California choir reaches 40th milestone

The Southern California Mormon Choir celebrated its 40th anniversary Sept. 18 on board the Queen Mary ocean liner docked in Long Beach, Calif.

President Howard W. Hunter of the Council of the Twelve attended the gathering of current and former members of the now 120-voice choral ensemble, consisting of members from throughout Southern California. The anniversary celebration, held in the Grand Salon - the main hall - of the luxury liner, which is now a permanent tourist attraction in the area, included dinner and music performed by the choir. Sending congratulatory proclamations to the event were the mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan; and state Sen. Marian Bergeson, who is LDS.Present at the event were the current choir conductor, Douglas Custance, and all three former conductors, H. Frederick Davis, Russell Fox and Brent Pierce. During the evening, each took his "turn at the baton," said Steve Bills, executive vice president of the choir.

"The choir performed numbers directed and prepared by each of the four conductors during their tenure," he said. "It was part of our nostalgic celebration."

During this "nostalgic celebration," a new tradition began. Brother Davis, who founded the choir and was its conductor for the first 27 years, was presented the first annual Frederick Davis Lifetime Achievement Award, for which he is the namesake. Brother Bills explained that the award will be presented in future years to others who devote many years of meaningful service to the organization.

Brother Davis, 84, was honored "for founding and nurturing an organization that, from its very first concert, has been widely acclaimed for its excellent and inspiring musicianship and for its selfless service to the communities of Southern California and to local LDS congregations," said Brother Bills.

In receiving the award, Brother Davis said the choir was the fulfillment of a lifetime dream.

Since its founding on Sept. 18, 1953, the choir has performed concerts of classical, sacred, folk, patriotic and popular music throughout California, as well as in the Western United States, Hawaii, Mexico, Israel, New Zealand and Australia.

This dream began in 1952 when Brother Davis approached then-stake Pres. Howard W. Hunter of the Pasadena stake with the idea of an LDS choir. Pres. Hunter and John Russon, president of the Los Angeles Stake, wrote to the First Presidency early in 1953 asking permission. Approval for the choir was granted, and the first rehearsal and founding meeting was held in the Wilshire Ward meetinghouse in Los Angeles.

Brother Bills related: "As part of the founding meeting 40 years ago, former local Church leader Bryan L. Bunker offered a dedicatory prayer that included the following supplication: `Bless this little ripple now beginning that it will grow into a mighty wave, and become a great power in the promulgation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.'

"That prayerful petition has proven to be more than merely prophetic," Brother Bills noted. "It has become the defining essence of the Southern California Mormon Choir - the lively, beating heart of an organization that, at 40, isn't getting older, it's just getting better.

"The choir has thrilled and inspired countless thousands who have attended concerts in venues ranging from the Los Angeles Music Center, the Hollywood Bowl, the San Francisco Opera House and the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square, to the hundreds of Latter-day Saint meetinghouses that dot the Southern California landscape," he added.

One of the choir's most widely recognized local customs is its traditional Christmas season presentation of Handel's Messiah in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Los Angeles Music Center. This year, the choir will perform the Messiah Dec. 8 with the Los Angeles Baroque Orchestra.

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