Friday, June 24, 2011

Tab Tour Top Ten

(Not necessarily in any order of importance)

Monday - June 20
It's 3:00 in the morning and I'm already at the airport along with another 499 travelers. There is excitement and anticipation in the air. We are about to embark on what promises to be a memorable and rewarding week. How do I know this? Because it's my fourth tour with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and I know what to expect. (Well... mostly.  Surprises are certain to pop up here and there.)

We board three chartered B757 aircraft. After we are seated, a prayer is offered. I know we are in good hands. This brings me to the first of the Top Ten Reasons I Love Touring with the choir.

#10. We are blessed by a Prophet of God.

"I invoke a prayer on you that you may have health and strength, that you may travel in peace and safety, ... and that you would be at your very best."
President Thomas S. Monson

Salt Lake City as we fly out in the middle of the night.
Norfolk, Virginia
We arrive just in time to have lunch...
And a wee bit of rest and relaxation in the arena before our afternoon sound check.

These seats will be filled to capacity at tonight's performance.
Meredith and I choose to climb the stairs to our room on the 18th floor of the Marriott Hotel.  It's time to test out the stability of my injured knee. Stand in line with hundreds of weary travelers to use a couple of elevators? Not for this girl!
We also choose to take the 10 minute walk from our Hotel to...
The Scope Arena
That's all we'll see of Norfolk!
Photo Source  
Tonight's performance is filled with electricity! Norfolk is a military town and they seemed especially moved by the patriotic numbers, "God Bless America" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

"When we accompany he Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the thrill never falters."
Will Francis - French Horn

"Fantastic. Spectacular. It's the dream of a lifetime."
Clare Born and Charles Hopkins - Hampton, Virginia

"[Tonight's] concert was exhilarating; tears literally came to my eyes. Tomorrow is the last day of of school, but I had to come. I'll go back [to school] re-inspired."
Will Griffon - choir director Armstrong High School

Tuesday - June 21
Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia
Today we step back in time to experience Colonial America.
LOOK! It's Meredith and me scoping out tonight's venue! :o)

A front porch story teller.

Two patriots having a political discussion.

In Colonial Williamsburg, the choir was to participate in a Flash Mob. If you've never heard of this phenomenon, this is how it transpires:

Setting: A crowded public area
Event: A planned someone begins singing. Another joins in, then another and another until an unsuspecting and somewhat baffled throng is surrounded by a myriad of voices.

Which brings to mind another tour favorite -

#9 I can SING with the tabernacle choir.
There is such power in their song. I don't have a spectacular voice, but that's okay... Whether I'm attempting to sing "God Be With You 'til We Meet Again" at the end of a broadcast, or joining them in hymn-singing during our Sacrament Meeting on tour, I can't seem to sing a note anyway. The incredible sound around me just sinks into my soul and I choke up with tears.

So... back to the Flash Mob.
The orchestra was supposed to stand back a ways while the choir Flash Mobbed with a song written in 1776 to the tune of "My Country 'Tis of Thee." I didn't want to miss an opportunity to sing with the choir! Meredith and I took it upon ourselves to stage our own mini rebellion. We memorized the last verse of the song and joined in when it came to that point!

"Arise, O God, arise.
Scatter our enemies
And let them fall.
May impious battle cease;
Grant us eternal Peace,
And may thy cause increase.
God save us all."

Here is the Flash Mob documented. For a shortened version, begin 3 minutes and 20 seconds in.

"What a wonderful, wonderful experience that was. We're a group of 35 history teachers here from Charleston, South Carolina. We all of a sudden heard some voices and a few more. It came out of nowhere and blended together and it was just amazing! We kept looking at each other and waying, 'What's happening?' It was a beautiful thing to experience and we hank you so, so much. We were thrilled. We ran to our cell phones afterwards and said, 'Guess what we just did?! We got to sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.'"
Ann Watson - Charlotte, North Carolina

I think word of the choir coming might have leaked out a bit. The crowd was enormous! One visitor requested my autograph on a choir calendar. I gave her that and a sample choir CD too! Another passerby remarked, "You are a member of the Tabernacle Choir, aren't you? I can tell. You Mormons just have an aura about you!"
We had a little bit of time to see the Colonial sites. We walked to the Governor's Mansion.
Found the cooks in the kitchen behind the house fixing recipes of the period.
I asked one of the cooks if he would kindly pose for a picture with me. With a wink he said, "For a couple of bucks!" I gave him a choir CD instead.

