The Los Angeles Music Festival

by Lowell M. Durham

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    Last year regional and area music festivals were held throughout the Church. This new approach to Church music festivals has provided greater opportunities for members to participate in their own areas. The second weekend in May saw a most ambitious MIA area music festival. One exciting feature of all the festivals, including the Los Angeles area festival is that they featured Mormon composers.

    The night of the performance, Los Angeles’s 18,000 capacity Arena echoed with the music of some 3,800 young performers.

    The huge 3,500-voice chorus and king-sized orchestra of 300 presented a two-hour program exclusively by Mormon composers. Seven southern California regions were represented: Burbank, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Los Angeles East, Pomona, San Fernando, and Santa Barbara—approximately 30 stakes and 200 wards.

    Regional and area festivals will become an important supplement to the traditional June Conference festivals.

    Initial plans for the Los Angeles festival were laid a year ago. Rehearsals began six months later on a stake basis. No doubt pandemonium, confusion, and skepticism typified these early gatherings. Given the logistical problems, it was miraculous that the festival finally fell together by concert time. Except for an afternoon dress rehearsal that was enacted before a partially filled Arena, the actual concert was the first time all participants had been together. At 7:30 P.M. when the house lights dimmed and spotlights flashed on pastel-gowned girls and neatly attired young men, a sense of assurance and calm pervaded all.

    The most electrifying aspect of the evening occurred when the 3,500 singers arose for their opening number. Filling the entire oval end of the Arena balcony, they made one suddenly aware of the vastness of their numbers and the expansiveness of this enterprise.

    For such a diverse and huge ensemble, the performance’s quality was good. Girls outnumbered boys about three to one; yet the balance was pleasing. Biggest problem: acoustics of the Arena. Built originally for the 1936 Olympics, it does not lend itself to the enhancement of musical sounds. In fact, it was very difficult to hear in many areas of the building, and impossible in some spots. Amplification of the chorus would have helped, paradoxical though that may sound with reference to 3,500 voices.

    Even professionals do not like to perform new, unfamiliar music. Yet these young people were actually giving premier performances of every programmed piece, which were commissioned especially for the 1972 MIA festivals. Certainly the newness bothered the young people in earlier rehearsals, but they became attached and enthusiastic about the music, and you have to cheer the quality of their performance.

    Most popular with performers and audience alike was Disney Studios’ Robert Brunner who proved to be a capable conductor and a gifted, tuneful composer. His “Suddenly You’re Older” was the chorus’s favorite. His orchestral theme music from Disney’s Wild Country also came off professionally and was well accepted.

    Festival Chairman Rowan Taylor was represented by the first movement of his Fourth Symphony, subtitled “Coriantumr, Three Fanfares” for brass, and an audience participation arrangement of “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” He also presented a tribute to the late Leroy Robertson with a sensitive performance for small choir and orchestra of “How Beautiful upon the Mountain” from the Book of Mormon Oratorio.

    One of the most interesting Mormon composers present was Argentine Norbetto Guinaldo, who at present is living in the Los Angeles area where he is studying, teaching, and composing.

    Still another Los Angeles composer, J. Ross Beckstead, arranged a medley of Latter-day-Saint hymns, concluding with “The Spirit of God Like a Fire Is Burning,” which made a thrilling finale.

    The inclusion of the aforementioned works by southern Californians made this a most exciting area festival. All were supplementary to the basic MIA festival and signaled that southern California is bustling with talented composers. Subsequent area festivals will also take on their own individuality by featuring the composers and unusual performing talents of their particular areas.

    Other composers included Crawford Gates, director of the Beloit (Wisconsin) and Rockford (Illinois) Symphony orchestras. His “Joy” for women’s chorus and orchestra, expertly written, received one of the program’s best performances. Popular with singers was the lovely “Soft Rain” composed by Janet Cox.

    BYU’s composer-in-residence, Merrill Bradshaw, wrote “The Mountains” for men’s chorus and orchestra, a stirring setting of the composer’s text and one of the night’s most exciting performances. Comic was K. L. Hicken’s “The Weed,” a Handelian parody on tobacco’s evils. Gaylen Hatton’s “Go Now Gentle” was a beautiful and intriguing piece. Lynn Shurtleff’s “Quietness” had a special charm. He heads the music department at Santa Clara University.

    Rounding out the composers were BYU’s Robert Manookin and Newell Dayley; University of Utah’s Lowell Durham; and Paul Thompson, Larry Bastian, and Ron Simpson. The latter two composed rhythmic, syncopated, modern pop-like selections that were obviously enjoyed by the performers. Thompson’s stirring and patriotic “Liberty” opened the program.

    For participants and spectators alike the performance was exhilarating. The Mormon makeup of the program was unique in Church festivals and a significant innovation that deserves to be continued and cultivated.

    Lance Spindler, Camarillo Ward, Ventura Stake: “Met two people at work, and they couldn’t believe that 3,000 young people could and would get together to sing, so they are here to check this out.”

    Peggy Janson, Montclair Ward, Pomona Stake: “Friendships grew closer through this experience.”

    Sister Aikens, Ontario Ward, Pomona Stake: “The music festival made me realize how special the gospel of Jesus Christ is.”

    Nonmember, Pomona Region: “I really felt good. After I went home last night, I felt so good I didn’t want to go to bed. I have felt this way three times—at camp, at youth conference, and now at the music festival.”

    Kristine Stauffer, West Covina Ward, West Covina Stake: “The music festival was the neatest thing in my life. I hope there are more things like this. I really felt close to those I associated with. The Spirit of the Lord was so strong.”

    Richard Anderson, West Covina Ward, West Covina Stake: “I felt a tremendous spirit last night. I felt so good this morning I got up and made my bed. This made my mom feel good. When you perform a service, it makes you feel good. I had the same feeling I had while serving a mission.”

    Rosemary Reeder, San Fernando Ward, San Fernando Stake: “I’m a convert of five years. I was a Catholic and was baptized when I was eleven years old. I’m a music lover, and this was just beautiful. My testimony has grown as tall as I am.”

    Janet Riddel, Sylmar Ward, San Fernando Stake: “I’ve loved every minute of it. I really appreciate the closeness I’ve had with all the friends I’ve made since we’ve been rehearsing. I’m thankful for the leaders who have made this possible.”

    Bruce Ferguson, La Cienega Ward, Santa Monica Stake: “We not only live our faith but we sing it.”

    Jose Huerta, Santa Fe Springs Second Ward, Norwalk Stake: “Church provides spiritual experiences, but this is the greatest yet! Strengthens testimony.”

    John Hand, South Pasadena Second Ward, Pasadena Stake: “Inspired music—with proper tuning in of the Spirit you could hear the universe breathing.”