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Church choir 'SION' competes in 'Mongolia’s Got Talent’ and members say they were true to their name by coming together, despite deaths and trials along the way

A row of over 10 women stand in front wearing red and pink dresses with a women in the middle wearing a black dress and 12 men in. the back wearing peach colored shirts.
The BYUH band toured Mongolia in 2008, Odgerel Ochirjav said, inspiring them to start a Mongolian choir.

Mongolian students who were part of the SION choir band that reached the semifinal of “Mongolia’s Got Talent” said the experience helped them grow as individuals. Members of the choir said their time on the show provided a way to share the gospel through their music.

Odgerel Ochirjav, a CES coordinator of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mongolia and a former stake president of the Ulaanbaatar West Stake, said, “I see how united they were during their hardships. Some of them lost their parents and many other challenges they faced, but they were one just like their name and [they] overcame everything together.”

According to the Church Newsroom, the combined Ulaanbaatar Mongolia East and West Stake choir reached the semifinals of “Mongolia’s Got Talent” in December 2016.

Nomungerel Enkhtuvshin, an alumna from Mongolia who graduated in psychology in Fall 2020, said they named their band SION, which means Zion in Mongolian and is also a Mongolian acronym which, in English, means united by heart, faith and mind.

Ochirjav said “Mongolia’s Got Talent” continued for over a year, so it was very challenging and required a lot of time from each member. The choir started with 35 members, but along the way, two went on their missions and four left for BYUH.

Enkhtuvshin said focusing on winning the competition became too stressful, so they decided to focus on their journey, which helped them enjoy their practices.

“For example, we do gift exchanges, wear color matching clothes to each practice, celebrate each other’s birthdays and mission call openings and so on. It helped us to be united and create many memories.”

Otgontuya Tumursukh, a senior from Mongolia majoring in TESOL, shared participating in the show was time consuming. “Besides preparation for our songs, the TV host called us many times for different broadcasts, such as New Year’s Eve shows and a Lunar New Year show. ... Some evenings we had to stay up until 2 a.m., 3 a.m. to record our voices.

“We all had our own lives. Some of us were full-time employees or students, so spending that much time was hard for us. Some of us even lost jobs, but in the end, it was all worth it. All of us were blessed so much. My blessing was coming to BYUH,” Tumursukh commented.

Ochirjav said soon after the show finished, many of them came to BYUH. So far, 14 of them are currently studying and three of them are graduated. More of them are preparing to come to BYUH, Ochirjav added.

Over 20 men and women wearing white shirts, black vests and white and black pants sit and stand around eachother.

Bayartsogt Lkhagvajav, a sophomore from Mongolia majoring in human resources, said many of the choir members dreamed of coming to BYUH to obtain an education. “I believe that God saw how hard we worked for this project, so He bestowed upon us our dream to study at BYUH.”

Odgerel Ochirjav said BYU–Hawaii’s Concert Choir toured Mongolia in 2008, inspiring the Church leaders in Mongolia to establish a similar choir.

Eventually, he said the Mongolian multi-stake choir was created and even participated in the second season of the nationally televised show “Mongolia’s Got Talent.” He said the choir performed the annual Christmas choir concert and did a concert tour around Mongolia in 2015 that prepared the them to attend “Mongolia’s Got Talent.”

According to the Church Newsroom, Seminary and Institute students ages 14 to 28 comprised much of the choir, with the exception of a few young married adults. Approximately half of the choir members were returned missionaries.

Janlavtsogzol Battulga, a senior from Mongolia majoring in accounting, said none of the members were professional singers or musicians and didn’t even know how to read music notes. “We had to memorize every song automatically, so it required so much patience and effort from each member and our choir leaders,” she added.

Sharing the gospel through music

Enkhtuvshin said it was a great experience for her, saying she always adds it to her resume. “I was in charge of the music, so I helped to choose the songs and contacted a BYU music professor to help us improve our songs. This project helped me to gain confidence in my leadership skills.”

