“We’re like family.”
That is a comment many members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir make when referring to their choral and orchestral colleagues. Some, however, literally are serving alongside family members.
Margie Murdock entered the choir in 2000; her husband, John, became a member of the choir in 2001. “It was my lifelong dream to be in the choir,” said Brother Murdock, who grew up in Salt Lake City.
Sister Murdock, from Washington, D.C., majored in music education in college but really hadn’t thought much about joining the Tabernacle Choir. After they married, they lived in the D.C. area for several years and then the moved to Salt Lake City.
The choir’s audition CD and application form were due the month they moved into their home. “I had no idea how hard it was to get accepted into the choir,” she said. Maybe being unaware of that made it easier for her to succeed – she wasn’t stressed over the process. She quickly put together a recording, filled out the application. She was accepted on the first round of tryouts.
Upon entering the choir, she heard about how some others had tried out several times. His wife related stories about how hard it was to get into the choir. Then she told him, “You ought to try out.”
With some trepidation, he began the process. He was accepted right away.
However, before he began the process, he went to their daughter, 15, third of six children and the oldest living at home. She was asked how she felt about having both parents in the choir. She thought about it awhile. “Then she gave us her approval,” he said. “She was gracious about accepting more responsibility. She said she and her 13-year-old sister could help out with the younger children on Thursdays (when the choir practices) and Sundays (when the choir does its weekly broadcast).”
As with other couples who serve in the choir or orchestra together, the Murdocks are often asked, “How do you do it?” Their reply: “The Lord provided us with assistance, protection for our children and comfort through these many years of service. We never had a worry knowing that they were in the Lord’s hands.”
Shelley Hannig and her daughter, Kirsten Marsh, are serving in the choir together. This year’s tour has been bittersweet for them. It’s the mother’s last tour and the daughter’s first. Sister Hannig has reached the mandatory “retirement” age after having put in 20 years of service. Kirsten was 12 when her mother joined the choir.
“She helped her three sisters a lot while I was with the choir,” Sister Hannig said.
“Growing up, I was thrilled that my mom was in the choir,” Sister Marsh said. “But it was ‘her thing,’ not mine. I never thought about joining the choir until one day I was playing the piano and the thought came into my mind, ‘Audition for the choir.’”
She said she pushed away the thought, but it came again. She pondered it and thought that she needed to know for sure if she was supposed to join the choir. Something needed to happen.
“One night we were clearing up after dinner and my husband (Joel), said, ‘When are you going to join the choir?’ I hadn’t said anything to him about my thoughts. It had been 10 years since I had sung. I called up my voice teacher and told her I needed to get in shape. We had four months before the audition tape was due.”
Sister Marsh hadn’t told her mother about auditioning for the choir. “It was around her birthday. The day I put the CD and application in the mail, I put duplicates in an envelope with a card, handed it to her and said, ‘Happy birthday.’ She cried.”
Of applying to join the choir when she has three children at home, Sister Marsh said, “Being in the Tabernacle Choir is a calling. We are set apart as musical missionaries. I knew if the Lord wanted me to be in the choir, then OK. If He didn’t, that would be OK, too.
“It has been really special to be with my mom in the choir. I grew up hearing stories about the choir. Now, especially on the tour, I’ve been able to see her in her element and to experience those stories alongside her is a very sweet experience.”
Because the mother and daughter are about the same height and have the same voice part, first alto, they are often placed next to each other during performances.
Jeannie Perrington and her brother, Cary Malmrose, are among several sets of siblings serving in the choir. She has been in the choir 13 years, he 8.
“I was thrilled when he got in the choir,” Sister Perrington said. “Mom and Dad raised seven us. We sang at Church functions, and four formed a performing group. I was an instrumentalist, playing piano and bass. Cary was the lead singer in our high school musical.”
Brother Malmrose said his first “real experience” with the choir was when his sister invited him to a Christmas concert. “They really sounded good. A feeling came over me that I should be in the choir but I was in a bishopric and didn’t think I had the time. One day, the bishop said, ‘You ought to try out.’ I did and made it. The first time I sang with the choir, I was surrounded by all these big voices. We sang “Battle Hymn of the Republic.’ I wept.”
Brother Malmrose feels that his role in the choir was alluded to by President Spencer W. Kimball. “After a meeting I attended, he shook my hand, looked at me and said, ‘Someday you will go on a mission and touch people’s hearts.’”
After he was called to serve as a missionary in England, Brother Malmrose thought that he was fulfilling President Kimball’s prophecy, especially when he was part of a singing group of missionaries. “I thought that was the end of it, until I got into the choir. Now, I feel I’m extending my mission.”