New videotape by Tabernacle Choir: Celebrates the life of the Savior in a 'land called Israel'

"To be in [the Holy Land] is to have an intimate touch with the Savior. Here were the streets He knew, the people He walked among, the hills upon which His eyes rested. The Son of God came to us in a specific time and place. Everywhere we turn, Israel bears record of Him with meanings lodged in every tree and stone. His message is intertwined in the land in which He gave it. Here are the sowers of the field, the wheat and the tares. Here are the sheepfolds and olive vineyards. It is as if here, nature was designed to be His visual aid. His life and teachings resonate with the land."

So begins the narration on a new videotape, "In a Land Called Israel - The Mormon Tabernacle Choir Celebrates the Life of Christ."Through this video, which was taped during the choir's tour to Israel last winter, people everywhere will be able to experience the Holy Land in a unique way, according to Wendell M. Smoot, president of the Tabernacle Choir.

"Watching this video will be almost like going on the tour with the choir," Pres. Smoot said. "This is one of the most significant things we have ever done. We were provided with the great opportunity to go to Israel when Jerusalem's Mayor Teddy Kollek invited the choir to participate in the Liturgica series of concerts with the Jerusalem Symphony. In late December and early January, the choir performed concerts with the Jerusalem Symphony in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and presented three other public concerts, a broadcast of `Music and the Spoken Word,' and one private concert for Palestinian leaders at the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies.

"When we were making plans for the tour, we decided that while we were there this would be a wonderful opportunity for the choir to sing at some sites of significance to the Savior's mortal ministry. With the assistance of Truman G. Madsen, who was then the director of the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, we were able to determine several locations at which the choir could sing.

"Our purpose would be to tell the story of the life of Christ using the Tabernacle Choir singing as a complement to the story line. We were fortunate to obtain the services of Maurine Jensen Proctor to write the videotape's narration for us. This is a compelling visual and audio presentation that contains all the elements of the gospel as taught by the Savior Himself. It will be enjoyed by members of the Church everywhere, and people who are not members of the Church also will find it inspiring.

"We think this video will be a valuable addition to missionary work as missionaries show it to their investigators. Families can enjoy it in family home evening. It will be shown throughout the world by the media, particularly at Easter and Christmas. Through this video, we will be able to proclaim the restored gospel and establish in the minds of all who view this that Christ is the center of our Church. The focus of the video is Jesus Christ. The music complements the narrative that tells His story."

Scenes included in the video are:

A shepherd's field across a narrow valley from Bethlehem. In this setting, the choir sings "Once in Royal David's City," an anthem about the Savior's birth. And while present-day shepherds tend flocks on the terraced hillside just a few yards from where they stand while making the video, members of the choir sing "The Lord Is My Shepherd."

The Sea of Galilee, at the bottom of a hillside known as the Mount of Beatitudes. On this plain beside the Sea of Galilee, in the general area in which it is believed Jesus called certain of His disciples to join Him in His ministry, the choir sings "Lord, I Would Follow Thee."

The Mount of Olives. Near the end of His mortal ministry, the Savior went onto this hillside, looked over Jerusalem and wept. At a site that tradition says was where Jesus looked over his beloved city, the choir sings "Hallelijuah," from Beethoven's "Mount of Olives Oratorio," and a hymn, "How Great Thou Art."

The Garden Tomb. In the garden where the tomb in which it is believed the crucified Savior was buried and from which He was resurrected, the choir sings an emotional and powerful rendition of "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."

Choir director Jerold Ottley said the idea of producing a video of the choir in the Holy Land came up late in plans for the tour. "We didn't have much time to work on music for the video," he said. "We had recently finished the recording of an album, `O Divine Redeemer,' and many of the selections from that were suitable for the video. We selected pieces that would best fit the sites where we were going to sing."

As the music and settings came together, the significance of the project began to be felt by those involved. "I was so overwhelmed," Brother Ottley said. "To be present with the choir singing in places that are revered as holy by all Christendom and much of the rest of the world was an almost unspeakable experience.

"Singing at the Garden Tomb was overwhelming, particularly for me since I was standing so close to the choir in that particular location. I could sense, see and feel the choir members' tremendous emotion as they sang looking down at the tomb itself. If I had looked directly at the choir members, I couldn't have functioned because of the emotion."

Edward Payne, producer of the video for Bonneville Communications, said: "What better place to tell everybody who we are than from the Holy Land? Having the choir sing these songs in these settings - what a great statement to the world."

To choose sites that would be well suited for the choir to perform, Brother Payne went to the Holy Land twice before the choir arrived. "We had to find places where up to 325 singers could stand and that would be suitable for shooting the footage necessary in such a manner that we wouldn't have to bring in risers. In the shepherd's field, the choir stood on a terraced hillside and we used a crane to get the camera high enough for a good view. At the Sea of Galilee some of the choir members stood on rocks near the water's edge. The Garden Tomb sort of made a natural amphitheater, with Brother Ottley standing at the entrance to the tomb."

After finding locations to film the choir, Brother Payne and his associates obtained permission to use the sites. Because of the choir's international reputation, permission was easily acquired in most cases. For example, the Franciscan Order of Friars Minor, which owns the shepherd's field that Brother Payne selected, was especially cooperative. One of their spokesman said it was an honor to have such a "heavenly chorus" sing once again in Bethlehem's fields.

Brother Payne, who is an independent producer, said he has worked on a lot of significant projects for the Church. "This project was probably the hardest one I've ever undertaken because I had great expectations for myself in what I wanted to see. The hard part for me was coming back, looking at all the footage, and saying: `How am I going to tell this story in a way that really does it justice?' I was there. I saw the blue sky and the hillsides. I felt what it was like to be in Israel. My challenge was finding the footage to mix with the words and the music in a way that would re-create those sights and feelings for the viewer."

The great joy, he said, is in watching someone who was on the choir's tour to Israel view the video. One choir member, with tears streaming down her face, told him, "This is exactly what it was like."

The video is available through Church distribution centers for $15. Also, it is available at retail prices at bookstores that carry LDS products.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed