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Choir acquaints Europeans with Church

Tabernacle Choir Pres. Wendell M. Smoot said that the choir accomplished the purposes for which the Church had sent it to Europe.

"One of the first intents was for us to acquaint the people in these areas of Europe with the Church," he said. "In some of the areas, such as Italy, southern France, Spain and Portugal, the Church is relatively new. We wanted to help the missionaries in these areas and let the people know the name of the Church and what it stands for. We wanted to appeal to them through music so that they can come to understand a little better about the Church."I think in all the halls where the choir sang there was no question but that the people had a very good understanding that it represented a church that has an established presence in their country, and that we desire to share the great music that we have to uplift the spirits of their people."

Pres. Smoot said that one of the choir's purposes was to augment the missionary program of the Church. "As the choir sang to those people, they had a chance to observe and feel the spirit that came through the music. I'm sure that the people have a favorable impression of the Church and will be more willing to listen to missionaries as they are contacted in the coming months and coming years."

He said that the choir also wanted to send a message to local members. "The choir went on this tour to help support the local members, to give them all the encouragement that is possible through its concerts and in one-on-one contact as members of the choir mingled among them after the performances. The local members truly rejoiced in the fact that the Church was willing to send the choir to Europe and help buoy up their activities, to encourage them and to let them feel that in every sense they are part of a worldwide Church."

The level of respectability for and acceptability of the Church increased in every city where the choir performed, according to Pres. Smoot. "In some cities, we had some factors within the community that helped us tremendously. For example, in Belgium, we had the sponsorship of a recital in the U.S. Ambassador's home in Brussels. In Spain, we were invited to perform a recital in a beautiful basilica at El Escorial, one of the most important religious sites in all of the country."

Another accomplishment of the tour was the amount of coverage the choir received through national television and radio broadcasts. "The broadcasting coverage was superb," Pres. Smoot said. "In every country except France we had radio and/or television coverage. In most cases, state or national television networks recorded the concerts to be shown later. In a couple of instances, radio stations carried the concerts live.

"The number of press conferences that we had on this tour was unusual. Reporters wanted to know about the Church; they didn't ask that many questions about the choir, but asked doctrinal questions. They wanted to find out what members of the Church are like. Their questions were in no way hostile; they were simply seeking for the truth."

Gabriele Sirtl, public affairs director for the Europe West and Europe East areas of the Church and based in Frankfurt, Germany, had a key role in setting up press conferences and in hosting dignitaries and other guests at receptions in conjunction with concerts in each country. She and public affairs missionaries Elder Allan Dietlein and his wife, Sister Sandy Dietlein, flew to each city in advance of the choir and worked with national public affairs directors in coordinating media interviews.

Through contacts established over more than 20 years, Iain B. McKay, director of international media for Bonneville Communications, was instrumental in arranging for national television and radio broadcasts of concerts in each country. (Please see report in Church News, June 27, 1998, page 4.)

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