The Tabernacle Choir's tour to Europe was, according to director Jerold Ottley, "a bigger experience than you can sum up in words, both spiritually and musically, and in terms of the people with whom we've associated."
In comments to the Church News while en route home from Europe, Brother Ottley said that he was particularly pleased with the choir members because of their consistency against sometimes pretty tough odds. He noted that they had a grueling schedule of travel, had to adjust to different foods and faced the challenges of staying healthy. They often performed in uncomfortable physical circumstances, such as in concert halls where seating on the stage or in balcony areas was so crowded that some had to sit sideways or hold their music in awkward positions, causing fatigue or muscle strain. Added to that was the heat of lights for television crews to tape concerts for national and international broadcasts in already hot climates.Brother Ottley and associate conductor Craig Jessop worked for months with the choir on the technical aspects of the music presented during the tour. The repertoire included 27 separate pieces of music. Each singer's packet of sheet music during the tour weighed about five pounds.
While critics praised the choir for its sound, Brother Ottley said he was most pleased with the spirit that the singers brought to the concert halls. "We try to make that the bottom line in the operation of all of our work," he said.
Brother Jessop said that he felt the tour produced an enormous amount of good will. "I think it was successful on many levels. Musically, the choir performed wonderfully. As far as gaining new friends for the Church, many bridges were built that will assist the missionaries in each of these countries. The tour helped raise the level of awareness of the Church among the local populations."
Asked if there were any particular highlights on the tour, Brother Jessop began by naming individual concerts. Finally, he conceded, each concert was a highlight. "Of every single concert I could say, `That was my favorite.' "
Acquainted with Europe as a former director of the Band of the United States Air Forces in Europe from 1987-1991, Brother Jessop took performers to some of the same areas of Europe where the choir sang during its tour. "I loved my experiences with the Air Force," he said, "but this tour was such a great, fulfilling opportunity. It's wonderful to be totally free to express yourself through music about the things that mean the most to me, the gospel. It was interesting to look into the eyes of the people as the program progressed, to see them move from a reserved let's-wait-and-see attitude, to total enthusiasm at the end."
JoAnn Ottley serves as the choir's vocal coach. "A resident mechanic" is how she described her function while the choir was on tour.
While her job was to help singers get and keep their voices in top form, she recognized the greater impact of their spirit upon audiences.
Sister Ottley, who is married to director Jerold Ottley, has been on 17 major tours with the choir. "I can't say that the spirit of this tour is drastically different from any other tour," she said. "It's just that it's different because we have different personnel in the choir, different people who are singing. Nevertheless, the underlying spirit is the same.
"Jerry and I had a conversation the other night. He said something about how amazing members of the choir are, that it doesn't matter what they have to do, however many paces they get put through every day, they pull through at the concerts. He said that they love to perform.
"I said, `They love to perform, but it's more than that. These people take the challenge of winning hearts. They love the music, but it's not their fundamental desire. The fundamental desire is to reach the hearts of the people for whom they are singing, and they will do whatever that takes. That creates the kind of spirit for which there is no defense from the audience. People are touched, moved and softened. It's a beautiful process. It's always a miracle.' "