Who has moved more hearts, shown more endurance, spent more time on the platform and inspired more tears during these Winter Olympics than . . .
. . . the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?
What a fabulous honor it was to sing with you at the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics. If I could've given you all a hug, believe me I would have. God bless you all.
Feb. 13, Florence, Italy
That's the way it's been for two weeks — one heartfelt review after another. Who knew? You figure the choir should've gone out of style a long time ago. Name another act that has been singing basically the same stuff for 155 years and is still in business. Besides the Beach Boys, that is. Along with the mountains and snow, the MoTabs are the best ambassador Salt Lake has, and they didn't cost anybody a dime.
After a recent performance, a couple from Chicago asked an usher if they could meet Craig Jessop, the choir conductor. "Of all the experiences we've had since being here, nothing has touched us more than being in the Tabernacle and experiencing this," the man told Jessop. Weeping, he removed an Olympic pin from his lapel and pinned it on Jessop's coat.
"This is done with gratitude and love for what you have done," he said.
"There have been so many experiences like that," says Jessop.
The choir has sung for President Bush. It has accompanied Sting and Yo-Yo Ma. It has sung and clowned with Al Roker on the "Today" show. It has sung for Michael Kamen and John Williams. It has sung on national TV for 3.5 billion people in the opening ceremonies. It has sung for thousands every day during the Olympics. It has sung with a TV broadcaster from Chicago who wanted to join it in rehearsals. It has granted a faux audition to a BBC broadcaster.
And you thought the Austrian skiers had a good Olympics.
Almost everyone has heard the choir — but, as Jessop says, "If you haven't heard the choir live in the Tabernacle, you haven't heard the full effect of the choir." The musicians who performed in the opening ceremonies were caught off guard when they came to town in December and began rehearsing with the choir live. Soon they were adding more parts for the MoTabs.
"They kept telling us to get out our red pencils and add more notes," says Beth Breinholt, a member of the choir.
Sting was so moved by the choir that after one rehearsal he told them, "You make me very proud to be a member of the human race and one of God's children. I didn't know people were capable of producing such beauty."
With that he walked off the stage. Moments later, with tears in his eyes, Sting embraced Jessop in a bear hug backstage.
"I'm not normally like this," he said. "I've been really touched by the beauty of the singing. This never happens to me. I don't know why, but I've never felt anything like this before."
Michael Kamen, who has scored 70 movies and TV shows, had a similar reaction. After rehearsals were finished one day, the choir sang "God Be With You" as a gift for the composer, and Kamen stood before them and wept openly. He recently called to say he would like to do future projects with the choir.
John Williams, who has written the music for 80 movies and three Olympics, told the choir that he had grown up listening to them and never imagined he would one day perform with them.
The choir has hardly had a moment to savor such experiences. With the endurance of a Norwegian nordic skier, they performed for 14 straight days (sometimes more than once a day), took a day off and started another long stretch. Their daily schedule goes something like this: Rehearse for weekend concert for one hour, perform opening numbers in the "Light of the World" production in the Conference Center, go backstage and rehearse again for their weekend concerts, return to Conference Center stage to perform closing numbers in "Light of the World," then rehearse again afterward. It's a pace they've maintained since December when they did rehearsals and four-hour recording sessions almost daily.
After one of those early sessions, Sting told the choir, "You're all invited to come sing with me in London. You can all stay at my house. We'll go on tour together."
Hmmm, Sting and the MoTabs . . . why not?
Doug Robinson's column is scheduled to run daily through the Games. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.