July 8, 2009

In Perfect Harmony

2009 1519 page18 caphe sea of more than 800,000 people looks like water flowing down Avenue 9 de Julio in the center of Buenos Aires, Argentina. You can feel the electrifying excitement start to build as the seconds tick closer to the big moment. And then, the announcement: “Put your hands together to welcome . . . Amanecer!” Amid the explosion of cheers, four young men walk onto the stage, and soon a tight, four-piece harmony envelops the crowd, bringing honor and glory to God.

That was the scene in March 2008 when four Adventist men from Argentina had the privilege of sharing their passion for music and Jesus at an outdoor event featuring world-renowned evangelist Luis Palau.

But that’s not where the story starts or ends.                                          2009 1519 page18 link spanish
It started 14 years earlier when Martín Piro was asked to perform special music at Buenos Aires’ Morón Adventist Academy for the school’s Week of Prayer. His father, Elbio, who has sung bass for the Melodias Quartet for 38 years, helped him compose a song in four-piece harmony for him, his brother Marcos, and two friends. After that performance, the boys began accepting sporadic engagements when asked. Then in 1994 they decided to officially launch the quartet under the name “Amanecer,” which means “daybreak” in Spanish. Today the group features two of the original members: Martín sings bass, his brother Marcos sings baritone. First tenor Andrés Ferreira has been with the group for six years. The latest addition to the quartet is Andrés’ brother Exequiel, a student at the University of Buenos Aires who took over the spot vacated by founding member Christian Apicella in April.
“After a lot of prayer, there were three main reasons we settled on the name Amanecer Vocal Group. The first was that we picked the name when we were 13 to 17 years old and it was the ‘daybreak’ of our music and our group,” remembers Marcos. Martín chimes in: “At that time, it was also the ‘daybreak’ of life for us. Second, daybreak is a new opportunity that God gives us each day; after darkness and trials, there is always a new day. And third, we imagine ‘daybreak’ as the glorious moment of Jesus’ second coming.”
The group’s first major musical influences were well-known artists such as Melodias Quartet and the Gaither Vocal Band. Over the years inspiration has also come from other music greats such as Take 6, Avalon, the Heritage Singers, Michael English, Marcos Vidal, and Daniel Calvetti.

Amanecer’s initial repertoire consisted mostly of southern gospel quartet music translated into Spanish combined with a deep passion to share the story of Jesus through music. But following God’s call hasn’t always been easy.
Their musical style was not well accepted by many in their own church. But Marcos remembers the day when God helped change their paradigm. “There was an Adventist pastor who advised us to ‘cast our cares on God’ and keep praying for His guidance. He said that just as Paul was entrusted to go and preach to the Gentiles, that may be our calling, too.”

