WASHINGTON — The Mormon Choir of Washington, D.C., has sung at the White House, the Vietnam Memorial, Fort McHenry, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. They've lifted their voices at churches of many faiths all over the area. And they've graced the stage at the Washington, D.C., Temple Visitors Center numerous times to ring in the Christmas season as part of the annual Festival of Lights.

The 75-member choir is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and will have a grand reunion this month.

Their varied repertoire from Broadway to requiems fulfills part of the choir's purpose, to "provide a challenging and enriching experience through which members may learn and strive for excellence of musical expression."

"The music has always been of the highest quality," said Gene Morlan, 92, the choir's founder and musical director for nearly two decades. "It's run the gamut," tailored to the season and the audience.

Morlan had been director of music at a large Lutheran church in Mclean, Va., and was on the headquarters staff of the Music Educators National Conference in 1970 when he first stepped into the Salt Lake Tabernacle during a convention. He and his wife, Virginia, were later baptized on her birthday, May 28, 1971.

He was serving on the committee when the Mormon Choir of Washington, D.C., was organized in 1980 under sponsorship of the eight stakes making up the Capital and Potomac regions to be "an emissary of the Lord and his church."

Morlan was selected by consensus, according to the choir's history compiled by G. Robert Smith, patriarch of McLean Virginia Stake, who still sings baritone with the choir.

He remained in that post for the choir's first 19 years, growing its reputation along with a large library of music. The more than 500 titles are housed in the Annandale Virginia Stake Center, where the choir was first organized and once again rehearses. He considers that library one of his greatest contributions to the choir's success.

"The music has always been of the highest quality," he said. "It's run the gamut," tailored to the season and the audience.

The choir is now under the direction of Gary Clawson, who joined the choir when he moved to Northern Virginia with his family in 1991. Clawson, who has a degree in choral music from Arizona State University, became first assistant to the director the following year and took the baton as musical director and conductor when Morlan stepped down in 1999. David Hardin is associate director, and Linda Pain serves as principal accompanist.

"It's a weekly lift emotionally and spiritually," he said of the weekly choir rehearsals that are 90 minutes away from his home. "After the stress of daily work, I can escape from that."

Clawson, whose "day job" is a lessons learned analyst with the National Guard bureau, recalls a memorable performance at the base of the Washington Monument during a Flag Day program June 14, 1991, when a huge American flag was unrolled across the National Mall and thousands took the oath of allegiance as new U.S. citizens. Other notable performances include annual choir concerts at a cathedral or synagogue each November, sponsored by the Interfaith Council of Washington, D.C.

"The (temple) Visitors Center offers the best opportunity to expose the church to nonmembers," Clawson explains, "so it's my favorite location to perform in." Many invited foreign diplomats and their families attend the opening concert of the Festival of Lights, and many nonmembers from surrounding communities also attend special Easter and Fourth of July concerts given by the choir, along with firesides at local LDS buildings.

U.S. government and military officials as well as LDS leadership also attend the choir's concerts. Its recently released seventh album, "It is Well with My Soul," features flute accompaniment by Joyce Bennett, wife of Utah Sen. Bob Bennett.

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Choir secretary Roberta Childs is one of four founding members who is still singing with the choir. A busy mother of eight when she first joined, she missed the music that had always been an essential part of her life. Participating with the choir filled a void and "is still a joy," she said. "I have the pleasure of spending two hours each Thursday night singing good music with good voices."

Others still singing with the choir 30 years later are alto Melanie Wall and Sally Koonce, whose meeting and courtship with her husband-to-be, current choir president Dave Koonce, was the choir's first romance.

Members from 18 to nearly 80 enjoy fulfilling the choir's stated purpose. "… through the medium of music we can praise our heavenly Father, gospel truths can be taught, members of the church can find an outlet for artistic and spiritual expression, the Holy Spirit can influence the pure in heart, and the building of the Kingdom of God in the Washington, D.C. area may be furthered," it reads.

Reflecting on three decades, Morlan sees those things continue to happen with the choir. "I feel it has become a great missionary tool."

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