His job is to `move' singers and guests during tour

On many occasions, the word "moving" has been used to describe the Tabernacle Choir while on its European concert tour from June 12 to July 2. In most instances, the speakers were referring to the emotional and spiritual impact the choir's performances have had on audiences.

Udell Poulsen has a different perspective on the word. As the choir's manager, it has been his job to take care of the countless details involved in moving the singers on tour, along with their spouses and other guests.His task has not been easy. Consider these facts: 298 of the choir's 325 singers came on this tour. At the peak of the venture, guests joining the choir brought the total number of people traveling in the group to 718.

Adding to the complication of details, the tour actually included three different tours in one. While all choir members signed up for the entire tour, guests had one of three options: travel with the choir to the seven countries and 10 cities on the itinerary, beginning in London and concluding in Lisbon; join the choir tour on a cruise ship at Genoa, Italy, and leave the tour at Barcelona; join the tour in Genoa and stay with it through Lisbon.

It has been Brother Poulsen's job to keep track of all the singers and guests, arrange for their air transportation, hotel reservations, meals (including special meals for diabetics and vegetarians), and make certain that everyone's luggage - all 1,400 checked pieces of it - ended up in the right hotel rooms.

"I solicited a lot of help," Brother Poulsen said. "This is not a one-man operation, although I'm the one on the Tabernacle Choir staff who has the responsibility for making all the arrangements to move the choir around Europe."

Much groundwork was done under direction of Tabernacle Choir Pres. Wendell M. Smoot before the choir embarked on its air travel to London to start the tour.

"One of our big concerns was getting us over to Europe and back," Brother Poulsen told the Church News during an interview on one of the tour's lengthy bus rides. "We worked with Charles Hawk out of Seattle, who arranged the air transportation. He arranged a charter flight to accommodate 470 people - mostly choir members - from Salt Lake to London. Since we had place for 500 people in hotels, we had about 30 people who arranged their own air transportation. Some were choir members; others were guests. In addition, Mr. Hawk arranged air travel from Salt Lake to Milan on three commercial flights, and had buses transport them from Milan to Genoa to join the group there. Some guests returned home from the tour when we reached Barcelona; others are returning on commercial flights from Lisbon. A few have made arrangements to go elsewhere in Europe on their own before returning home."

Brother Poulsen turned over much of the details of the tour to Richard Savage, head of Specialized Travel in London, who has made travel arrangements for the choir before, such as its concert tour in eastern Europe in 1991.

"In addition to being a travel agent, Mr. Savage is a musician," Brother Poulsen said. "He sings in the Monte Verdi choir (a London-based ad hoc group of professional singers) and travels to concert halls in Europe. He is familiar with the halls and he knows the specialized needs of singers. He lined up the best halls that were available. He also looked at hotels and made tentative reservations. About year and half ago, Pres. Smoot and I came to Europe and looked at the hotels that Mr. Savage recommended. We made changes in two of them. Other than that we accepted what he lined up for us.

"We also looked at the concert halls. We wanted to perform in La Scala in Milan, but it was closed for renovations. We looked at another hall and decided to not have the choir perform there. So then, as an alternative, we looked at a lovely opera house in Genoa. We thought we had that scheduled, but we were later informed that an opera was being performed there, and that although it wouldn't be performed the evening we needed the hall they could not dismantle the stage for us. Then we looked at a hall in Torino (Turin), Italy, where the choir performed."

Early in the planning stages, Pres. Smoot, Brother Poulsen and Mr. Savage decided to use a cruise ship for a portion of the tour. "This is the third tour that I've organized for the choir. In 1982, we had the idea of using a cruise ship, which worked extremely well," Mr. Savage said. "The speed of the ship determines where you can get to. So long as the ports are relatively close together, it becomes economically feasible to use a ship. The actual cost of a ship isn't all that high for a group this size because it provides transport, accommodations and all meals. If you don't go by ship, then you have to provide all that separately. That's where the costs start going up. In 1982, the choir used a ship on the Baltic. This time it was on the Mediterranean."

One of the biggest benefits was giving the choir members time to rest between performances. After concerts, they were able to board the ship and sleep until the next destination was reached.

Pres. Smoot and Brother Poulsen made two trips to Europe to arrange for a contract with a shipping company.

"Even though the ship could accommodate 800-plus passengers, we did not want to fill all the cabins," Brother Poulsen said. "We had a little more than 700 people on the ship."

Arrangements had to be made to get the group around on land. "We chartered buses in each city to get us to and from airports, hotels and concerts," he said. "We had to have a way of getting from London to Brussels, so we chartered a train, the EuroStar, to travel by Chunnel. When it came time to board the train, the bus company was delayed in getting some of their coaches to us because of increased traffic caused by a strike by the underground railway. The last two bus loads of people were late getting to the train. They were put on subsequent trains.

"We try to have a little sightseeing tour in each city. Those who missed the chartered train missed the sightseeing trip in Brussels from the train station to the hotel. The important thing is that we all got there that night." (It should be noted that the definition of "sightseeing" on a tour with the Tabernacle Choir is much more limited than what one ordinarily would envision. Most often, members of the tour group are driven by landmarks, with a guide saying something to the effect, "If you'll look quickly to your left, you will see one of this city's most famous buildings. . . ." In other words, Tabernacle Choir members go on tour primarily to sing, not be tourists. Their guests, however, have more free time for sightseeing.)

With 700-plus people on the tour, Brother Poulsen could be likened to the mayor of a small town on the move. If anything goes wrong during the tour, people call on him for help. Mr. Savage and his team work out the details.

Imagine being responsible for seeing that upwards of 700 people get three meals a day. And imagine the concern over the health and safety of those 700-plus people. "We were concerned about physical well being of people on the trip and whether they had insurance that was valid outside the United States to cover medical needs that might arise," he said. "We always have them arise on choir trips. We had them fill out forms regarding their insurance coverage, and we took out a special policy to handle emergency needs for everyone on the tour."

Through delegation, Brother Poulsen managed to pull together all the details of the tour. "Ann Turner, executive secretary of the choir, has been wonderful getting all these details put into the computer so we could get lists and all the information we had to Seattle and London, and to the hotels. Whatever information we've needed to supply, she's been able to get it to the right place."

Help has come from other sources. From London to Brussels and on to Geneva, Switzerland, and Genoa, Italy, the tour required 11 buses. While the tour group was aboard ship, 15 buses were required for transportation to and from concert halls. Upon arriving in Barcelona, and from there to Madrid and on to Lisbon, 14 buses were used.

Being certain that no one is left behind is a huge responsibility. Again, Brother Poulsen said, others helped. "We called a travel coordinator for each bus," he said. "On each major portion of the trip, the travel coordinators check the number of people on their buses, and assist passengers, particularly the choir members, so that we can make our tight schedule."

Brother Poulsen's job as manager of the choir is one that most people couldn't be paid to do. In fact, he does all the work of moving the choir as a volunteer. "I love helping take the choir to the world," he said. "That's reward enough."

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