Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Mormon Tabernacle Choir 2015 East Coast Tour - Part 1

Wednesday, June 24, 2015 - Three chartered airplanes with first class attention, a three and a half hour flight, a short bus ride to the hotel and we are in Bethesda, Maryland, home of our first two concerts.

On tours past, we have flown in to our first city and performed on the same day, but this tour is different. This evening after reaching the hotel, we had a nice dinner together - all 500+ of us, and we had the remainder of the evening to rest and recuperate.

Joined Barry, our personnel manager and his wife, Becky, at their table. This is Barry’s eighth tour with the choir and oh, the stories he can tell.  Honestly, he should write a book. We have him to thank for the delicious meals and very comfortable surroundings.

After a very relaxing dinner, we opted to take a nice evening walk with Audrey and her roommate, Lauren. Saw wild short-eared mini rabbits and flashing fireflies both of which are pretty foreign to us Utahns.

P.S. Only one mishap today. I left my violin on the bus and had to track down the lead bus driver. Just a small moment of panic. Why am I here again?  Oh. To play the violin.

Thursday, June 25, 2015 - First tour concert day and it was a doozy! Sound check at 10:00 am, lunch at noon, concert at 2:00, dinner at 5:00, concert at 8:00; a very busy day.

Randy and the other guests visited D.C. while we musicians went a short distance on the buses to the Music Center at Strathmore. I met 2nd Alto, Edith, who was converted to the LDS religion when she was 18 and an airline mechanic in the Air Force. Her husband to be promised her he would attend her church if she visited his just once. It happened to be fast and testimony meeting and after hearing “this is the only true church on the earth” time after time, she was quite offended and set out to prove that this wasn’t the case. She joined the ward choir and as you can imagine was baptized a short while after.

Met Marvin, a waiter with the caterers here in Bethesda. He mentioned that he came to Salt Lake City to visit and ended up staying for two years because he was so intrigued and fascinated by the people there.

The hall here is beautiful! It’s nice to be in a venue where the choir and orchestra are near enough to hear each other. The concerts were well-attended. Mostly a Q-tipped (white haired) crowd. I so enjoy watching their faces in the second half of the concert when the choir began swaying back and forth to the African rhythms in Betelehemu -- a look of shock and delight, and then when Alex Boye did his fast and fancy foot work in "I’m Runnin’ On." They can’t help but smile.

I don’t feel we’ve done our part until someone wipes the tears from his/her face when we close with God Be With You ‘til we Meet Again. I need to see evidence that we have touched at least one individual. On most occasions, it is clear that we have touched many hearts. This concert was no exception.

Friday, June 26, 2015 - Last morning in the D.C. area. Buses dropped us off for a morning of sight-seeing.

Audrey’s target location was the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Randy and I had visited on a prior occasion, but we only made it 2/3 of the way through before they closed, so we were anxious to complete our experience.

We stood in line for tickets for about 45 minutes, but were able to gain speedy entry. Audrey wanted to go her own tempo, so we hurried through the first part to spend some time on the displays we had not seen. 

Names of entire Jewish villages that were totally destroyed.
Last time I was choked up by the sight of millions of empty shoes of all sizes. This time it was the miniature display of the gas chambers and crematoriums stuffed with innocent people. My heart just broke in two! I was also very touched by the photographs of rescued people. Certainly a sobering and heart-wrenching experience to contemplate such a haunting moment in history. 

The amazing photography of Roman Vishniac, best known for his images of the Jews in Central and Eastern Europe.

We grabbed a quick street chili dog, and a bagel then fulfilled our bus captain duties. 

I’m not so certain I like being “in charge.” I’m a good follower, not so good at making judgement calls. Our three and 1/2 hour anticipated journey turned into seven! About half way through my bus natives were getting restless and the bus’ tires were becoming overheated, so Harry, our driver said over the intercom, “I’m going to make a stop at this rest/service location; you will be able to stretch your legs for about 15 minutes.”

What? We aren’t supposed to get off the bus! I asked him if he was sure. He replied, “Well, we aren’t starting that quite yet, so let’s let them off.” Which we did, which we got in big trouble for. The bus driver isn’t boss. We are, and we were given our instructions. So I tried to round everyone back up (and in the meantime, I visited the rest stops very nice, well equipped rest room, as did about half our bus. They were grateful. I was in trouble.) We have been dubbed the rogue bus.

