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A perfect match in Orange County

Choir joins philharmonic in observing groups' respective anniversaries

COSTA MESA, Calif. — When the Mormon Tabernacle Choir came rolling into Orange County, Calif., March 26-27, it brought the joy of music, the thrill of consummate professionalism, and the whisperings of the Spirit.

This was no ordinary experience.

With the celebration of the choir's 75 years of continuous network broadcasting, coupled with the Philharmonic Society of Orange County's 50th anniversary, it was a perfect match.

More than 9,000 tickets for the three concerts — one on Friday evening, March 26, and matinee and evening concerts on Saturday, March 27 — performed in the Orange County Performing Arts Center were sold out months before the concert. If the crowds came for a heavenly musical experience, they did not leave disappointed.

"I've never heard so much applause before," said Mac Christensen, the choir's president. "The audience response was electrifying."

Many high school a cappella choirs came to the concerts. After the Friday concert, one of the students on the street called out to the choir members, "You knocked my socks off!"

That was high praise, indeed, from the younger generation.

"This particular concert was designed around the celebration of our 75th anniversary of broadcasting, and it reflects the music we've performed on the broadcast over these many years," said Craig Jessop, music director.

"It also reflects music that our listeners love, those that get the most requests."

Those beloved songs the choir sang produced three or four prolonged standing ovations each concert.

The 360 choir members and 26 members of The Orchestra at Temple Square traveled by plane to sunny Orange County. The concerts were a blend of hymns, choral masterworks , patriotic songs, folk music, and songs of the land such as "Shenandoah" and "Deep River." Masterworks included compositions by Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Rimsky-Korsakoff.

A Nigerian carol titled "Betelehemu" featured an array of drums and a powerful percussion section (with John Longhurst switching from organ to percussion). The choir members sang, clapped, shouted, rhythmically swayed back and forth and filled the hall with a joyful noise. It brought the audience members to their feet.

The patriotic songs of "America the Beautiful" and a medley of George M. Cohan favorites were a tribute to America. During Friday night's concert, the military chaplains and other armed forces in attendance were given a special thank you for their service to God and country.

"To me, the concert was not just musically beautiful, it was highly spiritual, a wonderful experience," said Shabbir Mansuri, founding director of the Council on Islamic Education.

Omega Medina, manager of the classical division for the Grammy Awards and a professional singer herself, was thrilled to hear the choir.

"The music of the Tabernacle Choir represents true Americana to me," she said. "They have as their mission a high standard of excellence and sing patriotic songs which speak to all of us. They speak to the freedoms that we have in this country.

"Given the rigorous auditions for the choir, you can't be surprised that every year these talented singers can record such high quality music. Just the joy of hearing this choir makes me proud."

The Rev. Christian Mondor of St. Simon and Jude Catholic Church in Huntington Beach said, "It was an extraordinary evening. I was so impressed with the choir and the whole concert, especially because they sang entirely from memory. The diction was so easy to understand. That's extraordinary."

On Saturday night at the end of the concert, the baton was turned over to well-known philanthropist Henry T. Segerstrom, who conducted an encore with the choir. He was cheered by Orange County residents and given a standing ovation. The world-class concert hall where the choir performed is named Segerstrom Hall in honor of his contributions to the community.

Although the choir members and conductors are primarily the focus of the concerts, the professionalism of the musicians in the Orchestra at Temple Square added a rich dimension to the music.

Mack Wilberg, associate director of the choir, has given a fresh look to arranging traditional hymns. Many of those arrangements were included in the evening's program. California has a rich history with the early saints. Latter-day Saint immigrants first arrived in San Francisco in 1846, and built communities in the area. In 1847 the Mormon Battalion arrived in San Diego, and six Battalion members were at Sutter's Mill in January 1848, when gold was discovered.

Surprisingly, about 30 choir members have lived in Orange County, and more than half of the choir members have roots in California.

Lloyd Newell, announcer for the Music and the Spoken Word, brought cheers and applause from the audience when he announced that Cox Cable in Orange County will add BYU-TV to its cable line-up starting Sunday April 4, 8:30 a.m. on channel 361.

North America West Area President Elder Lynn G. Robbins and his wife, Jan, attended the concert, along with his first counselor Elder Val R. Christensen and his wife, Ruth Ann.

"Many hearts were touched, people obviously felt the Spirit," said Elder Robbins. "Some of them felt something even before the choir began singing. This was a wonderful gift to the saints of Southern California."

The VIP receptions on Friday and Saturday nights gave community leaders the opportunity to mingle with their hosts and visit with choir leaders.

During VIP receptions, various honors were bestowed upon the Tabernacle Choir. On Friday night, United States Congressman Dana Rohrabacher presented a certificate of Congressional recognition to the Tabernacle Choir, and on Saturday evening, United States Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez also presented a certificate of Congressional recognition.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors also gave a commemorative plaque to the choir, delivered by Chairman Tom Wilson.

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