The Church may not be prevalent here, but the "Music of the Mormons" has become more common to many in the community, thanks to the Chamber Choir of Grand Rapids.
The Chamber Choir, a secular community choir, recently performed an evening of LDS music as part of the choir's American Heritage series. The performance, titled "Music of the Mormons," featured well-known LDS hymns as well as choral works the Tabernacle Choir performed years ago on radio broadcasts.Six pieces written by well-known LDS composer Crawford Gates were featured, including three pieces from his oratorio, "Visions of Eternity," a 19-movement work commissioned for Ricks College.
Brother Gates, a member of the Beloit Ward, Madison Wisconsin Stake, traveled to Grand Rapids with his wife, Georgia, for the performances. He also conducted a musical workshop for the Grand Rapids Michigan Stake and gave a fireside while here.
"The Chamber Choir is a fabulous group," Brother Gates said in a Church News interview. "It's an unusual event in this location to have a full evening of LDS music performed by a secular chorus. And it was their idea. They did a first-rate job."
Larry G. Biser, conductor of the Chamber Choir of Grand Rapids, said the idea for the "Music of the Mormons" concert came about when both he and Chamber Choir organist Jonathan A. Tuuk reflected on how their musical lives had been touched by the music of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
"We wanted to do an American Heritage program, a program showcasing various areas of choral music in America," Mr. Biser said. "We were both very influenced by Mormon Tabernacle Choir radio programs as kids. We thought the Mormon music would be ideal as the first group to feature in this program because the music had such a strong influence on us.
"I grew up in a small town and the only choir in town was an 18-voice church choir," he continued. "I didn't realize the sound of a choir could make until I heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir radio program. I had started studying voice and then decided choral music was the area I wanted to concentrate on."
Mr. Biser and Mr. Tuuk were pleased when they found that local Church leaders were interested in having input in the concert. Chamber Choir member Karen Brunsdale, a member of the Grand Valley Ward, Grand Rapids Michigan Stake, also had a major role in shaping the concert.
"Karen was responsible for going from the idea to the actual format we used," Mr. Biser explained. "It wouldn't have happened the way it happened without her. We had the idea of doing a little bit of history, but I don't think it would have been as accurate and well done. She did a tremendous amount of research."
The first half of the concert featured a narrative with hymns such as "Gently Raise the Sacred Strain," "The Spirit of God," and "Come, Come, Ye Saints." The narrative written by Sister Brunsdale told the story of the Church from its early days to the present through music.
The second half of the concert featured oratorio pieces that Mr. Biser had heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir perform on the radio when he was growing up.
"At first the music
of the first halfT seemed very simple," Mr. Biser remarked. "But the longer we worked on it, we found the more difficult it was. Once we really got into the text of the pieces, the concert took on a whole new meaning.
"The choir grew fond of the music, and I think we all learned a great deal of the Mormon Church doing the program."
Full capacity crowds attended both nights of the concert, held recently in the Mayflower Congregational Church.
"This program was good for us commercially and musically," Mr. Biser added. "We have only received glowing comments about the performances."