Spotted the New York Skyline at about 7:30 pm and the sopranos on the bus began singing, “Start spreading the news.... New York, New York.”

Took nearly another hour to go through the Lincoln Tunnel and on to 42nd street to the Marriott Marque on Times Square.

View from our 38th floor window
By 9:30 pm we were more than ready to find some dinner. We walked the extremely crowded, stinky, dirty, noisy, downtown New York streets to a Trader Joe’s then on to a fantastic “design your own hamburger” place called, The Counter, and finally had some dinner at about 10:30 pm. (Latest dinner I have ever eaten!)

Audrey, Lauren, and Rachael in their striped shirts. Wish I  had a striped shirt!
Battled the crowds back to the hotel at midnight and quickly fell asleep to the lullaby of sirens wailing.

Saturday, June 27, 2015 - Back on the buses for a drive into the Catskill Mountains to Bethel Woods near the sight of the 1969 Woodstock Event.

We had dressed for heat and humidity; that had been our experience in late June in this area. Surprise! Surprise! It was 54 degrees, with a wind chill factor of about 34 degrees and pouring rain! I heard it was the aftermath of a hurricane that had hit Texas. Did I forget to mention that this was an outdoor concert? I hear it rained at Woodstock in 1969 too.

The choir was under the warm lights, but the orchestra was on the edge of the stage and by the time our two-hour sound check was over, many of us in our shirt sleeves and bare-toed sandals were frozen to the bone.

During the sound check I noticed a young man with special needs who stood just four rows back from the stage. He stood mesmerized as we played and clapped his hands in delight, especially for Alex Boye as he sang “I’m Runnin’ On.” I found out later that his name was Zak Breese. Seems he had been enthralled with the choir since the age of five. His adoptive mother had brought him to hear the concert. They were not members of the church. If they are the only two in the audience tonight, the concert in these adverse conditions will be well worth all our efforts.

Randy and the other guests raced to the Woodstock gift shop and bought up every sweatshirt and blanket in stock. I laughed when I saw Randy’s with the giant peace sign on the back. Well, it was better than the “Hell no! Won’t Go” old anti war slogan that many of the guests had to resort to!

I'm sorry I don't have a picture of the sweatshirt without the plastic covering. It really is hideous! You'll just have to believe me!
During our break before the concert, we warmed ourselves under the heat of the dressing room lights.

Despite the adverse conditions, the concert was well-attended! The audience came bundled in their coats and blankets. I mentioned to our first violin section that this die-hard audience deserved the very best concert we could muster. Gusts of cold wind and rain would whip across the stage, but we pinned our music down and played on, and the audience stayed and seemed to love every note. My hands were cold, but my heart was warm.

And yes, Zak was there.His mother, Judy Breese, wrote in a note to the Choir the next day, “Zak is listening to his MTC ‘hymn music’ as I write this...the Breese family is grateful, beyond our ability to describe it, for the experience of faith and kindness.”

Sunday, June 28, 2015 - Sundays are one of my favorite days on tour. You haven’t lived until you have sung the hymns of the restoration with the tabernacle choir! Sacrament Meeting was held just after lunch in the Broadway Ballroom of the hotel under a ceiling of color-changing light fixtures. (That’s a first!)

Our speakers were Elder Wilson of the quorum of the seventy and his wife. Sister Wilson’s message was timely after experiencing our concert in adverse conditions the evening before: When life seems difficult to bear, remember it is just the weather of the soul; the law of ups and downs. Both God and Satan make use of these times. Whom will we follow?

Elder Wilson expressed his thoughts about the fact that we are called as musical missionaries:

1. It is a Zion experience. We have to be of one heart and one mind as we strive for beauty and perfection. “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.”

2. Acts 26:16 “I will make thee a minister and a witness. All 400 of us are bearing witness at one time. A cloud of witnesses carries a unique power.

3. Being a musical missionary will expand to the next life. Most of what people are doing here on earth is not going to be needed in the hereafter (like a life insurance salesman for instance). Music, however, will play a major part. The scriptures mention, “Numberless concourses of angels praising God and singing.”

4. We experience the convergence between prayer and music. We have a remarkable opportunity to give in a unique way. We perform glorious music as evidence of a supreme creator.

Such a privilege!

Guests and companions
Figured it was a great day to walk Central Park. Beautiful weather, beautiful park. I do believe it is my favorite part of New York City.

