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2023 Church Music Festival Features Culture, Music of Kenya

Annual event’s objective has changed to highlight a particular country

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By Kaitlyn Bancroft, Church News

The annual Church Music Festival typically features original compositions by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But this year, for the first time, the annual festival had a new objective: featuring the culture of a particular country.

The 2023 festival on Saturday, November 11, in the Tabernacle on Temple Square, featured Kenya. Several festival planners produced a music video in the country, and the program included Kenyan music, as well as videos produced by four other countries.

The festival was livestreamed on and is available for on-demand viewing below, on Gospel Library, the Sacred Music app and Gospel Media.

Initially published in English, the broadcast will later be available in Spanish, Portuguese and French.

Sheet music from the concert will be made available for download from the Sacred Music app, music website and Media Library.

This year’s festival featured over 500 performers, including a multicultural choir from northern Utah; choirs from institutes of religion in Logan, Salt Lake City and Orem; the BYU Singers; a Tabernacle organist; and other performers from a variety of countries. The event included live and prerecorded music.

Some performers shared personal stories, favorites hymns or thoughts on why sacred music in their own language is important to them.

As for the music itself, it’s “across the map,” said Katie Bastian, who manages music for Church events, prior to the event. “One gospel song in particular is not your grandma’s church music. It’s going to raise the roof.”

Bastian expressed excitement about the festival’s new direction, noting that she and other event organizers will choose different parts of the world to feature in next year’s festival.

“I think it’s good for all of us to get to know members around the world, even in a small way through a music video,” she said. “You can really feel of their power and their testimony.”

The choir performs a sound check before the Church Music Festival in the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Saturday, November 11, 2023. Photo by Spencer Heaps, courtesy of Church News.Copyright 2023 Deseret News Publishing Company.
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The ‘Lifetime Friend’ of Music

Bastian said the Church Music Festival began in the 1970s. Festival organizers get 500 to 1,200 submissions a year, she said, and choose 80 to 90 for awards.

Of this year’s award winners, only four are being featured in the festival program, Bastian said.

“The focus of the festival moving forward is to feature sacred music in all different styles,” she said, adding that members “want to see that music’s the language that we all speak. ... I think this festival is inviting members worldwide to think about worshiping through music in ways that they’ve never thought about before.”

Stephen Breinholt, Temple Square performances coordinator, said music is “a lifetime friend” that accompanies people both in formal worship and informal worshipful moments.

Bastian said she hopes the 2023 Church Music Festival will help members become comfortable with new music styles.

As someone who sings with The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, pondering hymn lyrics often augments her scripture study, she added.

Music “takes you out of this routine [of] going through the motions ... to a much more intentional worship experience through music,” Bastian said. “And you don’t have to be a good singer to do that.”

Copyright 2023 Deseret News Publishing Company.

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