Bolor Odgiiv, a freshman from Mongolia majoring in social work, said being a part of SION choir taught her a lot about being disciplined and working in a team. “We didn’t use any music, so we sang all our songs acapella. We made all the beats, melodies and songs by ourselves. Making 35 non-professionals into an acapella choir required so much from each member and our leaders.”

Odgiiv continued, saying, “I also learned how important a contribution of a single member to the team’s success. It’s a memory that I will cherish for my whole life.”

Five women and one man stand in a line wearing dresses and a suit smiling with the BYUH mural behind them and a tan stone wall.
Members of the SION Band now at BYUH. Left to right: Otgontuya Tumursukh, Janlavtsogzol Battulga, Bayartsogt Lkhagvajav, Onon Dalaikhuu, Bolor Odgiiv and Nomungerel Enkhtuvshin.

Tumursukh shared, “I was amazed when I found out that so much work is required from many people just to prepare five minutes of singing and broadcasting. Especially uniting many people’s voices and preparing their costumes, makeup and hair requires much more time than one person’s performance.”

Working with so many people was another challenge, Tumursukh said. “Sometimes we disagree, fight, offend, cry, reconcile and some of us fall in love with each other. From this experience, I saw that establishing Zion is a hard and long process. It requires so much patience, tolerance and cooperation from each member.”

Lkhagvajav said, “Some of us had four kids and were pregnant at the time. Some of us lost our loved ones, but none of us gave up in the middle of the way. When we had hard times as a group and as an individual, we always prayed and gained a strong testimony of the power of prayers.”

Lkhagvajav said he sees this project as his second full-time mission because it was an opportunity to preach the gospel through their voices. “God blessed us to reach the semifinal of the show because Mongolians see how the Church influences Mongolian youth to be better people. So, it was definitely mission work.”

Onon Dalaikhuu, a sophomore from Mongolia majoring in communications, was one of the committee members who organized the project from the very beginning. She shared the project provided them many opportunities to improve, and said she was able to sharpen her leadership and organizational skills.

Ochirjav said he and other priesthood leaders were given an assignment to find ways to increase the Church’s reputation in Mongolia from the Asia area leaders. “So, we came up with an idea to put our choir in the nationwide televised show that reaches every family,” he added. “After the show, SION band became very famous. The band has several music videos as well. When we introduce our church, we talk about SION and everyone knows about it.”

Enkhtuvshin said the judges of the competition said they were an example to Mongolian youth. “They were amazed by how united and organized we were even though we were [from] different occupations, ages and not professional singers. They said we were literally shining bright.”

Dalaikhuu said after the show, the SION band was all over the press and social media. “People received us very positively. We received hundreds of supporting messages and comments. It was very encouraging.”

More than 20 men and women standing in lines wearing white shirts, black vests, black pants and white shoes with their right arm on their chest singing in a chapel.
The SION Band

Battulga explained Mongolians think only poor people go to Christian churches to receive help, so this choir changed their perspectives. “My relatives watched it and were amazed by our good examples and how our free time can be effectively spent among people who have similar aspirations in the Church.”

Tumursukh said, “I admired how dedicated our church leaders were. President Ochirjav cooked for us so many times. Our choir conductor, Unurjargal Purev, never missed a single practice even though she lived very far and had to drive for hours to come. I gained so much respect and love for them.”

Changing perceptions

Odgiiv expressed the SION band was also a big contribution to choir culture in Mongolia. “The judges of the show told us SION pulled up the Mongolian acapella choir growth into the next level. It was such rewarding news to hear for us,” she added.

Battulga explained many Mongolians see choirs as old-fashioned. “When we say choir, Mongolians think that people just stand still and motionless and all sing the same song. But we broke that norm and showed how creative and fun choir can be. Now, they see that choir doesn’t have to be boring,” she said.

Dalaikhuu said Mongol TV has continued to work with them. They did a back vocal for The Voice show for two years and for several other established artists. “We also sing for New Year’s Eve and Lunar New Year concerts. The TV employees love us because they think of us as talented young people who are reliable to work with.”

Ochirjav said they even received an invitation to sing the national anthem on the 100th anniversary of the Mongolian revolution.