Walked by a ball diamond where a Dad was playing with his boys and itched to hit a ball or two. How cool would it be to actually bat in Central Park. I asked the dad if I could and he obliged telling his boys to move up. I missed his first two pitches trying to get used to his sideways pitch, then smacked the next four and boys actually had to chase them!

We made our way through much of the length of the park then back by way of the Manhattan temple

and past a restaurant called Il Violino (The Violin), which of course called us back. We were on our own for dinner. Enjoyed amazing lasagna there with my sweetheart and my two young violinists. (I call Audrey and her roommate, Lauren, “mine” on this trip.)

Monday, June 29, 2015 - Bused to Saratoga Springs which is legendary for its naturally carbonated springs of water rich in minerals. Some have claimed that “taking the waters” could cure kidney and liver complaints, rheumatism, diabetes, heartburn, scrofula, dyspepsia, cancer, malaria, hangovers and "weakness of women." None of these claims have been proven. Randy and the other guests tasted this celebrated water; they said it was NASTY!

By the way, today was a picture perfect day for a concert. We were so grateful for a beautiful clear warm day after our concert at Bethel Woods in the wind and rain.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015 - Free day in New York City; we hopped aboard a double decker bus. There’s a reason most people don’t use road traffic in NY. It definitely wasn’t the best way to get around. We finally got off near China Town and went on foot. We made much better progress that way. Ate dumplings in China Town, walked to the 911 memorial and paused a moment to remember that horrific day, boarded the free Staten Island Ferry to get a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and crept back to Time Square on the double decker bus just in time to head to The Lion King on Broadway. Great Show, amazing costuming! All in all, a very iconic New York City day.

Aboard the double-decker bus

I'm not sure the guy behind us liked our shenanigans
The new World Trade Center
9-11 Memorial
With two of New York's finest
Can you believe how tall this woman is?


Mormon Tabernacle Choir 2015 East Coast Tour - Part 2

Wednesday and Thursday, July 1-2, 2015 - We walked as a group from the Marriott on Time Square nearly a mile to Carnegie Hall -- all 400 some odd of us all dressed in our concert attire. A sight to behold, I am sure! There are a lot of oddities walking the streets here in New York City, but our group really caught people’s attention.

“Are you all in a wedding party? Wow! That’s a lot of bridesmaids!”

“Hey, Salt Lake City! The Mormons! (Then spotting George, one of our choir members) Oh *%#@, a black Mormon! I’ve never seen one of those?”

“I saw all the blonds and white-shirted men and thought, ‘These must be Mormons!’”

As I was walking along, I found myself next to a familiar face from a TV show that I had watched. I was quite bold and asked, “Are you an actress? Have I seen you on Ghost Whisperer?” She replied kindly, “Oh I get that a lot!” I pressed a bit further, “Well, are you?” She smiled and said yes. Camryn Manheim was gracious and let Randy take our picture together. I asked her if she knew with whom she was walking down the street? “You’re with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. We are performing in Carnegie Hall!” I stated proudly.

What an honor to perform at the most prestigious concert stage in America. Most of the leading classical and pops music performers since 1891 have performed here at this location. Just think of all the artists who have walked these halls and performed on this stage. What a thrill!

The sound was awesome! I heard things around me that I had never heard before. While performing “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” I became overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude...for my mother who taught me the violin from the time I was four until I went away to BYU (mostly through the door; I wasn’t very teachable) and who, with my father, influenced me deeply with their passion for music and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Oh how she would have loved to have been here playing with us; how tickled she must be to witness her daughter and two granddaughters sharing what she herself gave so freely.

After Wednesday’s concert, I went up to my room in the elevator with our conductor Mack Wilberg, and his wife, Rebecca. We visited about the beauty of the experience and how impressed we were with the audience who “got” the significance and flow of the first half of the concert and the reason for not clapping between numbers. Mack, who seemed very pleased, exclaimed, “Well, It is New York!” If a good and musically educated audience is anywhere, it should be here!

Some of the choir’s previous guest artists attended our Thursday performance. Santino Fontana, Leslie, Paul, and Carmen (our Sesame Street Muppet friends), and Brian Stokes Mitchell, as well as Laura Osnes who will join us for the Pioneer Celebration later this month. What is the New York experience if you can’t catch a glimpse of a celebrity or two!

And MY audience member, Randy, attended Thursday night. I have this thing; if he is in the audience, I have to find him before the show starts. He catches my eye by waving his program.  It took me a while, but I finally found him way up at the top of the hall in the fourth level in the last row in the very very back, waving his program as usual. If there hadn’t been a light on him, I never would have found him.

