October 22, 2013

Rebecca Pederson Conquered Partial Deafness to Win the MET Opera Competition

Recently I attended a concert featuring a lovely new opera singer named Rebecca Pederson.  She is only 21 with only 3 or 4 years of singing experience, and a hearing problem, yet she recently won the MET competition in New York City!  It's not a fluke; it's a result of  applying hard work and determination to her talent.

Photo Courtesy of BYU
Rebecca is one of the older children in a large family-- 11 kids total.  That meant hard work helping her mom.  Rebecca loved to sing although she suffered the loss of hearing in one ear.  In High School she took a voice lesson, but it didn't really inspire her.  In her senior year, she tried singing again, joining the choir.  Rebecca said, "I couldn't sing parts for the life of me.  I'm deaf in one ear so I couldn't sing alto. So my choir teacher's like, 'Well, we'll put her on soprano.' Then it was like, 'Shh, Becca, be quiet.' Because I would stick out like a sore thumb."   

Later, Rebecca's mom took her to an Opera featuring Fredrika Von Stade.  "My mother dragged me," Rebecca said. "I fell in love with the art form. I realized it wasn't just for old people. It was alive and beautiful. It was obvious to me that it took your whole body and soul to sing opera. It takes everything you have in you to get up there and sing with that passion and force."

Rebecca began listening to opera recordings and at age 18 she started taking lessons again.  Her teacher told her she had the kind of voice to perform in the Metropolitan Opera House (MET) in New York.  That gave her hope.

After High School graduation, she was unsure of what education she should pursue.  As she prayed about it, she felt like God wanted her to build on her singing talent.  She applied to Brigham Young University to study under Darrell and Jennifer Babidge, a husband and wife team of opera teachers on the faculty.  Working two jobs to pay her bills, Rebecca wore herself out training in her spare time. Rebecca kept practicing with her mentors and teachers, putting hours into training her voice to sing and her ears to hear the music.  

After a couple of years of training, the Babidge team decided Rebecca could use some experience in competitions.  They encouraged her to enter the Met competition.  Rebecca was young and had nothing to lose, but lots of good experience to gain.  Over the next two months of competitions preceding the MET, Rebecca kept advancing- winning district, regional and semi-final competitions.  She was elated when she realized her dream of competing in the final MET competition in New York City, one of 10 singers out of 1800 entrants. 

Rebecca didn't expect to win her first competition.  It was just for experience.  But Rebecca did win!  Suddenly professional offers came her way.  She turned them all down, preferring to apply the $15,000 cash prize to her BYU tuition and continue toward her degree. 

Rebecca is quick to tell people, "Talent isn't enough to get you to the MET. It takes that, and hours and hours of study, practice and research. It takes lots of prayers, tears and sweat."  Professor Babidge agreed, adding, "Rebecca has a gift, as well as the discipline to work hard and the maturity to handle an opera career." 

The recipe for success never changes-- a measure of talent, hard work and determination, and help from God.  Rebecca has shown that this recipe works, even with a hearing loss and working two jobs. 


McBride, Jon.  "BYU Sophomore Wins Prestigious MET Opera Competition."  18 Mar 2013.  BYU Press Release.  News.byu.edu.  22 Oct 2013.  http://news.byu.edu/archive13-mar-operastudent.aspx

Mikita, Carole.  "Partially deaf BYU student wins Metropolitan Opera Competition."  21 Mar 2013.  KSL.com.  22 Oct 2013.  http://www.ksl.com/?sid=24494905

Reichel, Edward.  "Utah Soprano Makes it to Semi-Final Round in Met Auditions." 26 Feb 2013.  Reichelrecommends.com.  22 Oct. 2013  http://www.reichelrecommends.com/utah-soprano-makes-it-to-semifinal-round-in-met-opera-auditions/

Van Walkenburg, Nancy.  "Bountiful Soprano Wins Prize at the Met."  11 Mar 2013.  Standard Examiner.  22 Oct. 2013.  http://www.standard.net/stories/2013/03/11/bountiful-soprano-wins-prize-met