From that point onward the group has been driven musically and spiritually by the charge in Matthew 28:18-20: “. . . Therefore go and make disciples . . .” Marcos says, “We realized we were waiting for people to come to church to hear the message and that’s a big mistake. Jesus didn’t ask us to wait for them to come. The Great Commission is for us to go! Go and look for those who have their heart open to God’s calling. We have a mission to minister to anyone who has an open heart.”
In 1998 the group was invited to present music for an Argentine Bible Society event—their first non-Adventist engagement. As God multiplied the loaves and fishes, He used that event to bless the group with more opportunities to witness.
Accepting God’s Call
As more performance invitations poured in, weekends got heavily booked up. But there were also the responsibilities of regular life to be met. All the men were busy either working or preparing for future careers. Marcos was studying business administration, with plans to eventually take over the family health-care business, and Martín was already working full-time for their father. Christian had finished medical school and was working as a surgeon, and Andrés was in university but felt a calling to full-time ministry. There were also marriages and family lives to attend to.
2009 1519 page18But while trusting in God and prayerfully asking for His leading, each member of the group chose to leave their particular career path and dedicate their life to full-time music ministry. That step of faith opened the floodgates for more invitations from all over Central and South America. In 2005 Amanecer had the privilege of opening for one of their great musical inspirations, Christian artist David Phelps, at a concert in Brazil. Performances in Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela, Guatemala, Puerto Rico, and Mexico soon followed.
With a clear mission to “go and make disciples,” a specific strategy was formed to inject Christ into the hearts and minds of those who might not otherwise give Him a chance. “We started a new repertoire with secular lyrics to open doors to places we couldn’t have dreamed of going with only Christian music,” explains Martín. “That’s how we get our foot in the door with people who wouldn’t otherwise go to church, but would go to a secular show. We open with some secular songs that are familiar to them, but then we introduce them to Christian lyrics with our message and testimony about what God has done in our lives and can do in theirs as well.”
In 2006 the group began working on some secular projects with Alex McCluzkey, the previous manager of well-known artists Luis Miguel and Christian Castro. McCluzkey opened doors for Amanecer to sing in front of many well-known singers, actors, producers, politicians, and entrepreneurs and gave them the opportunity to show that Christians can do great quality music. “What we do with excellence is all for God’s glory,” adds Martín.
From the start of their relationship the men made it clear to McCluzkey exactly what the Sabbath meant to them and how they would not dishonor God by breaking it. They were soon presented with a million-dollar contract with a major international label that had the potential to launch the group worldwide. But it made no provisions for Sabbathkeeping. McCluzkey explained that “rejecting the contract would be like bringing a new Diego Maradona-type soccer player to the national team and him refusing to play soccer on Sunday, the busiest sports day of the week,” says Marcos.
Martín provides more details: “When we were presented with this all-secular contract, we added in a few clauses of our own. We wanted a space in all our shows where we could sing our gospel songs and give our testimonies. And they accepted that clause. Another clause was giving us decision power over song selections, which was very important to us. It was crucial for us to pick lyrics that would be in line with our principles. Amazingly they also agreed to that. But neither side was willing to compromise on the Sabbath clause stipulating no secular songs on Friday night or Saturday before sundown. We told the producers we were laying up treasures in heaven, not on earth, and we did not sign the contract.”
Martín speaks of another lucrative prospect that came their way: “We had the opportunity to work with legendary composer and singer Ricardo Montaner. We were invited to tour with him and sing backup. The contract was ready to sign but there was a problem with one tour date that fell on Friday night. We didn’t want to sing secular songs on Sabbath. So because of one Friday night tour date, just one, we chose not to sign the contract with him. But God blesses in strange ways. Ricardo Montaner was so surprised that we were willing to pass up such an opportunity that he asked what made us so committed. We were able to share our testimony and the truth of the Sabbath with him!”
God continued to open doors for Amanecer in the Christian music world. In 2007 the men received an invitation to sing for a Luis Palau evangelistic campaign in Mexico. Then came the privilege of performing at the Palau campaign in Buenos Aires in 2008. “It was a huge blessing because after so much effort, hard work, and prayer, God showed us that in spite of [some] criticism and hardship, we were going in the right direction” said Apicella at the time. Newest member Exequiel adds: “Many times we as human beings like to plan our future, which is fine. But we forget that God has a plan for us.”
2009 1519 page18To date, Amanecer Vocal Group has performed for evan-
gelistic witnessing events throughout South and Central America and in the United States in cities such as Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, and Houston. They hope to take their music to three cities in Spain as well as London, Italy, and Costa Rica in the near future. They have also released three albums: Vuelve oh Señor (1997), Amanecer (2004), and Desde otro Lugar (2008).
There are still sacrifices, including significant time spent away from loved ones. But the men know they have been called and blessed for their faithfulness. “God willing, we’ll be able to come out with more Christian and secular albums. We are also in contract talks with Sony/BMG. If this contract is God’s will for our group, He will make it happen in spite of how crazy our demands seem to secular producers,” says Marcos.
One of the benchmarks of great music is its ability to inspire the listener. This is even more important when it is music that uplifts Christ. For Amanecer this is crucial to their mission objective and a special burden they carry in their hearts. And this is evident to their supporters. Pablo Canalis from Argentina says: “What inspires me about Amanecer is that they have stepped out in faith to serve God wherever He leads. They are top quality in all they do and that inspires me to step out in faith and represent God in a higher standard in my own life.” When Ileana Burgos, from Los Angeles, California, heard Amanecer’s story, she said: “I am so inspired by their commitment to their beliefs. Their example makes me a stronger Adventist Christian.”

But their story is still being written, for there is still much more for Amanecer to accomplish. Andrés says: “We want to inspire people to follow God in faith, inspire other groups to persevere and pray and keep moving forward. We want to inspire youth to tear down barriers and triumph.” Martín adds: “Many of our Adventist churches are losing their young people. At times there are such limitations on the style of music that the positive message never gets delivered in a way the youth will hear it. Amanecer focuses on reaching youth with the true message of Christ’s love.”

As the group continues to use their music to extol their passion for Christ, they join their fellow believers around the world eagerly looking to the “daybreak” that inspired their name—the second coming of Jesus Christ. Martín adds: “As long as it is God’s will for us to still be on earth, we’d like to keep growing as a ministry because that’s the commission—to ‘go and tell.’”

Marcos adds: “I dream of the day when we look out over a sea of people and the excitement is palpable because we will be singing in heaven for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!” 
To learn more about Amanecer Vocal Group, visit www.amanecervocalgroup.com, e-mail [email protected], or call (877) 603-4593.

Wilona Karimabadi is the editorial and marketing director for KidsView, Adventist Review’s magazine for kids. Jeremy Pierson writes from Visalia, California, where he owns and runs a dental management company. He and his wife, Bibiana, have two little girls.