Friday, July 3, 2015 - The orchestra and guests were free until 5:00 pm. It was our chance to take in another Broadway show. We purchased the cheapest seats we could find to Matilda and ended up in the nose-bleed section, but we didn’t mind. It was delightful!

The choir was scheduled to sing the National Anthem at the Yankee Stadium for their game with the Tampa Bay Rays. We were all given tickets to the game. Randy, Audrey, and I planned ahead, purchased, and wore  our Yankees T-shirts. It was Yankee Hat night and all in attendance were given free hats. Only problem? The event was sponsored by Budweiser Beer and their name was embroidered on the back. HaHa It was pretty ironic to see us all advertising Budweiser.

The choir sang beautifully, the game was fun to watch. We had our hotdogs and VERY garlicky fries! I was disappointed that we had to leave at the bottom of the 11th inning. The game was just getting exciting! But we were to board buses early the next morning for our mystery day; it was really best that we return. We heard by way of mouth that the Yankees finally won after 12 innings.

On a solemn note, on our bus ride from the hotel to Yankee Stadium, we received word that President Boyd K. Packer had passed away at the age of 90. I have such a reverence and love for him. He was a favorite apostle of mine when I was a teenager. I will miss his very honest and direct teaching of Gospel principles. “When music is reverently presented, it can be akin to revelation,” he taught.  “At times, I think, it cannot be separated from the voice of the Lord, the quiet, still voice of the Spirit.”  The choir will sing at his funeral when we return home next week.

Saturday, July 4, 2015 - We lined up for our buses at 6:30 am. Unbelievably, New York City streets are pretty quiet at that hour.

On our bus captain seat, was the secret packet of itineraries and music to distribute, and a DVD that would reveal the day’s mystery destination. All we knew up to this point was that we boarded the buses in the early morning and we would not return until midnight. Oh, and we needed our instruments and we would be changing into concert clothing.

Drumroll please......

United Military Academy at West Point! Can’t imagine a better place to spend the 4th!

As the rain drizzled, we toured the pristinely beautiful facility in smaller groups.

As the rains poured down, the Orchestra at Temple Square string sections rehearsed with the West Point Band for the evening’s outdoor show at Trophy Point on the banks of the Hudson River. The weather threatened to jeopardized the concert and the fireworks, but by the time our afternoon soundcheck came around, the skies cleared and the sun was shining.

It was certainly a memorable event to experience lunch and dinner cadet-style in their gigantic Hogwarts-like mess hall. They feed 4000 cadets in this hall!

We had been invited to take part in their traditional West Point 4th of July “Music Under the Stars” with the West Point Army Band, Hellcats, and Rock Band. Prior to the concert, 1400 new freshman West Point Cadets marched in formation and took their places for this very special event. What a sight! Each of the 50 states and U.S. territories was highlighted by a flag-carrying cadet and cannon fire. The choir, band, and orchestra performed patriotic favorites, the rock band loosened the cadets up a bit, and the evening ended with an amazing fireworks show. Twelve thousand spectators were given much more than they expected. It was a surprise for all!

Our experience here will be part a half-hour TV special next year.

Randy told me of his evening:

“While waiting in line to purchase a drink, I stood beside a Cadet from WestPoint.  He was a Senior and had just returned to school from his summer break. We exchanged some small talk and ended up talking about the choir and the LDS church. He asked why they were called the ‘tabernacle’ choir? He thought a tabernacle was behind a veil in the ancient temples.  He seemed pretty smart.  Come to find out, he was Catholic and had studied the scriptures regularly. He said there were quite a few Mormon kids at the academy and that they seemed to be extra honest and trustworthy.

He was majoring in engineering and will finish school this year and then spend the next 5 years somewhere in the world doing engineering for the military.

He was very polite and I felt like I needed to thank him for his future service to our country, so I bought his meal and a couple of extra cookies to take to his cadet buddies.”

I was SO impressed with the young cadets here. So sharp, so confident and polite. This experience has strengthened my faith in American young people. We are in good hands.

Sunday, July 5, 2015 - There is a clinking of brunch dishes as the tables are cleared off.  Tour participants are chatting about this and that. Priesthood brethren are setting up the sacrament table. Brother Gunnell stands at the speaker’s podium encouraging us to prepare for the sacrament by listening to the prelude music and the feeling in the hotel ballroom turns from a dining hall to our “chapel,” from clamor to pure reverent silence. The feeling is overwhelming.

