Tabernacle Choir Members Are “Musical Missionaries”
By Gerry Avant, Church News editor
In one of the most elegant concert halls in the Upper Midwest, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square performed for a full house in Madison’s Overture Center for the Arts on Tuesday evening, June 18.
It was the fifth stop on their six-city tour, beginning with a performance June 12 in Columbus, Ohio, and concluding June 20 with a concert in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (The concert in Minneapolis was presented after this week’s Church News publishing date; a report on it is planned for next week.)
Prior to the choir’s concert in Madison, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker proclaimed June 18 and 19 as “Mormon Tabernacle Choir Days.”
The tour is a testament of dedication, commitment, and love—love for music, love for people everywhere, and love for the gospel.
Elder Craig A. Cardon of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Deborah D. Cardon, traveled with the choir. Elder Cardon said he saw the choir genuinely received by people of other faiths and community opinion leaders and political leaders, as well as the general public.
He spoke of three levels of choral and orchestral expertise for which the singers and instrumentalists were recognized.
First, he said, “People marvel at the depth and quality that make up the choir and orchestra. There are those that see this technical, musical expertise and admire it,” he said.
Second, he said, “Some sense the broad spectrum where they begin to see that there is something else going on in terms of influence and reaching people in the medium of music.”
Third, he added, “There are those who grasp the spiritual communication that exists when these talents are employed by the Lord in this way” through the concerts. He said that people of other faiths with whom he has spoken during the tour have acknowledged the spiritual dimension of the concerts.
Elder Cardon, who presided over the Italy Rome Mission, and Sister Cardon zeroed in on the choir’s main purpose: to be a missionary tool for the Church. Being among choir and orchestra members, they said, is much like being among the missionaries with whom they served in Italy and with whom they frequently associate now.
There was clearly a mission feeling on this tour. Elder Cardon spoke of the scriptural account of John the Baptist telling Andrew and another of his disciples that Jesus was the Lamb of God. When they went to Jesus and asked where He was staying, His response was simple: “Come and see.”
After spending the day with Him and learning for themselves that He was, in fact, the Christ, they went forth and found others and brought them to the Savior (see John 1:29–51).
Elder Cardon said, “The missionary spirit is not just to have people sit down with the elders or the sisters; the missionary spirit is more of what you would sense with the Savior’s invitation, ‘Come and see.’
“The missionary spirit of the choir follows that pattern: ‘Come and see how you feel when you are with me.’ Many people are responding.”
The choir’s president, Ron Jarrett, and others credit the success of the tour to the choir’s music director, Mack Wilberg. Brother Jarrett described Brother Wilberg as a genius who is respected and admired in the music world not only for his conducting but also for arranging and composing music.
After one of the concerts, choir member Kristen Olsen said that when the choir and orchestra recently made a recording with Deustche Grammophone, a recording company in Europe, she was reminded of how respected Brother Wilberg is. “One of the top people from the company commented about Mack, saying that he is world renowned. That’s something easy for us to forget because we see him every Thursday at rehearsals and Sunday for the broadcasts and every day on the tour.
“‘Tuning the choir’ is like tuning a giant musical instrument, except with an instrument you can tighten a string and the pitch will hold.
“He has only us to work with—frail and flawed human singers. It’s been rewarding during this tour to see the smile on his face when we get it right. We’ve performed the program before, but each audience is new. We would do anything for him.”
For the tour, Brother Wilberg put together a program that had something for everyone. It included selections from masterworks, hymns, spirituals, and American and international folk songs.
“From the end of the first song you’re always thinking about the audience response,” he said. “A performer can always feel that, and that’s why I’ve said the audiences, without fail, have been very appreciative and enthusiastic for our performances.”
Ryan Murphy, associate music director, conducted part of the program. In addition to the orchestra, the choir was accompanied by Richard Elliott and Andrew Unsworth, Tabernacle organists. Lloyd Newell, announcer for Music and the Spoken Word, announced the program.