“No one knew how long we would be required to ‘shelter in place’,” says Adele, “but the temple ground-breaking ceremony had to go on.”
New Zealand members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rejoiced when our prophet confirmed that another temple would be built, this time in its largest region: Auckland. A ground-breaking ceremony for the new temple site was scheduled for June 2020, and months earlier, local Church leaders began planning the historic event.
Sacred music is an important part of any Church gathering and when the committee co-ordinators looked for someone to conduct a special choral item for this event, Sister Adele Wi Repa from Auckland Henderson Stake’s West Harbour Ward was the first person who came to mind.
“I had a giggle when Brother and Sister Smith said that,” Adele says, “because I don’t think they knew anyone else! But I felt very grateful and privileged.”
Adele’s first task was to find the right song for the occasion. She searched the Internet for suitable sheet music, but it soon became clear that she needed to arrange the song herself. To allow the choir time to learn her composition, Adele gave herself only one week, and stopped working on the song at the end of that week despite her concerns that it wasn’t quite ‘done’ yet. The result of her effort was a beautiful arrangement of the well-loved hymn, Joseph Smith’s First Prayer.
Next, it was time to put together a choir.
Around then, the COVID-19 pandemic forced New Zealand into a lockdown, and all Church gatherings were suspended. “No one knew how long we would be required to ‘shelter in place’,” says Adele, “but the temple ground-breaking ceremony had to go on.” She needed to come up with an alternative for a live choir.
Adele researched the possibility of a virtual choir. “I put the idea to some professionals and was told that this kind of project would cost thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours.” It was disappointing news, which normally would have discouraged Adele, but this time was different. This time, “it wasn’t just anyone we were preparing for,” she said, “It was the Lord.” She persevered and reached out to a young film-maker and musician in her stake: Brother Anthony Butters.
“What I loved about Anthony is that it didn’t occur to him that [something] couldn’t or shouldn’t be done.” Even though Anthony himself was not sure how to make a virtual choir happen, the challenge “piqued his interest,” Adele says. “He was willing to give it a go.”
They immediately got to work.
They knew that choir practices would be impossible during the lockdown, so they recorded the instrumentals and each vocal part of Adele’s musical arrangement for singers to learn at home. Then they put out a general call seeking members for their virtual choir.
Next, they had to somehow make sure – without the luxury of rehearsals – that all the singers learned their parts correctly. They also had to figure out how to record each singer’s vocal contribution, how to edit dozens of vocal recordings together so they sounded like one choir, and how to produce a performance video that could be broadcast on the day of the temple ground-breaking ceremony.
For Adele and Anthony, it was very much a matter of being “led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do”. But they pored over Google and YouTube tutorials, and courageously worked through all the obstacles that arose along the way.
The experience was difficult for the choir, too. To leave enough time for editing, the singers had only 3 weeks to learn the music, and then each had to make both an audio and a video recording. The challenge proved too much for some. Singing on your own is quite different from singing in a choir, and after hearing themselves recorded alone, Adele says, “I had a few messages asking if they could humbly bow out because they felt their voices weren’t good enough.” Other singers were okay with the vocal recording, but not so happy to be filmed, and several more were not comfortable at all using the technology required.
Those who persevered managed to send their audio recordings to Adele, whose next job was to begin editing them together. This required a quiet space in her house, so she had to convert a walk-in closet into a makeshift recording studio. Then, her computer and software broke down, and in the middle of a nation-wide lockdown, Adele couldn’t just go out and purchase new equipment.
“I became overwhelmed with the feeling that I wouldn’t be able to get my part of the job done on time,” Adele says. “I asked my husband for a priesthood blessing.”
A couple of hours later, she received an unexpected phone call from a friend in Hawaii. Adele told her friend about the difficulties she was having with the virtual choir, and he said, “I can help you.”
“I went silent, hoping I heard properly,” Adele says, “because I thought for sure he was too busy to do what would be a very tedious and time-consuming job. But he actually got excited about the challenge.”
This friend – Milton Kaka – called back the next day to announce that his boss at The Polynesian Cultural Centre, which was also in lockdown, was allowing him two weeks to work on this special project with Adele. Filled with gratitude, Adele sent a thank you message to Milton’s boss, who replied that this was like the Polynesian Cultural Centre’s contribution “for our Māori cuzzies.”
Milton joined forces with Adele and Anthony, and the audio and video recordings were finally stitched together – in enough time, even, to fix one final glitch: a singer’s footage that was missing.
Once that was sorted, the virtual choir performance video was ready to release for the temple ground-breaking celebration.
This experience has renewed Adele’s testimony of Heavenly Father’s power in her life. Some of the lessons it has reinforced for her include that:
The Lord loves and provides a way for His children to accomplish His work.
Challenges along the way are opportunities for growth and strengthening.
There’s no obstacle that cannot be overcome with the Lord.
We need living prophets. The Saints have been well prepared by them to help us adjust to change.
Reflecting on the final virtual choir performance, Adele says, “A dear friend in the choir summed it up better than I could:
‘Not only could I hear beautiful voices, I could hear all the blood sweat, tears, sleepless nights, prayers, love, faith and obedience that has gone into bringing this to life.’
“That’s what it felt like for me,” Adele agrees.