Performers, Audiences Have Found Warm Connections during Choir and Orchestra Tour

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • BRUSSELS, BELGIUM

Associate director Ryan Murphy directs the choir and Orchestra at Temple Square on July 11 at the Bozar Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium. Brother Murphy is half Belgian and had a dozen friends and family attend the concert there.  Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Article Highlights

  • Several performers have personal connections to the countries visited on the tour.
  • Elder Kearon and Elder Clayton commented on the Spirit that has been present in each concert.
  • Director Mack Wilberg notes that the choir and orchestra have performed “on an exceedingly high level this entire tour.”

“I think because we are so unified by our faith and our own spiritual beliefs, that comes across to the audience. I heard of several people, some of them really fine musicians, who said they felt such warmth, their heart was overflowing from what they had experienced, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to accomplish.” —Mack Wilberg, music director

Carma Huggard lived in Belgium in 1988, when her husband, Gary, was stationed here with the United States Air Force. Every Sunday, while driving from their village 50 miles to Church, the Huggards would listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s Music and the Spoken Word broadcast on the car radio.

“That made our week,” recalled Sister Huggard, who is now a first alto in the choir.

Her beloved memories of Belgium have been refreshed, as the choir and Orchestra at Temple Square performed July 11 at the Bozar Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels.

It was the sixth stop on a three-week tour of central Europe by the choir and orchestra, which began June 27 and included concerts in Berlin, Nuremberg, and Frankfurt, Germany; Vienna, Austria; Zurich, Switzerland; Brussels, Belgium; and Rotterdam, Netherlands.

In each locale, performers have felt a warm connection with their appreciative and responsive audiences. Some have renewed or strengthened personal ties to the nations where they played, such as Sister Huggard and associate music director Ryan Murphy.

Brother Murphy is half Belgian. His mother, Maria Loyens, was born in the Flemish part of the country, then moved to Liége, a French-speaking region, when she was 8. She joined the Church at age 20, then served a mission in France, where she met her future husband, Tom Murphy, while he was stationed there in the U.S. military. Later, Brother Murphy served in the same mission in France where his mother served.

“My mom still has a lot of family here,” he said. About a dozen of his family and friends came to the concert in Brussels.

“This is my ancestral homeland,” he said. “I love the people here, and I’ve been here many times. So to be able to bring the choir here and to share that with the people in Belgium is very touching for me.”

A similar sentiment was expressed by Sonja Sperling Poulter, a member of the choir from Frankfurt, Germany, who has been the on-stage interpreter for announcer Lloyd Newell at all the venues prior to Brussels.

“These are good people; these are my people,” she said to Brother Newell as they were returning to the stage during one of the standing ovations at Jahrhunderthalle in Frankfurt.

At the concert in Zurich, Switzerland, Tamara Oswald, harpist with the Orchestra at Temple Square, waved a Swiss flag when Brother Newell asked the performers to indicate how many of them had family or personal connections in Switzerland.

Backstage prior to concert at Brussels, Belgium, bells are ready for use by Mormon Tabernacle Choir members assigned to ring them during interludes between musical selections in the first half of the program. Photo courtesy of R. Scott Lloyd.

Associate director Ryan Murphy directs the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square during a concert in the Jahrhunderthalle in Frankfurt, Germany, on July 9. Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The organ inside of the Cathedral of Saint Bartholomew in Frankfurt, Germany. Members of the choir toured Frankfurt on July 8. Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The Fountain of Justice in Frankfurt, Germany, was one of the sites members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir saw on July 8 before performing on July 9. Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Her parents, Doug and Cohleen Bischoff, were mission president and wife in Zurich in 1980–83. Living with them for a time there, Sister Oswald met her future husband, Daniel. They were sealed in the Swiss Temple.

Their daughter, Amanda, served a mission in Switzerland.

“Even though my ancestry is German, I have adopted Switzerland as a home country as well,” Sister Oswald said regarding her waving of the flag during the concert. Many in the audience chuckled in appreciation. “I saw a lot of people I knew after the concert, and I got Facebook messages,” Sister Oswald said.

At each of the concerts the affection has been reciprocal between performers and audiences.

Stirring performances of music director Mack Wilberg’s arrangements of three beloved Latter-day Saint hymns have been met with standing ovations, answered with encores of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and the choir’s customary farewell hymn “God Be with You.” At the German performances, there were audible gasps of delight when the audiences realized the performers were going to sing the song in German.

The day after the July 9 concert in Frankfurt, Elder Patrick Kearon, General Authority Seventy and Europe Area President, spoke of it in spiritual terms to performers and tour guests at a sacrament meeting in the hotel where they were staying.

“I’ve been blessed to hear you quite a lot, but I’ve never heard anything like that or heard you together like that. It was a gift. It’s as if someone had, in a glorious way, interfered with what you were doing and made it beyond extraordinary. I suppose they have interfered with it—in a celestial way—and glorified your efforts, magnified them.”

With his wife, Sister Jennifer Kearon, Elder Kearon has been the General Authority accompanying the choir and orchestra on their travels during the last half of the tour. During the first half, that role was filled by Elder L. Whitney Clayton, senior member of the Presidency of the Seventy, who was accompanied by his wife, Sister Kathy Ann Clayton.

At a sound check rehearsal prior to the Zurich concert on July 6, Elder Clayton said he observed the concerts “had a tremendous, unifying effect on the people who listened to them.”

“I have been astonished, really, to see that the choir and orchestra have this great capacity to touch people’s hearts,” Elder Clayton said. “I’ve seen that effect in every concert. I’ve felt that effect in every concert—the music is beautiful, the choir is dignified, the spirit of reverence is there, and people who come to the concerts leave different people than they were when they came in.”

