Called to sing: Tabernacle Choir members are musicians who have a mission
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The 325 members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir are musicians with a mission. They take their mission seriously, to the blessing and benefit of countless numbers of people throughout the world, whether they hear the choir sing at general conference in the Tabernacle or in concert halls throughout the United States or abroad.
Choir members are called not only to sing but also to serve as special missionaries. After they pass strict audition requirements and have been accepted into the choir, they are sent letters calling them to serve in the choir. The letters are similar to the ones issued to full-time missionaries."Each choir member is set apart as a special music missionary, with the calling to sing to their brothers and sisters everywhere in the world," said Wendell M. Smoot, president of the choir. "These choir members are given the understanding that their membership in the choir does not only involve singing at general conferences, concerts, firesides, broadcasts and other events where the choir participates, but it also includes their personal interfacing in a friendly and positive way with those who are not members of the Church.
"There are people who have a great curiosity about the choir and are willing to talk with one of its singers but who initially might not talk with a full-time missionary.
Choir members help soften hearts. Missionaries find it's much easier to talk with people after they've heard music by the Tabernacle Choir."
Pres. Smoot said that each choir member has cards with his or her name and address and a picture of the choir on the front and information about the Church and choir on the back. Choir members may give these cards and sometimes cassette recordings to the people they meet."The choir members have a particular liking to the souvenir tape we produced several years ago entitled `Sixteen Favorite Songs and Hymns of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Story of the Restoration,' " Pres. Smoot said. "It is available through Church Distribution and is one of the most popular recordings that we have. Over the years, choir members have given many thousands of cassette recordings of this particular album to people throughout the world. The impact of this one recording upon missionary work probably will never be known - untold numbers have been prepared to receive the gospel message after being touched by the singing of the Tabernacle Choir on this one tape.
"As a result of this type of missionary activity, the choir receives many letters following a choir tour requesting more information about the Church and the choir itself. As a result of these letters, which choir members receive almost weekly, it is the responsibility of the choir members to respond and set up a correspondence with these individuals in answering their questions. This is the procedure we follow in most areas of the world. However, in those countries where the Church is not legally recognized, the choir members do not distribute any kind of information about the Church, nor do they engage people in conversations about the Church. This was the case on our concert tour to Israel."
In areas of the world where choir members have been able to talk with people about the Church, great results have been seen and felt. Following are some accounts that demonstrate the missionary impact of the Tabernacle Choir.
On Sept. 16, Pres. Smoot introduced Katka Masankova of the Czech Republic to the choir at its Thursday evening rehearsal in the Tabernacle. She had seen the choir once before, at a June 1991 concert in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Here are highlights of Sister Masankova's story:
"In Prague, I saw a poster announcing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert. I had never heard this word, `Mormon,' but I love music so I went to the concert. I liked the music of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, especially the spiritual music. I had a beautiful feeling in my heart.
"A member of the choir talked with me for a few minutes and gave me a missionary referral card, which I filled out. A few days later, the missionaries came to my home and began to teach me the gospel. I was baptized Sept. 15, 1991. Four months later, my mother and younger brother were baptized.
"I am now preparing to serve as a missionary in the Washington Tacoma Mission. [Sister Masankova entered the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, on Sept. 22.T I looked forward very much to seeing the choir again. When I went to the rehearsal, I hoped I would recognize the sister who gave me the missionary referral card, but I did not see her. Before I went to the concert in Prague, I did not know anything about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but I had a special feeling there. The choir brought me into the Church. I am very glad they went to Prague and I went to their concert. My whole life has changed because I went to that concert."
Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve traveled with his wife, Dantzel, with the choir on its European tour. When he learned of Sister Masankova's baptism and call as a full-time missionary, he said: "This is but one example of many that indicate the powerful force for good that the music of the Tabernacle Choir accomplishes throughout the world. There's no end to that story. It can go on to bless generations yet unborn. If the baptism of this one young woman were the only benefit of that concert tour, it would be significant. But her story is just one example.
