Choir members on tour are not tourists

When members of the Tabernacle Choir go on a tour, they are not tourists. Although they make singing look easy, and even fun, they work hard to bring their art to their audiences.

Until one travels with the choir, he or she cannot comprehend how strenuous a choir tour is. The tour to Israel, on the surface, seemed to be one of the easier tours the choir has undertaken in the past 18 months. One major bonus was that members of the group could stay in the same hotels for eight nights, rather than check in and out within a matter of hours as they did on their 21-day tour to Europe in June 1991 when they undertook 12 concerts in 11 cities in eight countries; and in the U.S. and Canada in July 1992, when they performed 11 concerts in 10 cities in 13 days.But even with the luxury of returning to the same hotel rooms each night, choir members and guests found the tour still rigorous.

The schedule allowed very little free time. For most choir members, shopping was limited to the time their buses stopped briefly in Bethlehem. Except for their final day in Israel, when they went to Masada and Qumran, choir members crammed their sightseeing into one afternoon's walking tour of Old Jerusalem. That evening, they performed with the Jerusalem Symphony.

Most days during the tour were filled with rehearsals - several intensive sessions with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra - and some brief ones before concerts were performed without the symphony. On one day, the choir rode buses to Tel Aviv while eating box lunches en route, rehearsed and gave a matinee performance, and then rushed back to Jerusalem to eat a quick dinner and perform another concert that evening. That day's last concert was in the auditorium of the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. Since the stage was too small for the placement of chairs, choir members stood for the entire concert.

Several articles in journals for the Association of Teachers of Singing refer to singers as "musical athletes." The journals report that the amount of energy expended in a concert has been scientifically measured. The energy outputs of concerts have been compared to tennis or racquetball games of equal duration.

Dr. Keith Finlayson, a choir member and an ear, nose and throat specialist, spoke of the physical strain of singing six concerts in a 10-day period, without any scheduled rest periods and while coping with jet lag:

"We did some particularly difficult music on this tour and we had a heavy schedule, doing either one concert or two concerts during the course of a day, and rehearsals nearly every day. This kind of schedule takes its toll on the vocal chords, as they become slightly swollen after each concert or rehearsal. Normally, singers have 24 hours between performances. Rarely would you see an opera singer perform two nights in a row, or perform one night and spend all the next day in rehearsal. When we're on tour, we don't have time to rest.

"We had some particularly hard circumstances on this tour, performing Berlioz' `Requiem.' We performed with a double orchestra - more than 100 musicians - that featured 12 timpani [kettledrumsT. The tendency was to try to sing over the orchestra. That put a great strain on our voices.

"We had the added problem of changing altitude frequently. We went from Jerusalem, which is 2,400 feet above sea level, down to the Dead Sea, which is 1,300 feet below sea level. The air pressure change was difficult for the ears and the sinuses. The air was quite dry and became very irritating to the vocal chords.

"Also, we had a lot of people who had colds. We had an unusual number of coughs on this trip. My medical supplies were depleted way before the tour ended."

James B. Kennard, another choir member and a stress management consultant, noted that the physical stress caused by long travel and 18-hour days is substantial and can take its toll. "Our amazingly resilient bodies usually handle that stress very well," he said. "However, the thought-related stresses of guilt from leaving family behind, worry about lost income, fear of real or perceived dangers related to traveling to foreign lands, loneliness for a partner, and other negative thoughts and feelings can be even more troublesome and unhealthy.

"The choir leadership helps reduce stress by providing rehearsal tapes, saving our time in rehearsals; the excellent security procedures make us feel safe; and air travel and good accommodations help reduce fatigue and make our trips more enjoyable."

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