Wednesday - June 22
Washington, DC
World War II memorial
#8 Tour affords us the chance to experience some of the great sites of our beloved country.
Our site-seeing hours are very limited. Understandably so. This is not the purpose of tour. In our hectic schedule we are to rest and conserve our energy to give all we have to give at our performances. But, how nice it is to experience these very special and historic places. I am filled with gratitude and reverence for those who have sacrificed to enable me to experience the great blessings I enjoy as an American.

Lincoln Memorial - the inside walls are carved the Gettysburg Address, and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. Today I stopped and read them.

"...With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves, and with all nations."
Abraham Lincoln - Second Inaugural Address

Washington Monument
The reflecting pool is obviously under construction.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

This is my tour roommate, Meredith. It's a good thing we like each other because we see each other more often than we see our own spouses, that's for sure. We not only serve together in the Orchestra at Temple Square, we are stand partners. Meredith is our Concert Master and serves tirelessly in that capacity. She also contracts the majority of my jobs in the freelance world back home. We share the same birthday. I cherish our friendship and appreciate the faith and trust she has placed in me as a violinist. 

Wolf Trap
Filene Center at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts - Ours was just one of about 100 performances presented from May to September.

A local radio station WTOP’s (FM 103.5) hosted a competition, “Sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.” Hopeful contestants "auditioned" by sending in MP3's and YouTube videos. Four winners sang with us in our afternoon sound check.
“It was awesome. When I first heard the orchestra start up and the first of the big voices came on, the sound that I had heard for so many years on CDs was actually there, and I got goose pimples, and tears starting rolling from my eyes. But once I was on stage, everybody was so nice and so friendly and so welcoming. It was just wonderful.”
Dottie - a winner of the radio contest
Emily Rice doing what she does best - Making me smile!
Brother Mack Wilberg - I am grateful for his humble, kind way and his ability to inspire through his mastery of music.
DeDee and Stephanie, are you hiding from me?
Photo Source

I will remember this performance as the hottest I have EVER experienced in an outdoor concert setting. It was over 90 degrees with more humidity than you can ever imagine. I literally had a river of water... okay SWEAT... running down my back. According to Brother Wilberg,  "Humidity is good for the vocal cords."  Our support staff passed cold bottles of water to us during intermission.

“We love choir music, and we love the kind of music they presented here tonight. We love to hear them because they're such a great group of singers. I'll take home the glory of having seen them live. Only in your memory can you repeat something like this.”

Eleanor Foley - Leesburg, Virginia

"I think this is what the angels of heaven sound like."
Jeff - Washington D.C.

Thursday - June 23
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Met up with my cousin, Liz. She is an extraordinary organist and plays for the Lutheran Church (as her means of employment) here in Philly. It was SO great to visit with her again. Love you, Liz!

#7 We are literally instruments in God's hands.
I have been called as a music missionary. Spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ is my mission; music is the means by which I accomplish this. There is great power in music. You have felt it; I have felt it. It is difficult to measure the effectiveness of what we do as music missionaries. We will never know just how many have come to know the truth as a result of the spirit that we share. I have no doubt, however, that we change lives. I can see it in the faces of those who come to hear. I can see it in their eyes, their smiles, their tears. Music sinks deeply into their souls and the Spirit is able to help them feel something "different". I am SO grateful for this opportunity to bring joy and light to a difficult world. It isn't a sacrifice, it's a blessing and an honor.

