Temple square music series touches hearts

In the beginning, the humble aim of the Temple Square Concert Series was to provide a forum where young Mormon musicians could demonstrate their skills. But in the 14 years since its first concert, inspiration and opportunity have led the series into national and international artistic waters. Indeed, it has become a multi-faceted purveyor of beauty, offering treasured musical memories to resident and tourist alike. And the price has never gone up; it's always been free.

Iain B. McKay, director of the series and chairman of its large support committee, sees the series as one aspect of the prophecy that in the latter days Zion should be established in the tops of the mountains and all nations should flow unto it. And he considers music and the arts an especially potent, non-intimidating means for accomplishing significant outreach."We have a unique opportunity to touch hearts, open doors, break down barriers and correct misinformation," he said.

In recognition of its possibilities for generating good will and extending missionary activity, the series is now directly supervised by the Church Missionary Department.

In June 1980, as an activity of the LDS sesquicentennial year, the first Temple Square series concert - the Boise Philharmonic Orchestra, with soprano JoAnn Ottley - took place in the Tabernacle. Thence concerts spread to the lawn between the Tabernacle and the North Visitors Center.

By summer's end, President Gordon B. Hinckley and other LDS leaders were eager that the concerts continue, so events were scheduled in the theater of the North Visitors Center. Since Friday concerts were jam-packed, Saturday night repeats were added. When the renovated Assembly Hall was re-opened in 1983, the series moved over to a permanent home, with regular Friday and Saturday concerts. Nowadays, special circumstances often lead to weeknight concerts as well.

Brother McKay is uniquely positioned to facilitate a flow of nations to the Square. As director of international media for Bonneville Communications (the radio and television arm of the LDS Church), he travels the world, meeting with broadcasters of many lands. As he introduces them to Tabernacle Choir and other Church audio and video products, he seeks opportunities for mutual cooperation, ways to build bridges of communication.

"Many countries I visit have official national orchestras and choirs," he said. "Often we can bring these groups to Temple Square, where they give concerts, sometimes sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in broadcast, stay in LDS homes, and generally accumulate a fund of good will.

"When these people return to their homelands, they take with them kindly feelings. The tapes they have made here are broadcast on their national radio and television, their people learn about the Mormons, and missionary activity increases."

Such interactions have been successful with the Danish Radio Choir, the Radio Chorus Suisse Romande of Switzerland, the New Zealand National Youth Choir, Hong Kong Children's Choir, and Korean Children's Chorus.

Members of the Cantare Audire Choir of Namibia in Southwest Africa provide a heartening example of how such cooperation works. After they sang on Temple Square, they took tapes home to a land that had never heard of the Tabernacle Choir. Now Namibia media regularly take the Choir's Christmas and Easter programs, and missionaries are laboring there.

With the move of the concerts to the Assembly Hall, KBYU-FM began taping them. The station now has a regular Sunday evening broadcast of series concerts and recitals, and many of these tapes make their way into National Public Radio distribution.

Along with Tabernacle Choir Thursday rehearsals and Sunday broadcasts, the Assembly Hall series is an additional drawing card to the already No. 1 tourist attraction of Salt Lake City.

"People have reason to make more than one visit to the Square," said Brother McKay. "Rather than sit in their hotel rooms and watch television, they can come back in the evening to a beautiful, free concert. And we have an additional opportunity to touch hearts, in a neutral atmosphere. We receive thank-you letters from grateful visitors all over the world."

Over the years, dozens of renowned United States and international artists have appeared here, many of whom made their U.S. debuts on the Square and have gone on to significant international careers.

The first international artist Brother McKay recalls is Sarah Walker, English mezzo soprano of the Metropolitan and San Francisco operas, who sang here in 1984. "After her concert, a listener came up to me flabbergasted, saying he had just paid $60 to hear her in London's Wigmore Hall," said Brother McKay.

Nearer home, the series has been the catalyst for warm and friendly interaction with Salt Lake City neighbors not of the LDS faith. "We have had such things as our recognition of Gladys Gladstone, a great Salt Lake piano teacher," said Brother McKay. "On July 12, we will sponsor a similar recognition of Utah Symphony conductor Joseph Silverstein, who will be completing 10 years in Utah."

Throughout these 14 years, Brother McKay says he has never witnessed one instance of so-called "artistic temperament." "Artists are grateful to appear here, and some are deeply touched by the prayers on their behalf that open each concert," he said.

New Zealand-born, Brother McKay began preparation for his present activities at a youthful age, working to promote the arts in his homeland. Trained as a pianist, he soon held executive and promotional positions with the New Zealand Symphony and New Zealand Opera in his native Wellington. After his conversion to the LDS Church, he quickly saw the possibilities for combining music and missionary work.

"Wellington had the first LDS chapel ever built in New Zealand, and I quickly started a little concert series there called `Music in the Suburbs.' People were curious to see the building, they came in numbers to hear fine artists, and the series was very successful," he said.

Thanks to the Tabernacle Choir's recent tour of Israel, which Brother McKay helped to arrange, several important Israeli artists were scheduled, including Mendi Rodan, resident conductor of the Israel Philharmonic, who will conduct BYU's Philharmonic Orchestra in the Tabernacle, and duo-pianists Bracha Eden and Alex Tamir, who were here as soloists with the recent Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition.

Since June 1980, the Square has offered its facilities for recitals by Bachauer competition judges and winners. Though the competition takes place at three-year intervals, every June is piano month on the Square with at least six excellent soloists, and July is vocal month with a similar format. Utah Opera's Young Artists regularly concertize there, and the series provides facilities for the Utah Metropolitan Opera Auditions.

As for special seasons of the year, last New Year's Eve the series hosted an overflow audience for six hours of mini-concerts, as part of the Salt Lake Downtown Alliance's first-ever First Night, angled towards families, without liquor or tobacco. The popular event promises to be ongoing.

For years the Salt Lake Symphony has performed "A Night in Vienna," near Valentine's Day. With Easter comes a spate of Requiem Masses, Bach Passions and other reflective concerts, while July Fourth brings bands and patriotic expressions.

Christmas on Temple Square features a joyous marathon of afternoon and evening concerts - an outpouring by groups small and large, old and young, high school and college choruses, children's groups, community choirs and orchestras, soloists and small ensembles.

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