In an interview prior to the Frankfurt concert, Brother Wilberg said that just before they left Salt Lake City, he warned the performers “not to expect standing ovations and not to expect what we would call thunderous applause, because most European concerts that I have attended over the years I think that people appreciate the music just as much but sometimes don’t demonstrate it quite the way that we’re used to with American audiences.”

“But we have been pleasantly surprised the entire tour that the audiences have not been just appreciative but have been enthusiastic in their appreciation for the concerts.”

That said, Brother Wilberg pointed out that the choir and orchestra have performed “on an exceedingly high level this entire tour,” a tribute to the members’ hard work in preparation.

“With the exception of one piece on our program, everything is from the sacred repertoire,” he noted. “As a result, I think because we are so unified by our faith and our own spiritual beliefs, that comes across to the audience. I heard of several people, some of them really fine musicians, who said they felt such warmth, their heart was overflowing from what they had experienced, and that’s exactly what we’re trying to accomplish. Maybe we don’t do it all the time, but I think most of the time we do.”

Performers enter Jahrhunderthalle in Frankfurt, Germany, for sound check prior to concert. Photo courtesy of R. Scott Lloyd.

Music director Mack Wilberg bows during a standing ovation at the concert in Frankfurt, Germany, of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square on July 9, 2016. Photo courtesy of R. Scott Lloyd.

Announcer Lloyd Newell introduces his interpreter, Sonja Sperling Poulter, at the concert in Frankfurt, Germany, of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square on July 9, 2016. She is a choir member who grew up in Frankfurt. Photo courtesy of R. Scott Lloyd.

During sound check prior to the July 11, 2016, concert in Brussels, Belgium, Mormon Tabernacle Choir music director Mack Wilberg turns around to get feedback on sound balance from associate music director Ryan Murphy, who is listening in the audience seats. Photo courtesy of R. Scott Lloyd.

Sister Jennifer Kearon (holding sheet music), wife of Elder Patrick Kearon, General Authority Seventy, sits in during the sound check rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square prior to the concert in Brussels, Belgium, on July 11, 2016. Photo courtesy of R. Scott Lloyd.

During sound check prior to the July 11, 2016, concert in Brussels, Belgium, some members of the men's section ring bells between musical selections in the first half of the concert program. The bells follow the underlying “Old Hundredth” hymn melody that ties the first half of the program together. Photo courtesy of R. Scott Lloyd.

During sound check prior to the July 11, 2016, concert in Brussels, Belgium, Mormon Tabernacle Choir music director Mack Wilberg conducts the choir and Orchestra at Temple Square. Photo courtesy of R. Scott Lloyd.

During sound check prior to the July 11, 2016, concert in Brussels, Belgium, Mormon Tabernacle Choir associate music director Ryan Murphy turns around to get feedback on sound balance from music director Mack Wilberg, who is listening in the audience seats. Photo courtesy of R. Scott Lloyd.

Music director Mack Wilberg raises his arms in acknowledgement of the performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square during a standing ovation at a concert in Brussels, Belgium, July 11, 2016. Photo courtesy of R. Scott Lloyd.

Music director Mack Wilberg raises his arms in acknowledgement of the performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square at a concert in Brussels, Belgium, July 11, 2016. Photo courtesy of R. Scott Lloyd.

At a concert in Brussels, Belgium, some of the women's section of Mormon Tabernacle Choir are seated in boxes above and at the side of the main stage at Palais de Beaux-Arts. Photo courtesy of R. Scott Lloyd.

Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir clap their hands during a performance of “Cindy” in the second half of their concert program in Brussels, Belgium, on July 11, 2016. Photo courtesy of R. Scott Lloyd.

Music director Mack Wilberg acknowledges associate music director Ryan Murphy during a standing ovation at the July 11, 2016, concert in Brussels, Belgium. Photo courtesy of R. Scott Lloyd.

The sound crew for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square works behind the scenes during a concert in the Hallenstadion in Zurich, Switzerland, on July 6. Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square perform during a concert held in the Hallenstadion in Zurich, Switzerland, on July 6. Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

A billboard advertises the concert for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square in Zurich, Switzerland, on July 6. Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square perform a Nigerian carol, “Betelehemu,” during a concert held in the Hallenstadion in Zurich, Switzerland, on July 6. Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Choir conductor Mack Wilberg directs the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square during a concert in the Jahrhunderthalle in Frankfurt, Germany, on July 9. Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Tabernacle organist Andrew Unsworth accompanies the choir and orchestra during a concert in Frankfurt, Germany, as part of their 20-day western European tour. Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Choir member Sonja Sperling Poulter acts as interpreter for choir announcer Lloyd Newell during a concert in the Jahrhunderthalle in Frankfurt, Germany, on July 9. Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Associate director Ryan Murphy directs the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square during a concert in the Jahrhunderthalle in Frankfurt, Germany, on July 9. Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square perform during a concert held in the Jahrhunderthalle in Frankfurt, Germany, on July 9. Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Associate director Ryan Murphy directs the choir and Orchestra at Temple Square on July 11 at the Bozar Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium. Brother Murphy is half Belgian and had a dozen friends and family attend the concert there. Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Choir conductor Mack Wilberg directs the choir and Orchestra at Temple Square on July 11 at the Bozar Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium. Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Tamara Oswald and Jeannine Goeckeritz, members of the Orchestra at Temple Square, play the harp and flute at a VIP reception before a concert in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Members of the choir walk in front of Alte Oper, the old opera house that was rebuilt after World War II. Photo by Deb Gehris, Mormon Tabernacle Choir.