Zajick, Delora.  "Congratulations to Rebecca Pederson on her 2013 Met Opera National Council Audition Win!"  12 Mar 2013.  22 Oct. 2013.  http://www.dolorazajick.com/2013/03/12/congratulations-to-rebecca-pedersen-on-her-2013-met-opera-national-council-audition-win/


October 15, 2013

Ghanian Ziggy Ansah Discovers Football and Becomes First Draft NFL Pick

Photo Courtesy of BYU Frontiers Magazine

My husband and I were able to fly to Utah to see the Georgia Tech vs. Brigham Young University game last weekend.  While in town, we learned of a remarkable BYU alumni football player with a great story.  Although Ezekial (Ziggy) Ansah was born and raised in Ghana, he became a first round number 5 draft pick in the NFL last year.  

Ziggy was always athletic growing up in Accra, Ghana.  He loved to play soccer and basketball, and helped his school basketball team win many games.  Because of his hard work on the court, he was voted most valuable player.  Plus he was a bright kid.  His friends say he was the smartest kind in the school, getting a perfect score on their SAT equivalent test. 

Missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints frequented the basketball court at his local high school, playing pick-up basketball when they had some free time.  After meeting on the court, the missionaries began to teach Ziggy the gospel of Jesus Christ and Ziggy believed it was true.  He joined the Church when he was 18.  Although the missionaries are transient, Ziggy stayed in contact with Elder Ken Frei, one of the missionaries who baptized him.  After Ziggy graduated from high school in 2007, Ken suggested that he attend BYU and join the basketball team. 

Ziggy applied to BYU and was accepted for the 2008 academic year.  His grades qualified him for an academic scholarship.  To pay the rest of his expenses, Ziggy took a job as a janitor on campus.  Ziggy was probably thrilled to have such a great opportunity to obtain an education.  For Ghanians, education is the key out of 'economic prison.'  And he could join the basketball team.

But Ziggy was cut from the basketball team in 2008 and 2009.  He tried the track team and did well, but his build wasn’t ideal for track, and the coaches didn’t think it was the best fit.  At 6’6” tall and 270+ pounds muscle, he really looked like a football player.  Ziggy understood Soccer, but had never really played or even watched American Football.  With some persuasion from his new friends, Ziggy tried football.  He walked on the team in 2010 and gave it his best.

His coaches said that Ziggy didn’t even know how to put on the gear they gave him at first.  He had to learn the basics of the game to even practice with the team.  But Ziggy learned quickly.  In his first game of play mid-season, he made a great tackle.  After that, Ziggy got a few minutes of play time in each game and kept improving both that year and his Junior year at BYU.

Ziggy got his big break in 2012 as a Senior when a player hurt his knee and Ziggy was given his spot as ‘noseguard’ on the defensive squad.  Now playing each game consistently, Ziggy gave BYU everything he had.  As the season finished, Ziggy was third in number of tackles, second in number of sacks, and first in number of tackles with a loss!  His hard work and study paid off.  A football scholarship that year allowed Ziggy to quit his janitor job, probably helping him succeed.  

NFL scouts didn’t even have Ziggy on their mock drafts earlier in the season.  But by the final draft, Ziggy was listed as the number 5 first round draft pick in the NFL.  The Detroit Lions offered him a 5 year contract the same day he graduated from BYU with a Bachelors degree in Actuary Science and a  minor in Math.  Ziggy is playing marvelously for this team.  

Ziggy’s decision to join the LDS church opened doors for him he may not have understood in 2007.  Through his church membership and good grades, he was exposed to BYU and football, where he applied hard work and determination to gain success.  If there is a ‘rags to riches’ story in football, this is it!  No matter what our background, with a little opportunity and a lot of hard work, amazing things can happen.


Wikipedia, "Ezekial Ansah" updated 15 October 2013.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ezekiel_Ansah

Profile from BYU Homecoming Spectacular 11 October 2013.

