Choir begins Europe tour in famed London hall

Focusing on hymns, anthems and other musical selections in keeping with the Sabbath day, the Tabernacle Choir presented the first concert of its European tour in London's world-renowed Royal Albert Hall Sunday morning, June 14.

Hours before the concert was scheduled to begin, audience members began gathering outside the famed hall. The concert was free, with members given tickets through missions and stakes to accompany their friends and relatives who are not Latter-day Saints.An audience of more than 7,000 people filled the hall for the concert, the first of 10 scheduled for seven countries of Europe through July 2. Ordinarily, a ticket for a concert in Royal Albert Hall would cost upwards of $100.

The concert – the middle of which comprised the choir's weekly "Music and the Spoken Word" program – was taped by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) for rebroadcast on the nationally popular "Songs of Praise" television program. BBC plans to air the hour-long special featuring the choir on Sept. 13. The BBC special will include interviews with choir members, as well as the entire concert program. Sir Harry Secombe, a beloved Welsh tenor and popular television personality with a huge following throughout the British Isles, will provide commentary for the BBC special.

The "Music and the Spoken Word" portion of the concert Sunday was broadcast in its regular time slot via satellite feed. The program will air two more times during the choir's tour: Sunday, June 21 from Geneva, Switzerland, and on Sunday, June 28, from Barcelona, Spain.

Tabernacle Choir music director Jerold Ottley and associate director Craig Jessop led the choir in performing traditional hymns, anthems and other songs, such as "Come, Come, Ye Saints," "Abide With Me," "Our God Is Gone Up," and "Gloria," from Puccini's "Messa di Gloria."

The choir also performed "Jerusalem," much to the delight of the British audience. The song, set to music by Hubert H. Parry, is based on writings by English poet William Blake (1757-1827) of the possibility that the Savior "in ancient time [did] Walk upon England's mountain green."

At the conclusion of the concert, Brother Jessop, who served in the North British Mission from 1969-71, invited the audience to stand and sing "Jerusalem" with the choir. "I learned `Jerusalem' as a child at school," said Vera Lee of South End on Sea after the concert.

Still wiping tears from her eyes after the audience sang `Jerusalem' with the choir, Doreen Eaton said, "They couldn't have chosen a better song to sing."

Eve Clarke was thrilled with the concert. "I don't want to let the choir leave. I want to keep them here forever."

One fan of the choir in the audience was Collin Moorcroft, from Luton, about 30 miles north of London. "I have visited Salt Lake City several times," he said. "I was touring in the United States and had read a pamphlet that I felt a little bit unfair [about the Mormon Church], so I went to Salt Lake City to see for myself what it was about. I found the pamphlet was completely wrong. I had a great time. I've heard the choir several times before." The concert at Royal Albert Hall, he said, "was splendid."

Sir Harry paid the ultimate compliment: "The Tabernacle Choir is like four Welsh choirs combined," he said, alluding to the reputation of the Welsh as being among the world's best singers. "The choir is fantastic. It has that same sort of spiritual feel. They're not just singing the words, they feel them. That's what Welsh choirs do."

This is the choir's 17th international tour. The 20-day tour will feature 16 events in seven countries.