Singing to a full house of more than 3,600 in Richmond's famed Mosque Theater, the Tabernacle Choir launched its concert tour Monday, July 20, commemorating the 500th anniversary of the voyage of Columbus to the Americas. The concert coincidentally also marked the 250th anniversary of the founding of the city of Richmond.
In this capital city of Old Dominion, the choir brought together history and tradition when its 290 singers performed a repertoire of some of America's favorite songs in a part of the country where the roots of the nation run deep.
The choir was an obvious crowd pleaser. In a program that ranged in presentations from the more classical side of musical selections to toe-tapping tunes of Americana, the choir brought the audience to several standing ovations.
A little past the midway point in the program, members of the audience practically jumped to their feet and clapped vigorously after the choir sang "When the Saints Go Marchin' In." When program announcer Lloyd Newell said the choir had a lot more to sing that evening, the audience gave another enthusiastic round of applause.
Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder and U.S. Sen. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah were among political, civic and religious leaders of various faiths who attended the concert.
In a pre-concert speech to the audience, Gov. Wilder said Christopher Columbus was a man of vision who "had more than just a mote in his eye."
"It was something that agitated him so tremendously. He agitated the queen and everyone else who handled the treasure coffers to sponsor the trip [to the new world.T Some said he was going off the deep end. We were that deep end. When you consider just what was discovered in the process you get some real appreciation of the wonder of it all."
The governor related he had just returned from a three-week tour in Africa. "Every place I went, I couldn't help but marvel at what is and at what can be . . . as I watched nations thirsting for, striving for, reaching for their true experience in democracy. . . . We have shown a way that can be achieved.
On so many occasions, he said, "the critics, the naysayers and prophets of gloom outweigh the positive aspects of our being. That's why it's so important to communicate what we have."
He spoke of immigrants who have come and still come from the nations of the world. "They come from Africa, Europe, Asia and other lands, but each time they come they come to the land not with streets paved with gold but to the land that promises opportunity."
The choir picked up the governor's patriotic thread, under the direction of Jerold D. Ottley and Donald Ripplinger. Tabernacle organists John Longhurst, Clay Christiansen and Richard Elliott accompanied on piano and synthesizer.
Elder Lynn A. Sorensen of the North America Northeast Area presidency gave support to the choir throughout its stay in Richmond. Within an hour after choir arrived here Sunday afternoon, Elder Sorensen, of the Seventy, presided over a sacrament meeting in a hotel grand ballroom, attended a meeting honoring distinguished guests preceding the concert Monday evening and addressed a reception after the concert.
Wendell M. Smoot, choir president, said Richmond is an appropriate location to begin a tour celebrating Columbus' voyage because it reaffirms the Church's support of governments and obedience to the laws of countries in which members live.
"Virginia is the home of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, James Madison and other great Americans," he noted. "This tour demonstrates our love of country as a Church and as individual members.
"The people of this community have demonstrated that this choir is welcomed not only by members of the Church, but also by the community. There has been a labor of love in this city to bring the choir here and in supporting us."
Pres. Smoot noted: "This has been called America's choir. The warm welcome we've received in Richmond is an example of the love affair with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir."
While in Richmond, some choir members went on sightseeing tours. Some toured the city itself, while others went to Williamsburg.
In Richmond a bus driver told choir members that James Erb, composer of the popular American folk song "Shenandoah," is from Richmond. The song is part of the choir's tour repertoire, and in tribute to the composer, the singers gathered around a statue of George Washington, which was on the sightseeing tour, and sang the folk song.
Another tour bus driver, Mark McCormick, is a Free Methodist minister and a fan of the choir.
"When I heard the choir was coming to Richmond," he said, "I took my vacation time to be one of their bus drivers."
The minister said he grew up in a family of music lovers, and that the choir was one of his father's favorite vocal groups. He said his father kept a sharp diamond needle on the stereo tone arm so he could enjoy choir recordings.
He instructed the singers on his bus tour in the traditional manner of presenting the Protestant doxology, "Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow." Having done so, he said he has the distinction of being a Protestant minister who has led the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The tour will also take the famed singers to areas of the United States steeped in Church history, particularly with stops in Nauvoo, Ill., and Kirtland, Ohio, and a concert performance in Independence, Mo., on July 31.