Orchestra lauded as being 'first-class'

Degree of maturity attained in short time is 'amazing,' Church president says

Temple Square musical groups render "a consecrated service," President Gordon B. Hinckley told members of the Orchestra at Temple Square and their guests assembled for a fireside Sept. 19 in the Assembly Hall on the square.

Speaking of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but applying it to the orchestra as well, President Hinckley said, "I'm sure the strength of the choir lies in the fact that it is a volunteer organization. I don't believe we could pay people to sing with the spirit with which they sing. They don't sing for money; they sing in praise to the Lord, and it makes a tremendous difference."

The fireside was held the night after the orchestra's triumphant Autumn Concert in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, in which choir members participated. (See accompanying article on this page.)

The 94-year-old Church president remarked: "As I was in that concert last night, I said to myself, 'It's happened! It's come to pass! We've got a first-class orchestra here! They're doing a tremendous piece of work.' "

He added that the degree of maturity reached by the orchestra in it's brief, four-year history "has been absolutely amazing to me. I can scarcely believe it. I want to thank all of you, every one, for the tremendous service which you give."

President Hinckley said his association with the Tabernacle Choir goes back to the 1930s and that the choir directors he has known were never satisfied with just an organ and a piano. In recent years, he recalled, "I said to myself, 'How can we do it? Can it be done?' Then I thought, 'Well, I think there are enough people in this Church who love the Church enough that they would be willing to come and play and work with this tremendous choir and feel honored in so doing.' "

He noted, "The choir has become, in my judgment, the finest choral group in all the world. I don't know another group that can equal it, can compare with it. And I would hope I live long enough . . . to see this orchestra reach the same stature, and I think it's on the way."

Speaking to the congregation, Craig Jessop, musical director of the choir and orchestra, said, "I don't know of a place where we are free to be who we are and what we believe in like we are here. We don't have to hide the fact we have faith in God, faith in the restoration of the gospel, faith in the Savior. And we're free to express that both verbally and through our music."

Brother Jessop recalled being a 4-year-old boy, the son of a "cowboy" from Millville, Utah. His father was paralyzed in a fall from the roof of a barn. As his father was being treated in a Salt Lake City hospital, his mother would entertain young Craig and his 2-year-old brother by taking them to Temple Square, he recalled. There, he experienced for the first time the music of the Tabernacle Choir. "It was a sound that never left my heart," he said. "And from the earliest days I can remember, singing in the choir was a goal of mine, a goal that I did achieve (under director) Richard Condie."

Brother Jessop told of going the previous evening to the dressing room of Igor Gruppman, prior to his conducting the orchestra and choir in the concert. Brother Jessop offered to do anything the conductor might need, "and Igor said, 'Would you have prayer with me?' . . .And so we closed the door and together, as brothers in the priesthood, we had prayer. I can't tell you what it meant to me for him to say that. I felt after the prayer as if I had known Igor my entire life."

He concluded by saying, "Music is not our message; music is our vehicle; music is our language. But our message is the Restoration of the gospel, that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ, and that this is His work, and we, of all people, are allowed to use music as the language to communicate that message."

Barry Anderson, administrative manager for the choir and orchestra, spoke at the meeting, saying, "The vision of President Gordon B. Hinckley in having an orchestra of talented and dedicated musicians donating their skills to complement the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has raised the ability of the choir organization to a level that was not previously attainable. The direction of our inspired president, President (Mac) Christensen, and our musical directors, Doctors Jessop and (Mac) Wilberg, have moved the orchestra from being a sometime accompanist of the choir to now a vital part of the organization in recording, performing concerts, being seen throughout the world in broadcasts and on tours. Your dedicated service and sacrifice make all of this happen."

Conducting the meeting, President Christensen reminded orchestra members that, like the members of the choir, they have been set apart as musical missionaries of the Church "to touch hearts, to open doors, to bring comfort and to set examples." He said they should regard it as their major Church assignment.

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