Cincinnati, Ohio, residents Michael and Jan Sharp believed their tour bus was traveling directly to Jackson, Wyo., when they learned they would be taking a welcome detour.
"Our tour director told us he had a surprise for us — we were stopping in Salt Lake City to take in a performance of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir," said Mrs. Sharp, who had never visited the Beehive State. On July 11, the Sharps and the rest of their tour group stepped off their luxury bus near Temple Square and filed into the Conference Center to view the 4,217th broadcast of "Music and the Spoken Word". They sat with thousands of others and enjoyed the talents of the renowned choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square.
An hour later, the Sharps stood outside the Conference Center, visibly moved by what they had just witnessed.
"It was outstanding," said Mr. Sharp of the weekly broadcast. "The best show I've ever seen."
Mrs. Sharp has spent 45 years participating in her local church choir. She began to cry when she spoke of Tabernacle Choir organist Clay Christiansen's solo performance of the traditional Welsh folk song "The Ash Grove."
"I'm overwhelmed; 'The Ash Grove' has always been one of my favorites," she said.
The Sharps are among the thousands of tourists each summer who visit Temple Square and enjoy a live performance of "Music and the Spoken Word". The visitors come from all corners of the world and myriad backgrounds. Included in the thousands who gathered for the July 11 broadcast was a contingent of government officials from Afghanistan, a convention of civil engineers from across the U.S. and participants from large family reunions.
Tabernacle Choir president Mac Christensen sees folks such as the Sharps at the broadcast every Sunday. He and his friends in the choir and orchestra approach each broadcast as an opportunity to make new friends for the Church.
"Everyone that travels through the West should come to Temple Square and see its beauty, and then feel the spirit of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square," said Brother Christensen.
A visit to the Conference Center or to Temple Square during the summer months can truly be called an international experience. People from around the world gather to gaze upon the Salt Lake Temple, enjoy a performance of the choir and orchestra and learn, perhaps for the first time, something about the Church. At each venue, they are welcomed by a cadre of sister missionaries who themselves come from several countries and speak dozens of different languages.
Engineers Shawn Ang and his friend, Budiman, recently arrived in Salt Lake City from their native Singapore. They will be working in Utah for a month and placed a visit to Temple Square at the top of their "must see" list. They wandered through the visitor center's displays and enjoyed learning about the history of the restored Church. "So far, so good," said a smiling Budiman.
Across the street at the Conference Center, Los Angeles resident Noemi Sangria snapped photos of sister missionaries gathered outside the doors of the 21,000-seat forum. Mrs. Sangria had never been to Salt Lake City and was amazed by the cleanliness and warmth found on the Church properties. She added that the "Music and the Spoken Word" broadcast was the highlight of her vacation.
"The choir and orchestra members are all experts," she said.
Choir spokesman Scott Barrick said the choir doesn't receive much fan mail, "but the tour groups come back every year, so I guess that's the best feedback."
A large percentage of each Sunday's audience includes people who have never heard the choir and orchestra perform in person. So, each singer and musician feels a special obligation to make every broadcast special and unique. The first edition of "Music and the Spoken Word" was recorded over 81 years ago, but the broadcast never becomes routine.
"Every choir and orchestra member is called and set apart as missionaries," said Brother Christensen. "They are all volunteers, and they do to it out of love. It's their Church assignment, and they feel the Spirit."
Beyond the music, tourists are also uplifted by the special message delivered during each broadcast by Brother Lloyd D. Newell. The July 11 message focused on optimism and the importance of cheerfulness and positive expectations. Brother Christensen said he and thousands of tourists are inspired each week by Brother Newell's brief message.
"It gives hope to everyone who hears. I look forward to listening to the message each Sunday."
Temple Square and the weekly choir broadcast attract visitors from around the world. But many living along the Wasatch Front — both members and non-members alike — have never viewed a broadcast of "Music and the Spoken Word" in person. Brother Christensen hopes to see those folks at the Conference Center soon.
"It's a little different to be here in person and to feel that spirit."