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Do you ever wish you could sign on as a roadie (you can Google that) for a touring rock band? The long bus rides with the stars, the sold out concert halls, the music that just blows you away, thunderous applause and standing ovations – yeah, I could be part of that.
Well, my cousin Carlene Walker and her husband Gordon did just that last summer. Change the name of the rock band to The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and the name roadie to European Area Senior Public Affairs Missionary, and you’ve got it.
Carlene said “It took 4 ½ years of effort to get 587 people, 360 voices, 65 instruments, 3 airplanes, 11 buses, 4 delivery trucks, and 3 semis through 5 countries, and 7 cities without missing a beat. While making it look easy. All in 20 days.
“We worked for 8 months with local committees and other P/A people to arrange for VIP receptions. Salt Lake personnel made final arrangements for all the hotels and travel, arranged meals and rest stops, and did that all amid Europe’s greatest security crack down after the Paris bombings. The Church was considering canceling the tour up until the very last minute. The decision to go ahead was made at the very highest levels. All of the participants had to sign a promise not to tell anyone, not even their families, the details of their itinerary. The Choir sometimes travelled by bus 5 hours after the concerts to get to their secure hotels.
“It has been 20 years since the Choir last toured in Europe. We wondered about putting on a religiously themed concert in such a secular environment. Most of their great cathedrals stand empty all year except for Christmas and Easter. Many of the audiences are technically very sophisticated when it comes to music, and to perform in concert halls where Chopin, Bach, Beethoven and the other greats performed is both a challenge and a responsibility.
“The first half of each concert was to show off the choir’s technical proficiency. Remember most of the members are unpaid volunteers, doctors, C.P.A.s and homemakers. Following the intermission, the second act was mostly American folk tunes and LDS hymns. The next to the last song was always “Come, Come Ye Saints” sung in English, and the last hymn was “God Be With You ‘Till We Meet Again” in the local language. Every concert ended with a standing ovation and the spirit was always very strong. I NEVER failed to tear up (I was sure to wear my waterproof mascara!).
“Each day before the concert they had a rehearsal to do a sound check and arrange the sections of the choir into a workable arrangement (sometimes the altos were in the balcony while the bases were behind the organ). Two of the Choir’s organists, Richard Elliott and Clay Christiansen had to sit down to an instrument that they had never seen before, often of unique design with 100’s of pipes, and figure out how to make each note from the softest pianissimo to the loudest fortissimo fit perfectly into the arrangement.
“We always invited local officials to the rehearsals. Each VIP got a gift basket with choir CD’s and some products made in Utah.
We researched each VIP and had a local church leader make them feel special and celebrated. Choir members who had either served a mission in their country or had ancestry from that area and could speak the local language were made available for media interviews. Some Super-Fans even got to stand in and sing with the Choir during rehearsal. After the concert most guests said they loved the second act best, and felt the spirit was very strong.
“The job of Public Affairs is to build relationships with opinion leaders who affect the reputation of the Church and whose influence can help or hinder the Church’s mission such as those of other faiths and government officials. As an example of that, the Church built a temple in Freiberg, Germany in 1985 while it was still behind the wall. How’s that for building a relationship in a generally non-supportive country? 90,000 visitors came to the open house.
“The year and a half we spent on our mission, and the 8 months we spent paving the way for the Choir, was truly a once in a lifetime experience, and a great privilege,” said Carlene. We’ll be having a P/A Missionary reunion this summer. Can’t wait!
The Choir has won a Grammy and three Emmy’s. Chip Davis, founder of Mannheim Steamroller said, “To have that many people to be that well synced up, it’s a great musical experience.” Sting said “I didn’t know people were capable of producing such beauty.” We sometimes forget that they really are star quality musicians. President Ronald Reagan called them, “America’s Choir.” But as with all bands, they could never do what they do without the roadies…
Shelley & Duane Carling