Elder Rasband of the First Quorum of the Seventy invited six members of the congregation to bear their testimonies, and then he himself spoke.

Here is what I learned from today’s meeting:

 1. “Preparation invites Inspiration”
 2. Today is the Lord’s day.
 3. People will judge you by your eyes. Hold up your light.
 4. Music goes directly to the heart without having to use words.
 5. I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
 6. The devil cannot keep a disciple of Jesus Christ down.
 7. “What e’er thou art, do well thy part.”
 8. Greatest thing we can do for our country is raise righteous children.
 9. Our religious liberty is being trampled.
 10. We need to be on the front edge of the warriors who are fighting for religious freedom.

After Sacrament Meeting, we gathered in the central opening of the hotel where the elevators climb about 50 stories. We sang “God Be With You” to all who might hear and hoped that it carried all the way up to the top. We were very grateful to all who had enabled us to stay here for nine days! That luxury is unheard of on a Tab Choir tour. Today we head on to our last stop - Boston.

Randy and I have enjoyed “captaining” Bus #10 together, and getting to know Harry Bentz, our bus driver. What a kind soul. We visited about his love of music, his guitar, his band, his family (his wife had passed away), his twin boys (fun to have twins in common), his family history.  After each concert he left his special ice cold spring water that he had brought with him at our two seats.

He mentioned, “What I appreciate about you people is how you speak your testimonies from your hearts.”  He loves the choir and only missed a concert when he needed his rest. At the end of tour, he wrote a poem.

Fleeting Moments of Perfection

Fleeting moments of perfection
We embrace what is so rare
Like fair breezes passing over us
Disappearing into thin air.

Fleeting moments of perfection
Like a song sung with God
When everything comes together
Our memory like a ghostly fog.

The miles we share together
We see the miracle of it all
Fleeting moments of perfection
Only the best can we recall.

A friendly gesture of gratitude
A wave, smile, and embrace
The shared stories of families
Sharing in God’s grace

Fleeting moments of perfection
That make our hearts soar
Imprinted in our memories
Will last forevermore.

Fleeting moments of perfection
With the very best of friends
Sharing our memories with laughter
And dreams to share again.

by Harry Bentz
Bus #10  7-6-15
Boston, Mass.

An afternoon bus ride from New York to Boston and we were greeted at 7:00 pm by an official Clam Bake complete with steamed clams in their shells, delicious New England clam chowder, and mounds and mounds of whole cooked red lobsters with bowls of melted butter! Reminded me of the mountains of crawdads in New Orleans only BIGGER! I couldn’t believe my eyes! What a feast!

Tuesday, July 6, 2015 - Last full day of tour. With the morning free, Randy, Audrey, Lauren, and I headed down the Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile marked path through Boston marking significant historical sights.

Boston Common - the oldest city park in the United States
Massachusetts State House - Built on land once owned by John Hancock
Granary Burying Ground - the final resting place of many revolutionary war patriots including Samuel Adams, Joahn Hancock, and Paul Revere
King's Chapel
Boston Latin School - First Public School in America
On a side note - What fun it has been to have our daughter, Audrey, and her roommate, Lauren, with us on this tour. Not only are they good and dedicated violinists, they have such a glow about them. Wherever they go, they make friends, cheer hearts, and spread goodness. It was an inspiration just to be around them. Thanks for being such great examples of what it means to be music missionaries, you two!

Benjamin Franklin

Old State House - The Declaration of Independence was first read to the public from this balcony. 
Faneuil Hall - a public market house
Cooling off 
Paul Revere's Home
Our final concert was held at the very elaborate Wang Theatre.  It was a choice experience.  The Bostonian audience cheered when their own son, Ryan Murphy stepped onto the podium. They are so proud of him. And Alex Boye pulled out all the stops, tearing his pants as he went down into the splits at the end of his song. We played and sang with all our hearts. The audience seemed so touched and appreciative.

Randy followed an elderly couple on their way out of the theater. He overheard the wife tell her husband, “The next time we hear this beautiful music, we will know we are in heaven. We will just have to listen for the singing, follow the heavenly sounds, and we will know we have arrived!”

What a sweet ending to a fantastic experience. Hopefully we have touched many hearts and spread the light and truth of what we hold dear.  A great big hug and thank you to everyone who helped to make this dream a reality!