On May 15, 2011, my time as a singer in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir finally came to an end. Since I first entered the Choir in July of 1990 I always knew this day would come. Service in the Choir is limited to 20 years or age 60—whichever comes first. In my case, I actually got a little extra time because retirements are now held just once a year—after the April General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Before this change in policy I would have stepped down after the October semi-annual conference. So I was blessed with an extra 6 months!
I loved every minute of my 20 years in the Choir. No matter what I was doing—whether singing in a rehearsal, broadcast, recording session, or concert—it was all a great privilege and joy. To commemorate those wonderful years I have decided to write about ten experiences that have been especially meaningful to me.
5. The 2002 Winter Olympic Games
“…the time passed away with us, and also our lives passed away like as it were unto us a dream…” Jacob 7:26.
This verse from the Book of Mormon seems like an ideal way to describe the experience of the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. There has never been a time when more was asked of the Choir. As we looked back afterwards it really did seem like a dream.
To begin with, Salt Lake City itself had been transformed so much that it was like another world: banners on the streets and huge lighted murals on the Church Office Building and other tall structures. And the colorful and bright Christmas lights of Temple Square had remained in place to illuminate the nights.
The intensity of those weeks added to the dream-like quality. Beginning in January there were recording sessions for the Opening Ceremony. When we recorded the Olympic Theme, “Call of the Champions,” with the Utah Symphony, composer John Williams himself directed us.
There were rehearsals for four Cultural Olympiad concerts featuring the Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square. Guests for the concerts included soprano Frederica von Stade, the U.S. Army Band Herald Trumpets, composer/conductor John Williams, the International Children’s Choir, The King Singers, clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, and percussionist Evelyn Glennie. We also recorded and rehearsed for the Church’s special production, “Light of the World,” which was performed in the Conference Center for our Olympic visitors.
During the weeks of the Games themselves we performed or rehearsed every day but Mondays. Many nights we did double duty. Since we were only needed at the beginning and end of “Light of the World,” we would perform the beginning, hurry to the Conference Center’s Little Theater to rehearse for the Cultural Olympiad concerts, and then return to the Conference Center stage for the finale.
Besides the concerts and performances in the Conference Center there was a welcoming ceremony for President Bush at the Utah State Capitol building and an appearance with weatherman Al Roker for a segment of NBC’s “Today Show. For fun, Roker managed to get the Choir to do a live impromptu performance of “There was a farmer had a dog and Bingo was his name-o!” and he got us to do the “Wave”!
Participating in the Opening Ceremony was an absolutely unforgettable experience; not only the rehearsals and the event itself, but hours spent waiting in the University of Utah’s indoor tennis center before entering the stadium. The center was filled with thousands of participants in colorful costumes; there was lots of noise and activity. Members of the Choir passed the time in a little “sing-in” with a choir from Salt Lake City’s Calvary Baptist Church, and all the while there was a constant beat of drums played by Utah’s five Native American tribes.
In the stadium it was very cold, especially on the nights of the two rehearsals. The Salt Lake Organizing Committee had provided us with long white coats as our costume and we had been told to wear anything and everything underneath in order to keep warm. I remember putting on so many layers that I probably resembled a polar bear by the time I buttoned the coat. Once everything was in place I had to practically waddle from the tennis center to the stadium.
Inside the stadium we sat in front of the athletes and the towering Olympic Caldron. This gave us front row seats for the performances on the ice. When the athletes marched in, we waved and shouted welcomes as they came by in the aisles. And with so many returned missionaries and foreign language speakers in the Choir, many heard greetings in their native language!
But because it represents the kind of impact we were able to have upon individuals, I think my favorite memory from the Olympics will always be our experience recording a segment of the Opening Ceremony soundtrack with the rock star Sting.
He entered our recording session in Abravanel Hall while it was already in progress. Dressed in black leather pants, he sat down next to our director, Craig Jessop, and donned a pair of headphones. Listening intently (his guitar solo had already been recorded), he seemed impressed and asked, “When are you coming to London?” quipping that he thought he had enough bedrooms for us all.
At the conclusion he stepped to the conductor’s podium and said, “I am deeply moved. To hear human beings sing this way—with such clarity and unity—makes me proud to be a human being… one of God’s children.” Brother Jessop later told us that when he followed Sting off the stage, Sting waited at the door and while giving Brother Jessop a hug, said, “I don’t normally do this, but I am really, genuinely, touched.”
If I ever get back to England maybe I’ll try taking Sting up on that offer to stay at his house!
4. The Nauvoo Temple Dedication
Besides the tour to Israel, the greatest spiritual memory from my time in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple.
Because there was no way to fit 360 members of the choir into the assembly room of the temple at once, we were divided into four 80-voice choirs which would rotate, singing at ten of the thirteen sessions (local choirs sang at the others). It was also decided that the fairest way to choose those to participate in the opening session would be to base it on length of service. At that time I had been a member for twelve years and I barely I squeaked in.
We stayed in Quincy, Illinois, about an hour’s drive from Nauvoo, and that hour was filled with anticipation. As we rode along in the bus I was reminded of childhood trips to Manti, Utah, where my forefathers had helped to build another magnificent temple. As Dad drove the car up the Sanpete Valley, Mom would occupy our attention by challenging us to see who could be first to spot the spires of the temple.