Call, Jeff.  Deseret News.  25 April 2013.  "Ziggy Ansah dons cap and gown prior to heading off to NFL draft." 14 Oct 2013  http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865578964/Ziggy-Ansah-dons-cap-and-gown-prior-to-heading-off-to-NFL-draft.html?pg=all

Frontiers, BYU College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Fall 2013, p. 2. http://cpms.byu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/FINAL-for-Web-Spreads.pdf

October 7, 2013

Alvin Moroni Jensen Trained Horses to Win Races

Alvin was barely 11 years old when his family moved onto a ranch in Circleville, Utah.  The family moved there from Parowan to allow Alvin’s father Jorgen Peder Jensen to assume the role of Bishop to a congregation of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Leasing some land from Mr. Ambrose Thompson, Jorgen took on 500 acres of farmland.  Alvin resumed his duties on a farm caring for animals and milking the cows.  Alvin’s older brother John had been hired by Mr. Ambrose to work with his horses.  As Alvin got older and stronger, he began to work with his brother John.  Alvin showed such prowess with horses that Mr. Thompson hired him to also work with his horses.

Ambrose, or ‘Brose’ Thompson knew horses well and wanted to have the fastest horses in the valley.  He had John and Alvin train a set of ‘Sulky[1]’ horses differently than the norm:  Instead of training the horses to stop when pulling back on the reins, they were to increase their speed.  To stop them, one should let up on the reins, which normally caused horses to accelerate.  These differences, among others, allowed these horses to only respond properly to Alvin and John, and somehow made a difference in their racing techniques.

Although John and Alvin were only teenagers, using these techniques and spending hours working with this particular team of horses, these young men won several races in the first Iron County Fair.  The horses won Mr. Thompson first prize and top money in the white-top buggy team races, top money in the buckboard races, and they also won all the Sulky races, both for the trotters and the pacers.  Alvin remembered, “John and I were the drivers, and needless to say, this brought us a slight increase in wages.  You should have seen the monkey suits we wore—bright shirts, tight britches, purple neckerchiefs and goggles!  We were really dudified!!”

Hard work, determination and different training techniques had made winners out of these horses.  But the story doesn’t end here; it also caused problems.  Once when Alvin’s father needed to pick up a gentleman, he mistakenly took one of the Sulky horses.  Somehow he managed to get where he needed to go, but when he tried to stop by pulling back on the reins, the horse took off in a gallop.  He rode around in circles in the Kingston town square several times unable to get the horse to stop.  Finally in exasperation, he let up on the reins and the horse stopped.  

Another time John and Alvin had hitched up the Sulky’s to a wagon and were working in a field.  When their dad came to call them into dinner, the boys asked him to take the wagon and horses into the barn for them.  As Jorgen climbed up into the wagon, he tried to warm himself in the chill by jumping up and down and beating his arms about him.  This was a signal to the horses to run, which they did.  Alvin laughed, “Poor father was somersaulted to the back of the wagon and John and I had to walk all the way back to the barn.”   More than once, Jorgan said to his sons, “You crazy kids—how can you train them like this?  No one else knows how to handle them.”

Their unusual training and speed came in handy when church leader and Prophet Lorenzo Snow died in October 1901.  Church leaders and dignitaries were called back to Salt Lake City to participate in his funeral.  Needing a fast ride to Marysville, three gentlemen (Apostle Frances M. Lyman, Professor Howard Driggs and Professor Ward) were brought to the Jensen home looking for conveyance.  Church leader Mahonri Steele had brought them to the Jensen home knowing that Alvin, although young, could bring them to Marysville in time to catch their train.  

