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Ambassador of song

Tabernacle Choir brings spiritual enrichment on southern U.S. tour

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In program notes directed to "our esteemed friends in America's South" and distributed during the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's tour June 15-28, the First Presidency introduced the music organization as "our world-renowned ambassador of song."

The message from the First Presidency — President Gordon B. Hinckley, President Thomas S. Monson and President James E. Faust — included the following:

"Through concert tours, recordings and radio, television and satellite broadcasts, the choir has become known around the world for its renditions of great musical masterpieces as well as lighter works from various churches.

"Throughout history music has been an important part of religious worship. Using its melodies and harmonies, inspired mortals have woven both simple and profound messages of exhortation; of praise to our Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost; of reaffirmation of divine truths; and of comfort, encouragement, and sheer enjoyment.

"We commend these talented, dedicated singers to you and hope they will bring enjoyment and spiritual enrichment to all who hear them. They come to you with our love and our blessing."

Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir were ambassadors as they performed in eight cities in the southern United States: June 15, Houston, Texas, Reliant Arena; June 16, Fort Worth, Texas, Bass Auditorium; June 18, New Orleans, La., Saenger Theater; June 20, Birmingham, Ala., Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center Concert Hall; June 21, Atlanta, Ga., Fox Theater; June 23, Tampa, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center; June 25, Orlando, Bob Carr Performing Arts Center; and June 27, Miami, Knight Performing Arts Center.

In addition, the choir taped its network broadcast, Music and the Spoken Word, in Birmingham June 20, and performed at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Orlando June 25. On June 24, the choir split into three groups to present firesides at stake centers in the Orlando area.

While on tour, the Tabernacle Choir touched hearts as much as, if not more than, it entertained audiences. Many audience membes wiped tears from their eyes as the choir's music moved them. A good number of those later identified themselves as not being members of the Church.

If people of other faiths were so moved by the choir, imagine its impact upon Latter-day Saints in the audience. Bonnie Erickson of the Apopka Ward, Orlando Florida Stake, constantly wiped away tears throughout the concert. Afterward, she said, "Excellence of every kind edifies. What we saw and heard tonight was pure excellence, and it was edifying."

Lois McCullen of North Carolina flew to Florida to spend a few days there and was in Orlando for the concert. "That concert was worth my trip down there," she said. "I truly felt like 'my cup runneth over.' God bless every person who was in any way involved with that tour."

A minister of music at a church in Atlanta wrote a letter to choir member Analee Wiser, who had met him after the concert. He wrote: "What was so evident to me, through your visit and your concert, was the warmth and devotion with which you perform, or should I say minister, for that is truly what it is. As a fellow musician and as a minister of music, I know all too well, that in order to convey the love of God to an audience, one must be very assured of that love oneself. And that is what I felt through your concert. The reverence with which you minister is obvious. . . . I can only imagine that same power displayed in your [tabernacle]; I am sure that it must be overwhelmingly powerful and effective. It is no great wonder to me that your congregation serves your church with such fervor and conviction. . . .

"I do not think that I have ever been in a place where the presence of God was more evident. Most of the concert was heard with my eyes closed and my heart opened. For me, the highlight of the evening was the performance of 'Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.' That is my favorite hymn, but the arrangement you used made it so powerful and spectacular! I must admit to more than just a few tears; I was moved beyond description. It is my personal belief that everyone in the auditorium felt the presence of the Almighty, at that point. I do not know if you even noticed, but it took a moment for the audience to react after the music had ended. That, I feel, was the work of the Holy Ghost. The evening will remain one of my most cherished memories."

Choir member Linda Glazier met a woman who attended the concert in new Orleans. "Her mother is the one who really wanted to go to the concert but, for one reason or another, she was unable to go," Sister Glazier said. "The daughter attended and was very moved by the concert. She called the theater in Atlanta and bought tickets to the concert and then bought airline tickets and flew with her mother to the concert there. They were very moved by the concert. When I met them, they were both in tears."

Throughout its tour, the Tabernacle Choir received positive comments in the press in the cities and states where it performed. Often, reporters or reviewers mentioned the spirit of the choir and its ability to touch audiences.

For example, Punch Shaw wrote in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "At the end of a trio of hymns that opened the performance, the 340-voice chorus hit the first of a series of hallelujahs in 'All Creatures of Our God and King' that rose slowly and powerfully until it rattled the very gates of heaven. It made the hair on the back of the neck stand straight up and clearly announced that the sell-out crowd of just over 2,000 was in the presence of greatness.

"Nobody hallelujahs like these folks hallelujah!"

Yvonne Betowt described in The Huntsville Times "a spine-tingling performance by the orchestra of 'Praise the Lord with Drums and Cymbals."

Time and again, people in the audience — Latter-day Saints and others — used the same adjectives as they tried to tell what they thought of the concerts: "Wonderful." "Magnificent." "Excellent." "Marvelous." "Exquisite." "Extraordinary." "Beautiful."

Rhett Grant of St. Petersburg, Fla., sent an e-mail to her cousin, choir member Mike Hendriksen. "I just loved 'O Magnum Mysterium' (O Great Mystery). I felt like a bird soaring on top of your voices as if you were all holding me up, light yet strong, and peaceful and safe and free; it's hard to explain a wonderful experience."

Among plaudits given the choir, the mayor of New Orleans and governor of Louisiana proclaimed June 18 as Mormon Tabernacle Choir Day. On June 27, a key to the city of Miami was presented to the choir.

Performers on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's concert tour to the southern United States included 320 of the choir's 340 singers, and 21 members of the 100-piece Orchestra at Temple Square.

Conducting on the tour were Craig Jessop, Tabernacle Choir music director, and Mack Wilberg, associate director.

Organists were John Longhurst, Clay Christiansen and Richard L. Elliott.

Lloyd D. Newell hosted the concert programs.

For other reports about the choir's tour, please see the June 23 and June 30 issues of the Church News.

E-mail: gerry@desnews.com