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Mormon Tabernacle Choir honors victims of Sonoma County wildfires

ROHNERT PARK, Calif. — Do the math.

Kerstin Tenney watches the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during soundcheck in Weill Hall at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, California, on Wednesday, June 27, 2018.
Kerstin Tenney watches the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during soundcheck in Weill Hall at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, California, on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

With Church membership more than 16 million, the likelihood of an individual Latter-day Saint performing in the 360-voice Mormon Tabernacle Choir is pretty slim.

But truthfully, there’s not a big difference between what the choir does and what is happening every day in wards and branches across the globe.

“The choir is emblematic of the service being performed by members worldwide,” said Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, a General Authority Seventy who has been accompanying the choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square during the ongoing 2018 Classic Coast Tour.

Like Relief Society teachers, bishops, or even Primary choristers, the choir and orchestra members are all volunteers. “It’s not their job,” said Elder Hallstrom. “But they love the Lord so they serve Him in this way.”

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs in Weill Hall at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, California, on Wednesday, June 27, 2018.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs in Weill Hall at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, California, on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Every day there are legions of members making their own offering to the Lord’s spiritual “Bishop’s Storehouse.” Some teach lessons or lead quorum, many more minister in the homes of individuals or families. A few offer their musical talents by serving in the choir and orchestra, connecting with people of all backgrounds through music.

The choir and orchestra’s June 27 performance marked the fifth and final concert in California. Sonoma State University’s 1,400-seat Weill Hall is both an indoor and an outdoor venue. The first few dozen rows are indoors, with a rear entrance that opens for spectators seated under open skies. With the orchestra filling much of the small stage, the choir members filled several levels, encircling the main stake on three sides.

The music selections were chosen to best utilize the venue’s unique features.

Much of Sonoma County is still recovering from scores of wildfires that scorched the region last October, causing billions of dollars in damage.

Counted among the fire victims were several Latter-day Saint families. Perhaps the concert offered the area another small step of recovery.

People sit on the lawn outside of Weill Hall for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square concert at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, California, on Wednesday, June 27, 2018.
People sit on the lawn outside of Weill Hall for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square concert at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, California, on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. Photo: Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The choir and orchestra’s California audiences “have felt peace, comfort and a sense of hope,” said Elder Hallstrom.

His wife, Sister Diane Hallstrom, sat in with the choir for a few rehearsals. “Music has power and ability to heal,” she said.

Near the end of the concert, choir announcer Lloyd D. Newell said Wednesday’s performance was dedicated to the many affected by the historic California wildfires.

“Please know that, then and now, our hearts reach out to you in admiration and affection,” he said.

Steve Falk, the CEO of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns the Pulitzer Prize-winning Santa Rosa Press Democrat, took the baton as guest conductor for an encore performance of “This Land Is Your Land.”

“It was just fabulous,” he said moments afterward. “I grew up with music. My folks were in the church choir. I played instruments and conducted an orchestra in high school, but I have not had a chance to do it since, until this evening.”