Alvin was at a dance when he got word of the situation.  Stopping at the Thompson farm to retrieve the Sulky horses delayed young Alvin in getting home, making the gentlemen worry even more about missing their train.  Alvin hitched up a good buggy and settled in his passengers, who all seemed a bit skeptical about this young man’s ability to get them there on time.  Alvin vowed to get them there EARLY.  After all, this was the team that took all honors at the county fair!  Alvin rode the horses hard, delivering the passengers a full 50 minutes early to the train station.  Driving that fast caused one seat spring to break and the passengers to have to hold on tightly to their seats.  Professor Driggs, who sat in the front with Alvin, said it was the best ride he ever had.  

Training these horses using different techniques gave Alvin and John the edge to win many races in the county fair, but also gave them unintended challenges.  Fortunately, with good humor and hindsight, one can laugh about the challenges.  

Source:  Jensen, Alvin Moroni.  “My Life Story.”  1974 pp. 4-7.  Found at http://johnsonfamilyhistorystories.blogspot.com/2013/08/alvin-moroni-jensen.html

[1] A Sulky is a two wheeled cart pulled by horses like a chariot.  Alvin called these specially trained horses ‘Sulky’s.’

Emily Steele Showed She Was Made of Steel

In the Wild West era, young women often had to do some heroic things to survive under harsh conditions.  To thrive and remain pure and virtuous took extra pluck and courage.  Two stories in Emily’s young life showed that she was willing to do amazing things to both survive and survive intact.

Once she and her father Mahonri Steele were visiting her cousin’s family, the Bringhursts in La Verkin, Utah.  Emily and her cousin Linda Bringhurst wanted to visit some hot springs nearby.  Mahonri asked Linda’s dad to take them, which he agreed to do.  Mahonri left his team of ‘spirited’ horses and a buggy for them to use to visit the springs while he attended to some business.  One had to cross the rough Virgin river in order to reach the springs.  Mr. Bringhurst ended up being too busy to go, and after enduring hours of coaxing, he allowed Emily and Linda to use those rambunctious horses to reach the springs.  Mahonri would never have let Emily and Linda take those horses alone to cross that rough river.

Arriving at the crossing point, the girls saw a fast moving treacherous river flowing under cables outlining where an old swinging bridge had once hung.  The bridge was long gone, but the cables remained, hanging about 20 feet above the turbulent water.  The girls urged the horses forward into the rough water until mid stream a wheel caught and the horses were unable to budge the wagon.  Stuck in the middle of the raging river with no one in sight, Emily knew she must do something.  Leaving Linda to calm the agitated horses, Emily climbed up on top of the wagon and grasped the dangling cables.  She climbed up into the cables and managed to cross the 150 foot span to the other side.  Rips in her clothing and scratches on her skin showed the difficulty she endured to reach shore.  She lost nearly all the skin on her hands in the effort.  I can’t imagine how she hung, perhaps upside down in her long dress and petticoats, hanging from cables and climbing across the underside of a bridge as she listened to the rushing water dozens of feet below her.  Reaching shore, she ran for help.

When Emily retold this story, she always emphasized that she had been more afraid of her father’s wrath than hurting herself crossing the river.  When she later showed her adventurous husband Alvin the cables now hanging below a newly-built modern bridge, he shook his head and said, “You had more nerve than I would have had.”  

Emily was a pretty girl and attractive to young men.  Having been raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she was committed to remain chaste until she married.  She also sang with a travelling performing group, which meant she also gained the admiration of young men in many areas of the state of Utah.  She determined to always date in groups, knowing that doing so would give her a measure of protection.

One evening, she went with a group to a party 7 miles away from her hometown of Panguitch, Utah.  One young man in the group bribed the rest of them to leave him alone with Emily once the party ended.  They left his horse behind for him and Emily, expecting them to catch up.  When Emily realized she was now alone with this young man whom she barely knew, she was angry and afraid.  She mounted his horse and caught up with her group, leaving him to walk the seven miles back to town in the dark.  

Emily showed courage and pluck in these circumstances, showing that she would do whatever was necessary to survive and keep her honor and virtue intact.  