During a performance, I like to choose an audience member to keep an eye on. I like to see the change in their demeanor as the program progresses. Tonight, an elderly woman caught my eye as she entered the Mann Center. She seemed very "proper" and "regal" in a way. She walked tall (with the help of a cane) and was apparently accompanied by her son and his wife. She sat in the very middle of the very first row. During the performance she smiled, she tapped her leg to the time of the music, she leaned over and whispered something to her son, she clapped enthusiastically.

Near the end of the program we play "Battle Hymn of the Republic". It is not unusual for people to stand (always beginning at the back of a venue for some strange phenomenon) as we begin the last chorus. But tonight it was different. From the very first refrain, this woman stood in great reverence and respect, all by herself - straight, tall, and erect. It had such an effect on ME that I could not see the music for the tears. Though she was all alone with thousands of people around her, her son did not attempt to have her sit down. With the last climatic point, she raised her hands high into the heavens in glory and thanksgiving to her Maker. It is a picture I will never forget.

We checked into the hotel after the concert. Meredith and I were on the THIRD floor! A miracle! Thoroughly exhausted, I plopped into bed and immediately fell into a sound sleep.

Friday - June 24

This morning we walked to the Wanamaker Building which houses the Macey's department store. Richard Elliott and Clay Christiansen had been invited to perform on the renowned 100-year-old organ there.

"It was a long-time dream of mine to have the Choir sing with this organ. It’s the world’s greatest choir and one of the world’s greatest organs. It was a spiritual experience too, to have the glorious sound of the Choir singing their great repertoire with this organ that means so much to me and is part of my history."
Richard Elliott - Tabernacle Organist

On the Road to Buffalo
Photo Source
We carry with us an unbelievable amount of luggage. And these are just our SMALL bags! A BIG thanks to the luggage crew - they take care of our large bags from city to city.
We stopped for a delicious barbecue lunch at Cheanago State Park in New York.
I'll have to admit, these were a welcome sight. Clean, plentiful - Glad I was in the first crop of buses! :o) Someone mentioned, "Well... you can use one of the six potties, or go behind one of the hundreds of trees!
Owners of the catering company described the experience of feeding the Tabernacle Choir "a blessing." 
On our way to Buffalo, we had just 45 minutes to visit the Sacred Grove. Our eleven buses arrived in three shifts.
For just a moment, I found myself alone. Doesn't happen very often in this crowd.
#6 The Holy Ghost is with us in abundance.
When I came to the sacred grove with the BYU Philharmonic in 1979, I prayed to have the Holy Ghost witness the truth of Joseph Smith's first vision. I felt reverence here, but I did not receive that feeling that I sought. When I came with my little family in 1994, I was happy and grateful to be here, but I did not feel that witness.

Today as I walked through, the Holy Ghost, in his still small way, gave me that assurance. It was sweet, and real... I love that feeling and thank my Heavenly Father for this gift.

Bill, Emily, Kathy and Me

As we walked out of the Sacred Grove, we were greeted by hundreds of people hoping to hear a song or two. They had waited at least two hours in the rain.
We sang "Oh How Lovely Was the Morning" and "God be With You 'Til We Meet Again." As usual, I was all choked up and couldn't sing a word. sigh.  I was so sorry our visit was so short when these people had waited SO long. One woman stated, "You are an answer to my prayers." Another, "All I needed was one song."
Caught a glimpse of the Palmyra Temple on our way back to the buses.

Saturday - June 25
Chautauqua, New York
Love this place! We came here in 2007. This lakeside town is literally a slice of Apple Pie, a picture of America.

Unbelievably, it was sweater weather today. We went from 90 degree heat to 65 in one short day. I was cool and happy about it!

FIRST VIOLINS left to right: Me, Meredith, Alena, Mark, Kerstin, Martha, Ruth, Corine, Sara Jane
SECOND VIOLINS: Jane, Cami, DeDee, Debbie, Joanna, Emily, Christine, Stephanie, Kathy
#5 Miracles happen.
We can count on this fact. Chautauqua had received more rain this month then they can ever remember. It threatened again today. The skies were dark, yet the rain stayed in the clouds. It happened at Wolf Trap, it happened in Philadelphia. I am certain that the Lord wants his "show to go on."

