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Mormon Tabernacle Choir tour: Crowds enjoy celebrity guest conductors

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MILWAUKEE, WIS.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square receive a lot of applause, cheers and numerous standing ovations on their own. When they are joined by guest conductors, the level of enthusiasm shown by audiences jumps a few notches.

At each venue, a prominent member of the community is invited to direct the choir and orchestra in an encore performance of “This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land.”

In Columbus, Ohio, on June 12 -- the first concert on the choir’s and orchestra’s summer tour to the Upper Midwest -- the audience began cheering as soon as the program’s announcer, Lloyd Newell, mentioned the word “bowtie” in introducing the man who has made that neckwear a signature of the president of Ohio State University. Even before Brother Newell announced the name, “Gordon Gee,” the audience was standing, cheering and shouting. The atmosphere, for a moment, felt like a sporting event held on the campus of OSU, which, with 65,000 students, is one of the nation’s largest universities.

Gordon Gee, guest conductor
Gordon Gee, guest conductor Photo: Photo by Gerry Avant

With his trademark bowtie accenting his suit, the university president who is also a Latter-day Saint, stepped onto the conductor’s podium, took a deep breath, raised the baton and got the choir and orchestra started, apparently much to his delight.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence
Indiana Gov. Mike Pence Photo: Photo by Gerry Avant

In Indiana on June 14, Gov. Mike Pence arrived directly from a formal event. To the cheers of the audience, he walked onto the stage looking very much like the maestro he was going to be for a few minutes at the conclusion of the concert in Indiana.

“I’ve had a number of privileges in my life. Directing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one of the most important I’ve had,” he told the Church News. “They made it easy. I could have stood on my head and they would still have sung beautifully.”

Prior to concert at Ravinia Music Festival on June 15, Lt. Commander James Genarri practices with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square. He was guest conductor for an encore number.
Prior to concert at Ravinia Music Festival on June 15, Lt. Commander James Genarri practices with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square. He was guest conductor for an encore number. Photo: Photo by Gerry Avant

While other guest conductors on the tour had been prominent citizens, the one invited to lead the choir and orchestra at Ravinia Music Festival near Chicago on June 15 was chosen to give honor to men and women who serve or have served in the nation’s military. Lt. Cmdr. James Genarri was presented the Bronze Star for heroism in the face of peril to his own life when he assisted in the removal of a live rocket-launched grenade from the leg of a young marine in Afghanistan. The marine survived and retained use of his leg.

Guest conductor Ron Rockow, who taught high school music for 38 years, rehearses with Tabernacle Choir prior to concert in Madison, Wis., Monday, June 18.
Guest conductor Ron Rockow, who taught high school music for 38 years, rehearses with Tabernacle Choir prior to concert in Madison, Wis., Monday, June 18. Photo: Photo by Gerry Avant

Members of the audience rose to give him, the choir and orchestra a standing ovation. Many people in the audience saluted Lt. Cmdr. Genarri.

Archbishop of Milwaukee E. Jerome Listecki
Archbishop of Milwaukee E. Jerome Listecki Photo: Photo by Gerry Avant

On June 17, Archbishop of Milwaukee E. Jerome Listecki of the Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee arrived on stage smiling and waving. He looked heavenward as if asking for divine help and carried out his role to lead the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. As he conducted, his face had the look of sublime confidence and joy.

He had met with the choir and orchestra earlier that day for a rehearsal, after which he said, “Raising that baton, I felt like I had tremendous power. I told them to ignore me and just follow the concert master. They sing and play that song in their sleep.”

He said leading the choir and orchestra was much like being archbishop. He said he stands before people, directing them. Then they don’t pay him any attention and do whatever they want.

He said the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is recognized widely and having it come to town elevates their community. He said that many people in

Milwaukee appreciate better choral music, such as that presented by the choir.

The guest conductor in Madison, Wis., needed no instruction when he took over leading the choir during a rehearsal prior to the concert Monday evening, June. 18. Ron Rockow, who taught high school music for 38 years, received a standing ovation from the choir and orchestra after he led them in the encore number during the rehearsal.

“This is the highlight of my career,” he said after the rehearsal. “They were very responsive. There was not one eye that wasn’t on me.”

Of conducting the choir and orchestra, he said, “It was all I expected it to be — and more.”

Mr. Rockow was reunited with one of his music students, Jonathan Gochberg, who grew up in Madison and is now a member of the Tabernacle Choir.

Guest conductors’ names are not announced in advance so it is a surprise to the audience when they are introduced.

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