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Behind-the-scenes work needed for tour

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When members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir take their places in concert halls and begin to sing, they appear to be in their element, performing without much effort. Audience members often comment about how at ease members of the choir seem to be on stage. What most in the audiences might not realize is the monumental amount of work that goes on beforehand and behind the scenes to present a concert.

Pre-tour preparations:

Choir members spent an average of 15 hours per week from April through mid-June rehearsing for the tour and in singers' individual study to memorize all selections for the program. In addition to their regular Thursday evening rehearsals and Sunday morning broadcasts of Music and the Spoken Word, they had extra rehearsals on Tuesday evenings and after the broadcasts. During that time, they also performed at other functions, such as the commemoration on June 1 of the 200th anniversary of Brigham Young's birth.

Tour schedule:

Travel on the tour included airline flights from Salt Lake City to Houston, where the tour began, and from Miami, the last concert stop, to Salt Lake City. In between, the choir traveled on buses; some days included 10-12 hours of travel.

Long days:

Most members of the choir and orchestra took vacation time to go on the tour, but few could say they went on vacation. A typical day had the group getting up between 5-6 a.m., and on the road by 7:30-8 a.m. Even after many hours of travel, they didn't get much time to rest since they had to go to the concert hall for rehearsals and sound checks.

In Orlando, members of the Orchestra at Temple Square had a particularly demanding schedule. They left the hotel at 5:30 a.m. to go to Disney World for a sound check. They had only half an hour upon their return to the hotel to change into concert attire and eat breakfast before returning to Disney World, where they remained until about 2 p.m. Within an hour of returning to the hotel, they left for the concert hall for a sound check and rehearsal, and had only an hour afterward to eat dinner and dress for the concert.

The unexpected:

One of the major hurdles for the choir on its tour was its first concert. For several days, choir members didn't know if they would perform in Houston since the original venue, Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, was flooded. An alternate venue wasn't located until Thursday afternoon, June 14; the choir's technical crew had less than 24 hours to transform an arena designed for rodeos and horse shows into a performance hall.

Another challenge surfaced as nearly 500 people (choir, staff and family members) descended on hotels that weren't quite prepared to receive such a large group. In Atlanta, rooms were not ready and, when choir members finally got into their rooms, they discovered that their luggage wasn't there. Many choir members received their bags containing concert attire just minutes before the concert began. Some took taxis to the Fox Theater, arriving just seconds before the first notes sounded.

Staging the concerts:

The singers and members of the Orchestra at Temple Square took the bows, but the unapplauded heroes of the tour were members of a technical crew that set up the halls for the choir. Wolfgang Zeisler, production manager, Lynn Robinson, Lorin Morse, Chris Acton, Alexander Morris and Alex Morris preceded the choir to each concert. Brother Zeisler and Brother Robinson drove the entire tour route with a 45-foot trailer packed with equipment and instruments, including two organs. At times, they had just a few hours to prepare halls for the concerts.

Sound designer Glen Glancy incorporated an electronic reverberation enhancing system that created an electronic acoustical envelope around the singers, which enabled them to hear each other. On previous tours, the singers often were unable to hear what others were singing.

By preparing for "the worst case scenario," the technical crew always managed to have the concert hall ready for each performance.

Secret to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sound:

Throughout the tour, directors of various choirs and singers with other groups wanted some tips on how to sing like the Tabernacle Choir. Most likely, they expected to hear about training and rehearsals, technique and application. Choir member Janine Green said that a man in Fort Worth asked, "How do you get such a sound?"

Sister Green gave a simple, though unexpected, answer: "We sing with our hearts. We sing our joys, our pains, our testimonies." In Orlando, Sister Green wept as she spoke of news of a tragedy that had come that evening as the concert concluded. Choir members had felt it was one of the best concerts of the tour and were exultant as they entered the hotel lobby. Then came news that fellow choir member Mark Ethington's 18-year-old son died during an outing at Lake Powell in Utah. "We have one more concert to perform," she said. "It will be our best one because we'll be singing our pain and sorrow. If you're a member of the Tabernacle Choir, you're family — not 'like family' but family."

The man in Fort Worth asked Sister Green how people get into the choir. "I didn't tell him about logistics or auditions. I said, 'What I think you want to know is why these people are in the choir. The answer is simple: The Lord wants them in it.' "

Dedication to a mission:

"One thing that makes this choir unique and great is their spirit," said Mac Christensen, president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. "They knew why they were on this tour — to be missionaries. They never forgot that."

This was Brother Christensen's first tour with the choir since being named its president last fall. (The choir went to the Presidential inauguration in January, but that was not a full-fledged tour.) Brother Christensen said that he was impressed that even with such a large group he never heard a complaint from anyone. "You have to realize that there were times when they couldn't get into their hotel rooms. There were about 1,500 pieces of luggage; sometimes people didn't know where their bags were. But they always had smiles on their faces. They set a great example. People observing them couldn't help but fall in love with the choir because of their spirit."

E-mail: gerry@desnews.com