The Tabernacle Choir, performing before large, appreciative audiences, is steadily making its way through eight European nations. The traveling contingent of 313 singers, 22 choir staff and administrators, and 191 tag-along spouses, children and friends – totaling 526 – is like a ward on the move.
The group left Salt Lake City June 8, and is to return June 29. The choir's first concert was in Frankfurt, Germany, June 10. The tour continued to Strausburg, France, to a nearly sold-out performance June 11 in the acoustically ideal Pailais des Congres.Some 8,000, the largest crowd expected for the tour, attended a concert in Zurich, Switzerland, at Hallenstadion, a multi-purpose arena. Before the concert began, crowds filled the streets in front of the building in hopes of getting tickets to the performance, which eventually sold out.
"Tonight, I have witnessed a miracle," said choir president Wendell M. Smoot Jr., during a VIP reception following the concert. "In all our travels, the choir has never entertained an audience as large as tonight.
"The choir is 143 years old. It has sung before presidents, kings, rulers, and by the conclusion of this tour, it will have performed in 24 or more countries," he added. The reception included representatives from national and local governments and music organizations.
The singers, traveling in a 10-bus caravan, continued with a rigorous 12-hour bus ride from Zurich to Vienna, Austria, June 14, and after a brief night's rest, on to Budapest, Hungary, June 15, where the concert at the elegant Budapest Opera House brought the choir eight curtain calls. According to Jerold D. Ottley, who has directed the choir since 1974, the choir reached a milestone as it performed six encore numbers. Ottley said it was the first time during his tenure that the choir has sung anything after its signature "God Be With You." Because of calls for encores, the program was extended more than half an hour and ran for a total of 21/2 hours.
The concert in Budapest provided a series of firsts. This was the choir's first concert in Hungary. It was also the first time so many Latter-day Saints gathered in the city of medieval palaces by the great Danube. It was the first time the choir's "Music and the Spoken Word" broadcast was taped from an eastern European country. And for the first time the "Spoken Word" segment of the choir's famed broadcast was narrated entirely by a guest narrator.
Tamas Vitray, president of Hungarian National Television, was guest narrator, and Miklos Szinetar, vice president of Hungarian National Television and director of the Opera House stage, was the guest director.
"Mr. Szinetar is a longtime friend of the Tabernacle Choir," said Ian McKay, director of international media for Bonneville Communications. Each summer for the past five years Szinetar has directed and coached for the Promised Valley Playhouse and the Temple Square Concert Series.
The performance was recorded by Hungarian National Television for broadcast throughout the country.
The choir was able to rest somewhat on Sunday, June 16, by remaining in Budapest, where choir members attended sacrament meeting in the morning and a fireside that evening.
A 5 a.m. baggage pick-up got the group up early to return to Vienna June 17 for a performance in the elegant Musikverein, a hall one choir member described as "looking like the Sistine Chapel," with classical art work on the ceiling.
Despite their hurried pace and little sleep, choir members remain exuberant and enthused. "This is just like being on a mission," said Lorraine Jones, a veteran of four choir tours. "There's a spirit of service among us. We're just like a big family; we're all in this together, and we encourage each other. Even though we're tired, there is a comfortable feeling among us. We know what we're doing is right, and that's very satisfying."
Choir member Steven Fisher is a newcomer to going on tour with the choir. He joined the choir three years ago. "This is not only my first choir tour, but it's also the first time I've been outside of the United States," he mentioned.
Fisher said he got an inkling of the rewards in store the first time he sang with the choir on foreign soil. That event took place June 10 on the grounds of the Frankfurt Germany temple. (See Church News, June 15.) "It was really something to see several hundred people standing there in the rain, just to hear us sing," said Fisher, "I started to feel the Spirit as soon as we began singing, and before we finished the first song, the clouds started parting."
Of the tour, Fisher said, "Whether singing for a few hundred people in the rain, or for several thousand in some of Europe's finest concert halls, the feeling is the same. There is some sort of feeling that you're giving of yourself, touching the hearts of the people. It's all the same, no matter where we sing."
Choir members have found different locales to raise their voices in song as they travel throughout Europe. For example, separate groups of choir members, who went on a tour of Budapest, sang in the domed area of the Hungarian House of Parliament, an impressive building overlooking the Danube River.