"The members of the choir epitomize the teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants: `Wherefore, be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a great work. And out of small things proceedeth that which is great.' (D&C 64:33.) On the tour, I watched members of the choir overcome fatigue when they were energized by their great missionary opportunities, either on stage or off."
Valentina Gorevaia was raised by her parents to believe in God, although she was born and raised under the philosophies of communism in Kiev, Ukraine. A belief and search for truth prompted her to attend a performance when the Tabernacle Choir presented concerts in Russia in 1991.
Earlier this year, she came to the United States to seek medical attention and recuperate in the home of friends who had immigrated to Southern California. "While on a Sunday morning walk in Huntinton Beach, she was prompted to enter an LDS meetinghouse. To her amazement, she noticed on the bulletin board a photograph of the Tabernacle Choir. Soon members approached her, but she spoke only enough English to say she spoke Russian," reported Carl Morrison, a counselor in the California Carlsbad Mission presidency.
A missionary serving in the area recalled that a former companion, Elder Phillip T. Hall, who had served as a Russian linguist in the U.S. Navy, spoke Russian. Elder Hall, from Salt Lake City, had been transferred to the newly created California Carlsbad Mission and was about to be released. Calls were made and in a matter of hours the two mission presidents obtained permission for Elder Hall to extend his mission and to return to Huntington Beach in the California Anaheim Mission to teach Sister Gorevaia. She was baptized Aug. 29. She plans to return soon to Kiev and introduce her family to the gospel.
Iain McKay, director of International Media at Bonneville Communications, said part of his responsibility is to place Church programs on television and radio stations in many countries. In this, he works under the direction of the Missionary Department.
"The Tabernacle Choir is a significant force in giving credence to what we are trying to accomplish," Brother McKay said. "President Kimball said, `We must warm before we can warn.' The choir does that to perfection on the airwaves of the world. Concert halls are limited by their size but when the choir can sing to a potential audience of over 300 million, as they did in Russia via television, then the impact is much wider and Church recognition follows."
Walter Whipple, who was president of the Poland Warsaw Mission when the choir went on its 1991 tour, said: "Polish television ran excerpts of the concert about 10 days after the concert. The program began with a 12-minute introduction about the Church, which was produced in Warsaw. A television crew came into the chapel, did short interviews with various members and with a couple of missionaries. A professional announcer read from the Articles of Faith.
"The program aired when practically every television set in all Poland was being watched. After the program aired, almost everybody our missionaries contacted on the streets or public transportation mentioned they knew about the Church because they had seen the choir on television. The day before the program, hardly anyone we met had ever heard of the Church. That one concert by the choir virtually elevated the public's awareness of the Church in Poland.
"Later, hour-long radio programs were done about the Church. The producer checked with us carefully to make sure that every word in the script was accurate. A professional actor read passages from the Book of Mormon. The program included Tabernacle Choir recordings. The choir opened many doors for us."
Members of the Tabernacle Choir recognize the significance of their calling not only to sing but also to serve as missionaries.
Suzanne Tate said: "When I sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I thrill with the blessing of bearing witness to the entire world that God lives, that His gospel has been restored in the latter days and that obedience to His laws brings peace and joy in a troubled world. Music truly is an international language. When the words to the songs are in a foreign language to the listener, the message is delivered by the Holy Spirit. Because of this, I have witnessed entire audiences on a concert tour overcome with emotion. A frequent comment by individuals who attend concerts is, `What is this I am feeling? I'm so filled with emotion and love. How can I learn more about your church?' I remember one comment made by an individual who attended one of our concerts on our Scandinavian tour several years ago. He said, `When I hear you sing, it makes me want to live my life better.' "
Sister Tate said after the choir sang at a fireside in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Russia, she met a nuclear physicist who was with a friend. After she had visited a few minutes with the couple, she called over a full-time missionary and said to the physicist, "I have a friend here, Elder Horne, who would like to tell you more about the Church and visit you if you would fill out this card." He said, `Oh, yes! Please! I would like to do that very much.' Then his friend interrupted, speaking Russian. He said, `My friend understands that maybe you are giving me information about your Church and she wants the people to go visit her also, but she lives in Siberia. Can someone visit her also?' "
Another choir member, Carter Knapp, said one would think it is a love of music that makes singers want to join the Tabernacle Choir. He, however, was drawn to the choir because of its missionary spirit.
