History in the making is the description attached to the Tabernacle Choir's tour to Europe, which began Monday, June 10 with an informal concert on the grounds of the Frankfurt Germany Temple.
The 313 singers left Salt Lake City June 8 and will return June 29.Several hundred people turned out for the informal concert on the grounds of the temple, located in Friedrichsdorf some nine miles north of Frankfurt.
The concert began in a rainstorm, but by the time the choir sang its third number the sun was shining brightly, and umbrellas were traded for sun glasses.
During a short ceremony preceding the concert, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve, who is traveling with the choir, and Friedrichsdorf Mayor Gerd Schmidt exchanged gifts in the rain.
Mayor Schmidt said he was honored to have the choir visit and sing in Friedrichsdorf, a German town with a story-book-like appearance. The mayor mentioned some of the great cities of Europe on the concert tour and said, "It all begins here in Friedrichsdorf."
Vaughn North, a member of the choir from the Cottonwood 2nd Ward, Salt Lake Cottonwood Stake, said, "It's been 18 years since I was here with the military. The most difficult thing was to retain my composure and sing as I watched tears fill the eyes of those in the audience. There was a sense of unity that settled in as we stood there and joined in this common experience."
On the evening of June 10, the choir sang before a near-capacity audience in Frankfurt's Alte Oper's 2,480-seat concert hall. The choir repeatedly brought thunderous applause, particularly on two of its standards, "Come, Come Ye Saints" and "Onward Christian Soldiers."
During the 21-day tour of eight countries, the choir is presenting 12 concerts in 11 cities. In addition to the Frankfurt concert on June 10, the choir's itinerary includes: Strasbourg, France, June 11; Zurich, Switzerland, June 13; Budapest, Hungary, June 15; Vienna, Austria, June 17; Prague, Czechoslovakia, June 18; Dresden, Germany, June 19; Berlin, Germany, June 20 (two performances); Warsaw, Poland, June 22; and Moscow and Leningrad, USSR, June 24 and June 27 respectively.
The concerts in the Soviet Union, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Austria are the first ever for the choir.
In addition to concerts, choir members will participate in four firesides and three sacrament meetings.
They also will broadcast "Music and the Spoken Word" programs from Budapest, Vienna and Moscow. These broadcasts will be taped and sent back to the United States and will be shown nationally on three consecutive Sundays, June 16, 23 and 30. Another historical footnote is that the "Spoken Word" segments will be presented by narrators from countries, who will speak in their native languages.
Concerts on the tour will be broadcast on radio and/or television in seven of the eight countries visited, including the Soviet Union. Broadcasts of the choir's concerts have a potential of reaching an audience throughout Europe and the Soviet Union of more than 200 million people.
Under the direction of choir director Jerold Ottley and assistant director Donald Ripplinger, the singers are presenting a repertoire of hymns, anthems, show tunes and folk songs. They sing selections in the language of each country they visit, as well as in English, Latin and Hebrew.
A quick-paced schedule presents challenges to choir members. Long bus trips between concert halls in different cities and countries comprise much of the tour agenda. Little time is scheduled for leisure or sightseeing.
Brother Ottley freely admits he has concerns about choir members being able to maintain their health and stamina throughout the rigorous tour. "Dramatic changes in diet and water," he said, "can decimate a choir overnight with illnesses." He added, however, that he is confident the Lord's blessings will attend choir members so that they will be able to complete their singing mission to these European countries.
The choir might arrive at concert halls ready to sing, but it's up to David Jolley and his two-man crew to make them seen and heard. Brother Jolley is in charge of the technical side of the concerts. He and his crew, driving a truck carrying about 3,000 pounds of sound and lighting equipment, arrive only hours ahead of the choir to prepare for each concert.
"The logistics are almost overwhelming," said Brother Jolley, a veteran of six choir tours. "Our principal job is getting the lights, sound and electrical equipment in place and making sure it's sufficient to handle the choir's needs. We also must make sure the stage is large enough to handle a choir of this size; most managers and stage hands at the halls we're using have never seen a choir this large on a stage at one time."
Choir's tour shows `inspired leadership'
The Tabernacle Choir's tour to Europe, particularly to the five countries in which it has never performed is `remarkable evidence of the inspired leadership of the Church," according to Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve.
Elder Nelson, who is traveling with the choir, said Church leaders approved the choir tour before the Berlin Wall came down, before the "velvet revolution in Czechoslovakia, and before the Hungarians snipped the barbed wire around their borders.
"Before these things happened, leaders of the Church had the vision that is now taking place with the choir on this tour," declared Elder Nelson.
He said he senses that dignitaries in the nations where concerts are scheduled are eager for an opportunity to hear the choir sing.
"We've had people of great prominence request tickets," he said. "This indicates this is a new era in Church history when we are no longer obscure and unknown. We're widely respected by dignitaries and common folk alike."