Documentary records choir at hallowed sites

While in the Holy Land Dec. 26-Jan. 6, Tabernacle Choir members' duties included more than performing in concerts. They also videotaped the Jan. 3 "Music and the Spoken Word" broadcast (see Church News Jan. 2), and videotaped segments for a television documentary.

The documentary, being produced by Bonneville Communications, was filmed in Shepherd's Field near Bethlehem; the Mount of Beatitudes and Sea of Galilee; the grounds of Dominus Flevit, a church built on the Mount of Olives commemorating the area where Jesus wept over Jerusalem; and the Garden Tomb, believed by many to be where the Savior was buried.Ed Payne, producer of the documentary, selected the sites during an earlier visit to Israel. He said he anticipates the documentary will be broadcast on numerous stations throughout the world. "There are stations from Denmark to Moscow, to Sydney, to Manila that carry just about all the documentaries Bonneville produces for the Church," he said. "Some of those specials feature the music of the choir. We have stations that in the beginning weren't very interested in our documentaries, but now broadcast just about everything we send them. This documentary features the choir in the Holy Land singing some Christ-centered songs in some unique locations."

The experience of making the documentary gave choir members an added, even cherished, experience in the Holy Land. Layne Miller said: "We sang When I Survey the Wondrous Cross' at the Garden Tomb. I kept thinking of another song,He Is Not Here, for He Is Risen.' That kept going through my mind. It touched me deeply that He had really been there, but was there no more. Singing at the tomb was a special experience."

Anita Mumford spoke of the videotaping session at Dominus Flevit: "I had a spiritual feeling as I looked out over Old Jerusalem as we sang `How Great Thou Art.' I thought of Christ weeping over Jerusalem and thought about how significant it was that we could sing about Christ on that particular mount. You could hear the song echo, reverberate around the hillside and across the Kidron Valley. It was a witness to Christ that we could do that."

Brother Payne obtained permission from the owners or caretakers to use each site where the documentary was videotaped. Some owners expressed particular delight to have the Tabernacle Choir in their presence. For example, two representatives of the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor that owns Shepherd's Field went to watch the documentary being filmed at that site. The choir already was singing of the Savior's birth when the Franciscans entered the field.

"I often wondered what the angelic chorus of long ago sounded like when they sang to shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem," the Rev. Peter Vasko, director of Pilgrimages, St. Saviour's Monastery, commented to the Church News. "I need wonder no more."

The Rev. Raphael Caputo said he and his colleagues were excited when they learned the choir wanted to use Shepherd's Field. "Your reputation goes before you," he said in comments after meeting choir Pres. Wendell M. Smoot. "We're extremely pleased that you've been here, that you've given witness in your own way to the Lord in the Holy Land, here in Bethlehem where He was born."

He said it was a pleasure to hear "such an angelic chorus' music once again reverberating through the hills and fields of Bethlehem. This is music from heaven."

Of making the documentary, choir director Jerold Ottley said: "This, perhaps more than any tour I've been associated with, has had more involvement with the emotions of the choir members. Every time we performed, someone in the choir - and often many - were having personal and emotional experiences. That was true particularly as we sang on location for making the documentary. I had very little eye contact with the choir members because there was a constant stream of emotional energy as they sang in places like Shepherd's Field and the Garden Tomb. Every time I looked at the singers, I saw people who were having strong emotional experiences, and that would tear me all apart. I had to work hard to remain in control."

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