|In late 1983, the Lord directed a number of very talented missionaries to the same district in Asahigawa.
Smith Choro could play piano like no-one I've ever met. He was performing professionally even before his mission. He used to lay down on the piano bench with his head under the keys facing upward, reach up, and play the piano upside down! Now I know many people who might practice one song and be able to do that - Smith Choro could play any song you asked him to that way. He was a rare breed who could play by ear or by sight equally well.
Namahira Choro was our nihongin contingency. He could play drums or guitar at an extremely high professional level. One taikai, Hoki Dendobucho was asking missionaries what they planned on for a career after their missions. There were several dentists, lawyers, and accountants in the crowd. When it was Namahira's turn, he answered "a rock star". Everyone laughed, and Hoki Dendobucho said "no, really, what do you want to be". Namahira said "honto - a rock star". (I'd love to know what he's doing now...)
McAllister Choro sang for the Young Ambassadors before his mission and had an awesome singing voice. Mansell choro, Austin choro, and myself filled in where necessary (bass, vocals, keyboards, etc).
After a few p-day jam sessions, we decided to put on a concert at the Asahigawa church. We prepped some church songs, a Families are Forever slide show with live music, and a few other non-church songs that were still mellow enough for missionaries (we had to be careful not to get Namahira started, or he could turn the Golden Plates into an awesome guitar solo that would make Metallica proud).
A local radio station got wind of a gaijin band that was in the forming, and wanted to be the first to break us into the big time. We performed live one afternoon in their studios. Our careers were launching nicely. We called ourselves "Forever" (as in what families are).
We held the Asahigawa concert and filled the gym at the church. President Hoki attended, but had to leave early to catch a train back to Sapporo. We thought he had left in disgust and were petrified to get the call the next day explaining how we were all to be sent home for breaking mission rules with our unruly rock and roll. Mansell and I were the ZL's who had sanctioned this whole thing, so maybe there would be an extra little punishment in there for us as well.
Well, sure enough, the call came the next day. After stopping my hand from shaking holding our nice little pink denwa phone receiver, I listened as President Hoki explained that he had booked the cultural center in Sapporo about a month hence and that we would all stay together for that month so we could perform another concert. "Oh", he added, "you guys better practice because there were some rough spots last night". (And there were). I decided not to ask him to confirm that we were not being sent home. (One of those things that is better left unsaid, I figured).
Wow - we had finally made it. We were being called up to the big leagues of Sapporo!
Well, we DID practice and put on a show in Sapporo a month later that saw over 1000 people attend. It was a night I'll never forget. The Lord helped us find instruments, help us all exceed our abilities (well, except maybe Namahira - if he had exceeded his abilities, the guitar solo may never had ended), and just made everything come together. You know how some things just work out without a hitch, and you know you are getting help? It was certainly the case with the Sapporo concert. A Shimai from Tokyo (I'm sorry - I've forgotten her name) even had her famous performing sisters flown up and they were our opening act. (Hey - every good headliner needs one, right?). I couldn't believe how many people came. Having 130 missionaries handing out leaflets for a month before the event didn't hurt - they were already sort of going door-to-door, if you know what I mean...
It was a highlight of my mission, and I went home a few months later. The band took a tremendous amount of work, but didn't involve any direct teaching or baptizing. I wondered in the few months after the concerts before I went home if we had really been doing missionary work, or if it was just a very fun thing to do. On the way home, I went through the mission home and attended my last sacrament meeting in Japan in the ward that the mission home staff attended. After the service, a sister came up to me and said "hey - weren't you one of the members of the Forever band?" (I told you we were famous). I said yes, I was. She then explained that she had seen a poster put on a power pole somewhere in Sapporo advertising the concert and had decided to attend. The concert was her first contact with the church. She was baptized about 6 weeks later. I guess we were doing missionary work after all. I couldn't think of a better way to end my mission. Thanks for the show of faith, President Hoki, and for not sending us home early. :-)