Cheers, tears: audiences want choir to sing on

Ten-stop Eastern states choir tour in full swing

NEWARK, N.J. — The Mormon Tabernacle Choir serves a full musical feast during its concert tour which began June 24 in Traverse City, Mich., and continues almost nightly during this 10-stop Eastern states tour until July 11. Programs have a little of everything on the table: hymns of praise, selections from the masters — Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff and Rimksy-Korsakoff — as well as folk music of the world and a bit of Americana.

No matter how much the choir serves up, however, audiences demonstrate that they have insatiable appetites. They always want more.

Some audiences cheer and clap, others stamp their feet. In one case, at Chautauqua Institution in western New York where the choir and a 25-member ensemble of the Orchestra at Temple Square performed twice on June 28, the audience at the evening concert was especially exuberant.

They clapped, but that seemed inadequate. They stamped their feet but, with the amphitheater floor being concrete, that didn't work. They then leaned over and pounded on the backs of the wood benches in front of them, sending a profound tattoo of praise.

Audiences seem to take the choir into their hearts. Imagine this scene: Chautauqua Institution is a 750-acre educational center beside a beautiful lake. Homes worthy of picture post cards touting everything that's right in small-town America line narrow streets.

Residents could hear the concert from their front porches; those who attended the concert in the amphitheater had ample time to return home before the choir left the grounds. People sat in rocking chairs, stood on front steps or came out to the walkways and cheered as choir members walked back to their buses.

Donna Van Allen is moved by choir performance.
Donna Van Allen is moved by choir performance. Credit: Photo by Gerry Avant

"Thank you!" "You were great!" "Come back and see us soon!" they called out. When words failed, they sent out hearty "Wahoos!" and whistled. One would have thought a local athletic team had won a national title, there was so much a feeling of celebration. With every step, at every turn, there was a resident smiling and waving.

The Tabernacle Choir is on tour not only to sing but to open doors. They're musical ambassadors. No proselyting is done from the concert stage or among audiences, but choir members do some of the most profound missionary work. People come expecting to hear a concert; they leave having felt their lives changed for the better. The choir sounds great and looks good. But there's more to this group than music and costumes. There's a spirit about the choir that people feel. They might not be able to identify precisely what it is, but they know there's something different — and good — about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

All along the tour route, people were lined up to buy tickets, or had ordered them weeks, even months in advance. Then there are folks like Donna Van Allen of Mentor, Ohio. She and a friend visited Kirtland about a week before the choir was scheduled to spend a few hours in this city of great historical significance to the Church.

A missionary at the visitors center told Mrs. Van Allen about the June 26 visit by the choir and indicated that the choir "might sing" while in Kirtland.

Choir director Craig Jessop salutes audience gathered for concert at Chautauqua Institution. Thousands witnessed the concert in western New York.
Choir director Craig Jessop salutes audience gathered for concert at Chautauqua Institution. Thousands witnessed the concert in western New York. Credit: Photo by Gerry Avant

Unaware that the choir planned to sing only during a special gathering in the Kirtland Temple, Mrs. Van Allen arrived at the visitors center at 11:30 a.m. Three hours later she expressed disappointment when she learned that there would be no performance in Kirtland.

However, when asked if they would sing for the visitor, choir members assembled in the foyer of the visitors center and on the balcony above and sang "God Be With You." Mrs. Van Allen grew misty eyed. When the choir learned of the long wait undertaken by this woman not of their own faith, they sang another hymn. Mrs. Van Allen lost emotional composure. Afterward, choir members surrounded and hugged her and gave her a music CD. She followed them to the bus-loading area and stood waving as if seeing off her best friends. "This is the best day of my life!" she proclaimed.

Scenes similar to this are played out nearly every day on the tour. From hotel employees to people on the street to audience members milling around after concerts — everyone seems to want to spend just a moment longer with the Tabernacle Choir. And everyone seems to want one more serving, as it were, of the choir's musical feast.

E-mail: [email protected]