Choir is a family affair for Newell brothers

Credit: R. Scott Lloyd
Credit: R. Scott Lloyd

For a quarter-century now, Lloyd D. Newell has been with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, giving the “Spoken Word” portion of its weekly television and radio broadcast and traveling far and wide, but the recently concluded Atlantic Coast tour had a special familial flavor. For the first time, his younger brother Arthur was on tour with him as a newly minted choir member in his own right.

Arthur passed the rigorous audition and joined the choir a year ago after 15 years of coaxing from his brother.

“It has been great fun for me this past year to have my brother in the choir,” Lloyd said during an interview with the brothers at the hotel on Times Square in New York City where the choir and Orchestra at Temple Square stayed for nine days of the tour. “It’s the first time I’ve had a sibling in the choir.”

For his part, Arthur said, “I just couldn’t be happier to be here on my first tour with Lloyd. In fact, he always used to say, ‘Let’s go on tour together, so we can be roommates!’ ”

As it happened, though, Arthur was able to bring along his preferred roommate, his wife, Jean. Lloyd’s wife, Karmel, came along too, with their son Jacob, so the tour was a real family affair for the Newells.

For Arthur, joining the choir is the fulfillment of a long-time dream, “but it had to be the right time,” he said. “It was great to be able to serve in other kinds of callings — I was a Scoutmaster and in Young Men organization and various stake and ward callings; it was great to serve and be with my wife and kids. But a couple of years ago, I realized I was running out of years of eligibility, and that I needed to try and audition, so I did it, and it has been wonderful.”

Lloyd said the brothers grew up in a “musical home” in Orem, Utah, with five other siblings and parents, Neil and Verna, who loved music. Both he and Arthur learned the French horn.

“We didn’t have a TV; the TV broke, and then my dad didn’t replace it but just rented a TV in April and October so we could watch general conference. So because of that, we had time to do music, sports and lots of extra-curricular activities.”

Lloyd grew up and pursued a career in TV news in Pennsylvania and as an anchor for CNN. That brought him to the attention of leaders in the choir organization, and he was asked in 1990 to audition for the position of announcer for the choir’s long-running weekly “Muisc and the Spoken Word” radio and television broadcast.

He was selected from a field of over 200 applicants from which 75 were invited to audition.

“President Gordon B. Hinckley called me and said, ‘Will you do it until further notice?’ And so I’ve been doing it for 25 years, and continue to consider it a privilege and an honor and a blessing to be a part of it.”

President Hinckley, then a counselor in the First Presidency, told him the calling — and it is a calling for which he was set apart — would change his life.

“He said in effect that I didn’t understand what was ahead. And I didn’t. I always liked the choir and always enjoyed ‘Music and the Spoken Word.’ But until your heart is in it, you’re sort of like singers who love the music of the choir, but once they become part of it, they see it with new glasses. You see it and the world differently. So now, having been associated with them for 25 years and having traveled with them and rubbed shoulders with them, I see the importance of this organization.”

Arthur said that for the Newell family, observing Lloyd’s association with the choir has been a blessing. “People don’t realize how difficult it is to write an inspirational message that’s three minutes long every week,” he said. “It’s much more difficult to write concisely.”

“I never lack for ideas; they are all around me,” he said. “I’ll read the newspaper and get four ideas per issue.”

He said that walking around the United States Military Academy at West Point, one of the concert venues on the tour, he got dozens of ideas.

Executing the ideas is more of a challenge, he said, and he occasionally calls on the services of other writers to supplement his own efforts.

It is rewarding, he said, largely because of the people who write to or contact him, a large percentage of whom are not members of the Church but love the music of the choir because “it is part of the American landscape, the culture of America, like John Wayne, the flag and apple pie.”

“And, of course, he always says it’s about the choir, and it really is,” Arthur remarked. “Lloyd realizes the message is supplemental to the music. The messages in the choir music are more directly about Christ and the Church, things that you can’t necessarily share in a ‘Spoken Word’ message.”

“The choir is the star of the show,” Lloyd agreed.

The whole organization — choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square — is one of excellence, Arthur said. “They demand excellence. It’s great to be a part of something like that. We always want to be sure we please Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy (music director and associate music director) because they’re so very good at what they do.”

For Arthur, it has been a yearlong adventure, beginning with the Pioneer Day program in 2014 followed by the Christmas concerts with the Muppets, the American Choral Directors Association convention in Salt Lake City and, ultimately, the recent tour.

“The train just keeps moving,” Lloyd agreed. “You hold on for dear life and do your best.”

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