Ground Zero in New York City and contemplated the fate of those trapped on the upper floors of the towers. On the flight back to Los Angeles, McColm reflected on the experiences and emotions of those involved as he started the script. “I wanted the play to represent the people well. I wanted to be true to their situation and their thoughts and feelings without actually presuming to know their thoughts and feelings,” McColm said. “The play is an invention, but it is also based on people to whom I want to pay tribute.”
    A 90-minute script was written, and a simple set was constructed to portray a complex situation of 15 people brought together by fate. The actors learned much more than their lines as they brought to life the spirit of amazement and despair, fear and courage, disbelief and acceptance. Through Bidwell’s direction, the tribute was finally complete. “The audience reaction was what I hoped it would be,” Bidwell mused about opening night. “The people were there and the reverence was felt. We were a part of it, and we to an extent could bring some closure.”

Thus through the art of music and theatre, premiere works at BYU–Idaho provide opportunities for reflection and continue to shape anew better understanding of faith, hope, light, truth, and reverence for life.