I've experienced my own miracle for which I am grateful. If you will remember, I tore the medial meniscus in my left knee just three weeks before tour. I was hurting to the point of canceling out. I just didn't know how I could manage all the walking and standing and climbing. Tour is somewhat exhausting when one is in the best of health.

Just two days before we left, the swelling went down and the pain subsided to a reasonable, manageable twinge now and then. I kept it iced and wore a brace for support the first couple of days, but by the middle of the week, it was virtually pain free. I have my own testimony of the miracles that happen.

Lining up for the matinee performance. I think you are in the wrong line, Danny!

At the matinee performance, I chose to observe a cheerful lady on the front row. She was dressed in a cheery flowered top and sported a big grin on her face. She seemed to be "in heaven" the entire concert. I ran into her own my way out, visited with her for a second, and gave her a hug. She exclaimed,

 "You are the church's choir, America's choir, and MY choir!" 

She had such a glow about her. I wondered if she was a member of the church. I found out later (from Joe's parents that I met later that day) that indeed she was, and that she wore bright colors and sat in the very front, so the choir would notice her. I think it worked!

Dinner was served between the picturesque Hotel and the Lake.

Joe, my son-in-law's parents live on lake Chautauqua. They kidnapped me for about an hour to see their beautiful home.
This is their backyard.
The neighborhood from their yard. Have you ever seen anything so perfectly inviting?
photo source  
An evening performance then back to the hotel in Buffalo.
"The angels were truly here with us tonight!", 
"Thank you so much!"
"Please come back soon!"

Sunday - June 26
The Sabbath Day

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These are our bus drivers. This morning, we honored them.
This is Becky, bus driver #1. I took this photo four years ago in Memphis. She has driven us on four tours so far.

“I consider this an honor and a privilege... This is considered the highest calling for a trip for any driver. I’ve been on the ’03, ’07, ’09, and now the ’11. I plan on being here for ’13.”
 “For me this is a replenishing. It fills me up instead of taking away. I listen to the choir and get this spiritual experience from being here. When I go home, I tell other drivers they have to sign up for the Mormon trip. They fill you up with good things; you get good music, good food, and you will find 600 new friends when you're done.” 

Becky - Bus Driver #1

This morning, Becky made an announcement. "I have been with you for four tours and I figure it is time to be with you permanently. My sister and I are getting baptized."
This honestly took my breath away! I could not stop the tears. I am SO THRILLED for her. I called Randy immediately (he knew her from the last two tours) and attempted to share her announcement through my sobs. I would like to think that I had some small part in this. I hope she invites us to her baptism. We all want to be there. It will be the largest in the history of the church, maybe?

As if it wasn't before... this made the entire trip "worth it"!

#4 There is nothing quite like Sacrament Meeting.

We begin our Sabbath Day with Sacrament Meeting. It is held immediately after breakfast, in the same room, at the same tables.

The prelude music begins and there is total and complete hush. The clinking of dishes stops. Visiting and chattering stop. I have only "heard" this kind of reverence in one other place, and that is the temple. It is amazing and the Spirit can be felt in abundance. I wish every Sacrament Meeting could begin like this.

Hymns are sung and once again I attempt to sing but concentrate on listening. The harmonies are beautiful. This must be what the angels in Heaven sound like.

The sacrament is blessed. Twenty priesthood brethren pass it in sacrament trays supplemented by hotel dinner plates

We have the blessing of hearing from a General Authority. Elder Jay E. Jensen of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Lona, have been with us on this tour. They give wonderful and inspired messages. Sister Jensen speaks of five S's - Sacred, Sabbath, Sacrifice, Service, and Savior. Elder Jensen encourages us to understanding the atonement - the events surrounding it, it's application, and it's doctrine.

Niagara and a couple of hours to spare.