"I learned how important the choir is to missionary work when I was serving as a missionary in Canada many years ago," he said. "As we went out as missionaries every day, most people we met said they weren't interested in our message. Twice a year, when general conference was held and it was broadcast on the local television station, we would invite people to watch conference so they could hear the choir. We would give them a flier and tell them we would be back to see what they thought of the choir. It was astounding the difference we saw in people's attitudes as we talked about the choir. At that time, I realized there is much power for missionary work in this calling in the choir."
Some choir members have had extensive experience with missionary work. For example, Dennis Mead served a mission in Norway, lived in Europe where he shared the gospel with many people and assisted missionaries by hosting firesides in his apartment, served as a stake mission president, and has been called to teach Russian to missionaries who are teaching Russian emigrants in the Salt Lake Valley.
"But of all my experiences," said Brother Mead, "the greatest thrill I've had in missionary work is to sing with the Tabernacle Choir. The choir strikes heartstrings."
Choir director Jerold Ottley said: "When you bring together the power of music itself with the power of volunteers who are making music because they love it and not because they have to, and those volunteers have a desire to communicate to others strong spiritual groundings, you have a kind of power that reaches out of the choir that cannot be explained in musical terms. I believe that is the element that makes the choir unique, the thing that touches so many people and brings them to an investigation of the Church."
Nearly every week, the choir office or choir members receive letters from people who have attended the choir's concerts, or who have heard the choir sing in the Tabernacle or on a broadcast.
Maria Huszar, now of the Dunaujvarous Branch, wrote from Hungary: "One day in March 1992, I switched on the Hungarian television and they were just showing the Mormon Church's performance in Hungary. It was at the State Opera, which is a beautiful place. There were short interviews with some of the choir's members. The way they spoke had a great effect on me. . . . Now I have gone to sacrament meetings for more than a year and I'm very grateful that I could get to know this all. Now I know for sure that God lives."
Lyudmila Lishfits wrote from Russia: "I was in attendance at your choir presentation in our city [LeningradT in the Philharmonia Hall. I was moved to the depths of my soul and remember it still. Believe me when I say that I have been going to the Philharmonia since I was 12 years old, but I have never heard anything more beautiful and radiant."
Among those who see an immediate effect of the Tabernacle Choir are missionaries and ushers who serve on Temple Square. Joseph McPhie, director of Temple Square Visitors Center who has responsibility for missionaries on Temple Square, said: "One of our favorite times of the week is when people come out of the Tabernacle after hearing the choir at rehearsal on Thursday evenings or the broadcast on Sunday mornings. Their hearts have been touched; they're in the mood and spirit to listen more carefully and learn more about the Church. The Tabernacle Choir is marvelous. It gives a wonderful introduction to the beauty of the gospel."
Tabernacle Choir video will air during conference
A new Mormon Tabernacle Choir video celebrating the life of Jesus Christ will be aired during the 163rd Semi-annual General Conference of the Church.
"In a Land Called Israel - the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Celebrates the Life of Christ" will be broadcast between general sessions of conference at noon Sunday, Oct. 3 on KBYU-TV, Channel 11.
The program, shot during the choir's concert tour of Israel last winter, will also be shown at noon Saturday, Oct. 2, and Sunday, Oct. 3, on the Church's satellite network, between general sessions of the conference.
The 325-voice choir, under direction of Jerold Ottley, sings sacred music in such settings as the Mount of Olives, the Garden Tomb, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Sea of Galilee.
Among the selections are "How Great Thou Art," "The Lord Is My Shepherd," "Hallelujah from the Mount of Olives," "Lord, I Would Follow Thee," and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross."
The video was produced for the Church by Bonneville Communications. It may be purchased at Church distribution centers and LDS bookstores.