Guest Conductors Delight Crowds at Choir Performances

  By Gerry Avant, Church News editor

  • 2 July 2013

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs during its tour to Midwestern states.  Photo by Gerry Avant.

Article Highlights

  • Crowds give the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square cheers and numerous standing ovations, especially when joined by guest conductors.
  • At each venue, a prominent member of the community is invited to direct the choir and orchestra in an encore performance of “This Land Is Your Land.”

“It was all I expected it to be—and more.” —Ron Rockow, guest conductor

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square receive a lot of applause, cheers, and numerous standing ovations on their own. When they are joined by guest conductors, the level of enthusiasm shown by audiences jumps a few notches.

At each venue, a prominent member of the community is invited to direct the choir and orchestra in an encore performance of “This Land Is Your Land.”

In Columbus, Ohio, on June 12—the first concert on the choir and orchestra’s summer tour to the Upper Midwest—the audience began cheering as soon as the program’s announcer, Lloyd Newell, mentioned “bow tie” in introducing Gordon Gee, the man who has made that neckwear a signature of his as the president of Ohio State University. 

With his trademark bow tie accenting his suit, he stepped onto the conductor’s podium, took a deep breath, raised the baton, and got the choir and orchestra started, apparently much to his delight.

In Indiana on June 14, Governor Mike Pence arrived directly from a formal event. 

To the cheers of the audience, he walked onto the stage looking very much like the maestro he was going to be for a few minutes at the conclusion of the concert.

While other guest conductors on the tour had been prominent citizens, the one invited to lead the choir and orchestra at Ravinia Music Festival near Chicago on June 15 was chosen to give honor to men and women who serve or have served in the nation’s military. Lt. Cmdr. James Genarri was presented the Bronze Star for heroism in the face of peril to his own life when he assisted in the removal of a live rocket-launched grenade from the leg of a young marine in Afghanistan. The marine survived and retained the use of his leg.

Members of the audience rose to give him, the choir, and the orchestra a standing ovation. Many people in the audience saluted Lt. Cmdr. Genarri.

On June 17, Archbishop of Milwaukee Jerome E. Listecki of the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee arrived on stage smiling and waving. He looked heavenward, as if asking for divine help in carrying out his role to lead the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. As he conducted, his face had the look of sublime confidence and joy.

He had met with the choir and orchestra earlier that day for a rehearsal, after which he said, “Raising that baton, I felt like I had tremendous power. I told them to ignore me and just follow the concertmaster. They sing and play that song in their sleep.”

Wearing his signature bow tie, Ohio State University President Gordon Gee directs the choir and orchestra during a concert in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Gerry Avant.

He said leading the choir and orchestra was much like being archbishop. He said he stands before people, directing them. Then they don’t pay him any attention and do whatever they want.

Indiana’s Governor Mike Pence serves as guest conductor of “This Land Is Your Land” during the Tabernacle Choir’s concert in Indianapolis, Indiana. Photo by Gerry Avant.

He said the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is recognized widely, and having it come to town elevates their community. He said that many people in Milwaukee appreciate better choral music, such as that presented by the choir.

The guest conductor in Madison, Wisconsin, needed no instruction when he took over leading the choir during a rehearsal prior to the concert Tuesday evening, June 18. Ron Rockow, who taught high school music for 38 years, received a standing ovation from the choir and orchestra after he led them in the encore number during the rehearsal.

Lt. Cmdr. James Genarri—a U.S. Navy nurse who received the Bronze Star for heroism in the face of peril when he assisted in the removal of a live rocket-launched grenade from the leg of a young marine in Afghanistan—was guest conductor for an encore number at a concert by the choir. Photo by Gerry Avant.

“This is the highlight of my career,” he said after the rehearsal. “They were very responsive. There was not one eye that wasn’t on me.”

Of conducting the choir and orchestra, he said, “It was all I expected it to be—and more.”

Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki of the Catholic Church’s Archdiocese of Milwaukee is guest conductor of the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square during a concert in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Photo by Gerry Avant.

Mr. Rockow was reunited with one of his music students, Jonathan Gochberg, who grew up in Madison and is now a member of the Tabernacle Choir.

Ron Rockow, who taught high school music for 38 years, is guest conductor of the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square's concert in Madison, Wisconsin, June 18. Photo by Gerry Avant.

Guest conductors’ names are not announced in advance, so it is a surprise to the audience when they are introduced. Since its first tour outside of Utah in 1893, the choir has toured extensively across the United States and abroad. It has performed throughout Europe and in music capitals from Israel and Russia to Japan and Australia.