Sources:  Jensen, Alvin Moroni.  "My Life Story." 1974.  p. 13.   Found at http://johnsonfamilyhistorystories.blogspot.com/2013/08/alvin-moroni-jensen.html
Washington County Historical Society:  Hurricane/LaVerkin Bridge http://www.wchsutah.org/roads/hurricane-laverkin-bridge.php

October 1, 2013

Mary White, Ray of Sunshine in a Nursing Home for 15 Years

In a small room in Snellville, Mary White picks at her food.  The television is on, although neither Mary nor her two roommates are watching.  Although unappetizingly pureed in small bowls, Mary has already bowed her head to offer a prayer of thanks to God for that food.  Mary has blessed her food at each meal like this in her nursing home bed for the last 15 years.  When many people would be angry with God for being stuck in a nursing home bed for that amazing length of time, Mary continues to be grateful for her life and faithful to God.  She’s a ray of sunshine in a depressing place.

Mary White was 68 in 1998 when she suffered a stroke.  Quick response from paramedics saved her life, but left Mary unable to use half of her body.  As the paramedics stood her up to help her into the ambulance, she correctly predicted it would be the last time she would stand and walk on her feet.  She has been lying in bed ever since.  

Although her facial muscles were not affected, Mary is unable to use her left arm or leg.  Her mental capacity is unchanged.  It must have been a shock to Mary to suddenly be trapped in a non-functioning body.  There was so much Mary wanted to do in her retirement.  She was traveling, working at the temple and doing genealogy.  And she had many close friends she spent time with in her hometown of Savannah.  Now her life would be completely different.  Mary chose to live in a full care facility and not be a burden on her family.  Moving to a Snellville nursing home would allow her four children to visit her.  They visit faithfully.  Their visits bring Mary great joy. 

Mary’s church family has visited her regularly too.  As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) Mary became a member of the Snellville congregation when she moved into the nursing home.  Although she can’t attend church, members visit her and leave inspired by her good attitude.  Missionaries got into the routine of visiting Mary on Friday afternoons to play Dominoes.  (She beats them every game.)  Young priests come each Sunday to administer the emblems of the Sacrament.  

Everyone from church who visits Mary immediately loves her because of her sunny disposition and the twinkle in her eyes.  She does not complain about being stuck in bed, even though she is often in pain.  One congregant gathered donated yarn so Mary could crochet again, although without her left hand, she was unable to master crochet again.  Another congregant visited her nearly daily with his wife, bringing her lunch from their favorite restaurants.  And another rounded up donations to purchase Mary a motorized wheelchair so Mary could get outside more often.  Like me, I'm sure that these church friends feel like they benefit more than Mary does from their visits.  

Phantom pain from Mary’s affected side is almost constant.  She developed bedsores almost immediately from lying constantly. They have not healed.  Her glasses were stolen, leaving her unable to read.  Mary fills her time doing what crafts she can master, like coloring in black velvet paintings with markers.  And she looks forward to visitors, especially children.  Mary is cheerful and engaged.  At our visits, she usually shares her letters from friends we know, asking us to reread them to her.  She fills us in with news of her children and grandchildren, clearly proud of the great family she raised.

Nurses caring for Mary enjoy visiting with her too.  Mary has shared her faith in Jesus Christ with each of them.  When we visit her, she often asks us to pray with her before we leave.  And she blesses her food before eating it, always expressing gratitude for her life.  It is remarkable.  When I told her recently that our family prays for her every day, she was glad to hear that.  “I believe in prayer,” she stated simply.  Clearly she relies on prayer to cope with each day’s challenges.  And by her positive attitude, it’s clear that she believes in a better world.

Mary has said many times that she doesn’t own anything of value anymore.  She had to part with her car and other possessions after her stroke.  But she has told me more than once that she is rich because her family is her treasure.  "I don't have any riches; my children are my riches.  They are my treasure.  The best is knowing that they love me with a real love.  Not the fake stuff, but real love." 

I honor Mary because she shows us all how to live with extremely difficult circumstances with joy.  She cheerfully endures a major setback and life change and makes the best of it.    What an example!