Concert violinist Meredith Campbell has played the most beautiful music ever written. And perhaps the ugliest.

The Salt Lake woman bowed Mozart and Beethoven with the Utah Symphony. She has played sacred hymns for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. She performed with Kurt Bestor and Sam Cardon. Her work appears on numerous inspirational CDs. And in a violent video game.

A professional musician, Campbell was once hired to portray a woman warrior for a PlayStation game and make some "wretched" violin sounds for the character.

"You'd never think someone sitting there with the Tabernacle Choir would be running around killing people on a video," said the 51-year-old mother of seven. "You do all kinds of things if you have the skill."

Much of Campbell's considerable talent now is devoted to the Orchestra at Temple Square, the instrumental counterpart to the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

"I really joined because I always wanted to play with the Tabernacle Choir," she said. "That's really an awesome thing to have all those voices behind you singing like that. It's wonderful."

The LDS Church organized the 100-piece ensemble about four years ago with a charge from President Gordon B. Hinckley to become the "finest orchestra in all the world."

It hasn't attained that lofty aspiration, but the all-volunteer group often tackles some of the finest and most challenging symphonies ever written.

The orchestra is comprised of professional musicians, talented college students and other accomplished musicians who donate their time as service to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They range in age from 14 to 70. They come from as far north as Logan and as far south as Ephraim.

The full orchestra has yet to travel like the Tabernacle Choir does, but conductor Barlow Bradford said, "I think we should."

At its March 22 spring concert in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, the orchestra will perform Gustav Mahler's self-described "monster" Third Symphony, the longest work in the classical genre. The first movement alone lasts longer than Beethoven's entire Fifth Symphony. Bradford won't put down his baton for one hour and 40 minutes.

Rock band Led Zeppelin rambled on for only 26 minutes in the epic live version of its song "Dazed and Confused," which is what orchestra members might end up being if they don't stay focused during Mahler. Those with prolonged rests in the marathon piece must stay on their toes.

"Counting measures is the hardest thing," said flutist Tiffany McCleary. "Your concentration has to be at the top or you get lost."

Because of its length, depth and difficulty, the piece is not performed often, but Bradford said given its fine complement of musicians, the group simply had to play it. Usually the full orchestra rehearses only five times before a concert, though Bradford demanded extra sessions for this one.

The April 18 and 19 Easter concerts will feature Johannes Brahms' Requiem.

Tickets to the orchestra's concerts are free and usually go fast. Standby patrons, though, have little trouble getting in on the day of a performance.

Individual practice, rehearsals, studio sessions and concerts, especially at Christmas, take immense dedication. Most started playing at a young age.

It was "Jaws" and "Star Wars" that turned Phil Lowry on to classical music. Not the movies but the soundtracks.

As a youngster, Lowry listened to the John Williams compositions over and over again on a plastic record player in his bedroom. The soaring "Star Wars" theme particularly struck a chord in him that reverberates today.

"I had it memorized," he said. "I still have it memorized."

A busy 36-year-old Provo lawyer and bass player, Lowry squeezes in practice time whenever he can.

Eric and Emilee Morgan don't remember not playing cello and violin, respectively, while growing up. Now they juggle work, church, raising a toddler and recreation (Eric plays hockey) to be in the group.

"It is a huge time commitment," said Emilee Morgan, 25, seven months pregnant with the couple's second child.

Eric Morgan, 27, practices sitting on the living room table in his home because it's about the right height. His wife wanted to buy him a cello chair but he said he'd never use it.

He makes do and makes time "just to keep playing good music. You knew it was going to be a good orchestra."

"We have the demands of a professional symphony," said Danny Soulier, a 24-year-old percussionist and college student who works two jobs. "We just don't get paid."

Pay is a touchy subject in the orchestra.

Members have spent their entire lives honing their musical skills. Some give up paying gigs to play with the group. Performing with a high-profile orchestra without remuneration is a great sacrifice for those who choose or are asked to audition for and make the ensemble.

Campbell sometimes has to pick between a paid recording session and an orchestra performance.

"Most people who can play well don't play for nothing," Lowry said. "There's no incentive."

The difference with this gig is that orchestra members are dedicated to the LDS Church and spreading its message through music. Like Tabernacle Choir members, the musicians labor as service missionaries.

"We are doing good in the world," Lowry said. "That's what I think really matters."

McCleary, 29, a former school band teacher who is working on a graduate degree in conducting, considers herself blessed to be in the group.

"I wouldn't want to get paid," she said. "I believe the gifts I have been given are from my Heavenly Father."

Expectations for the orchestra are high. Sometimes individuals are handed a piece of music 90 minutes before a performance like Sunday morning's "Music and the Spoken Word."

"It's high pressure. Every performance we do is on camera," Bradford said. "It's demanding on them. Put up a mike and pull out a camera and the stress level goes up by four times."

Soulier says he initially found the television equipment intimidating. He worried the cameras and microphones would cause him to mess up, which they still occasionally do. "But now it's almost like they're invisible to me."

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Learning to cope with the stress of live broadcasts, he said, will help in his goal of becoming a professional musician.

Despite the demands, orchestra members find both musical and spiritual fulfillment in the music they perform. Bradford said the group is unique because not only does it play well but it gets along.

"We're a big group of friends. We enjoy coming together. We enjoy making music together. That's really a wonderful thing."


E-MAIL: romboy@desnews.com

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