'Moving experience,' a spiritual feast

Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square complete nine-city tour

Q. What do you get when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square go on a nine-city concert tour in five states over a 17-day period?

A. A moving spiritual feast.

That's "moving" in every sense of the word. The contingent of 330 of the choir's 360 members, 50 of the orchestra's 110 musicians, 30 staff members and 90 guests traveled nearly 3,000 miles on nine buses June 17-July 3. However, the only meaning of "moving" that had any significance was the kind that has to do with a spiritual uplift, as in "a moving experience." Judging from audience applause, cheers, calls for encores, smiles and tears of gratitude and sheer emotion, the tour was extremely moving.

From Idaho State University's new state-of-the-art concert hall — which Tabernacle Choir Musical Director Craig Jessop said is "one of the finest anywhere in the world, and certainly in the western U.S." — to large indoor sports arenas, the choir drew crowds on its Pacific Northwest tour to Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California and Nevada. The final attendance tally was 71,916. Tickets at some venues sold out. (A list of concert cities and venues is on page 10.)

To each concert came devout fans, among whom were those who declared their musical leanings stem mostly from singing hymns in their local congregations or listening to music, to professional musicians and seasoned performers in various choral groups, orchestras and other ensembles. Many commented on the fact that the singers had memorized the two-hour concert. This effort, said Brother Jessop, allowed the singers to stand on the stage and look in the eyes of the people and say, "You mean so much to us that we've memorized this entire evening for you."

The concert program reflected the great diversity of the choir's repertoire. It included hymns, choral masterworks, folk music and songs of patriotism.

The choir and orchestra held universal appeal: many youngsters waved their arms in their own directorial style and applauded as enthusiastically as anyone else, and young Mikayla Monnie held up a sign in Portland, Ore., proclaiming love for the Tabernacle Choir (see Church News cover photo, July 2). Many adults nodded their heads, tapped their toes and mouthed words to familiar hymns and songs. Entire families attended. Members brought friends, neighbors, colleagues or relatives. Missionaries brought investigators

Time and again, when Church News asked what they thought of the performance, audience members searched for the right words; most settled on such descriptions as "awesome" or "wonderful." Jim Fortunato said after the concert in San Jose: "I've conducted choral concerts. This is one of the finest choral groups anywhere. It embodied everything of choral excellence — integrity of music, integrity of personhood, congruity between sound and person. These people felt inwardly what they were communicating. Their diction was unparalleled, their intonation was exquisite."

As did many others, he realized that the Tabernacle Choir touches the core of the soul.

At each venue, members of the Area Seventy and local Church leaders and members hosted receptions for special guests representing leaders in government, education, media, the arts, business, various faiths, and other aspects of state, civic and community life. Idaho's Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and Sen. Bart Davis sang along with the choir on stage (see Church News, June 25, p. 6) and at a reception in Sacramento, Fairfield's Vice Mayor Harry T. Price presented to Elder Stephen B. Ovesen of the Seventy and Mac Christensen a key to the city of Fairfield.

One of the biggest surprises to choir members during the tour was an announcement at a reception in the L.E. and Thelma E. Stephens Performing Arts Center by Elder John H. Groberg of the Seventy that a scholarship of $70,000 was being created in the name of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to be given each year through Idaho State University's music program. Elder Groberg said that the LDS community, local businesses and professions made enough donations in conjunction with the event to create the scholarship, which will be given each year through the university's music program.

Brother Jessop said: "We were very touched to learn that one of the outcomes of our concert in Pocatello is a scholarship for choral music students in the name of the choir. I'm a direct beneficiary of choral scholarships in education. It warmed my heart to know they had done this very thoughtful and long-range endowment that will perpetuate excellence in choral music."

Each of the three Sundays that the choir was on tour, the singers, orchestra, staff and guests met in sacrament meetings in hotel ballrooms. The final meeting was in Reno, Nev., at which President Christensen said, "I can't say that one concert was better than another." He proclaimed the tour a success and each concert equally uplifting and "magnificent." In comments to the Church News, he said: "The choir — and the Orchestra at Temple Square is part of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir — was at its best. Everything went well. Every year, the choir gets better and better, and it opens so many doors and makes so many friends for the Church."

At the sacrament meeting in Reno, Elder Tim J. Dyches, an Area Seventy, spoke of the fact that each choir member has been set apart as a missionary. He referred to Doctrine and Covenants 12:3, referring to the field that is ready to harvest and the admonition to "treasure up for (the) soul everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God."

He spoke of the role that the choir has in missionary work, in lifting those who feel down and suffering. He told choir members, "You'll never know how you have touched lives."

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