#3 I can't think of a more pleasant and cheerful gaggle of people to spend time with. 

We don't have much of a chance to rub shoulders on a week to week basis. Orchestra begins rehearsal before the choir, the choir leaves later -- we just smile at each other and say "hi" in passing.

But while on tour we have time to develop friendships. Enthusiasm is contagious. We laugh together, we cry together. We lift and support each other. We rescue each other with sewing kits, bandaids, Advil, ice packs, hugs, and even fishing wire to repair broken glasses. (DeDee thanks you, Daron!) We have a common testimony, a common passion, and a common goal.

"Who are you? You are all so positive and happy!"
-man in the hotel lobby

Two of us in Canada - two in the U.S.
It's time to cross over the border into Canada. Barry, our personnel manager, leader, and friend warns,"If you don't have your passport?.... well... we'll just pull you aside and SHOOT you. It's easier that way. (He's joking, right?)

Quote for the day - 

"Don't criticize another unless you've walked a mile in his shoes. 
Then at least you're a mile away
And you have his shoes!"

Monday - June 27 Final (and longest) day on tour
Toronto, Canada
Roy Thompson Hall
It's great to be inside a wonderful concert hall. 

By this time, we are all a bit weary. Okay... downright WORN OUT!

#2 I can count on the blessing of rejuvenation. 
It's really quite remarkable. I've felt it a number of times. I am tired, anxious for my own home and my own bed. I feel as though I have no more to give. Then I see the audience, and feel their excitement. I am so grateful that I am not alone. We may be fine musicians in our own right, but clearly the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Together we can accomplish far more than we can individually. And yet it takes each individual doing his/her very best - that means me, giving all I can give- making each performance new and fresh. And so I am blessed and so I give...

Photo Source - I can't seem to find it, but I know it's from one of the church sights. 
People lined up to shake hands with President Thomas S. Monson who attended our final tour performance. I loved watching him. He reminded me of the Savior who "took them one by one." It was very touching.
“I do not hesitate to profess that there is no finer choir in the entire world, and in combination with the Orchestra at Temple Square, their music is magnificent. Perhaps you’ve listened to their albums or have seen them on television. Until you’ve experienced a live concert, however, you cannot appreciate all that they have to offer. . . . If you have not before experienced one of their live concerts, prepare for an unforgettable experience.”
President Thomas S. Monson
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"I feel different -- I want something that will help me feel this way again"
Audience Member purchasing a CD after the concert.

"Whenever you open your mouths, I feel Christ right here." (pointing to her heart)
Audience Member

"And ye are called to bring to pass the gathering of mine elect; for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts."
Doctrine and Covenants 29:7

Home Again on the Midnight Plane
We head for the airport after our two concerts in Toronto. Once again we fly in the middle of the night. Have you ever tried eating a meal at 2:30 in the morning? I don't necessarily recommend it, but they didn't want us to go home hungry!
And Salt Lake City looks pretty much like it did when we left. :o)
Hungry? Not a chance. I feel so...filled

Tuesday - June 28, 5:00 am
Sandy, Utah

#1 I return home grateful to be a part of the Orchestra at Temple Square and with an increased testimony of the work that we do.

Thank you to Barry, President Mac, Brother's Mack and Ryan and the army of others who planned and carried out every detail of this magnificent experience. I pray the Lord is pleased with our offering and that those who have tasted the sweetness will "come unto Christ" because of our efforts.

With Love,
Violinist - Orchestra at Temple Square


  1. What a perfect commentary on a wonderful week. A week where many hearts were touched and many feelings were moved to tears of great joy.
    As a spouse of a member of this great organization I pay tribute to and honor all those who serve so freely. You will find blessings poured out upon you and your families as you continue to consecrate your time and talents in serving the Lord.

    Thank You so Much!

  2. Wow...I cried during the flash mob, reading the experiences picking out an audience member and, well...through most of this post! What an amazing spirtual experience. Wish I could come with you in '13 :)

  3. I didn't know you picked out audience members, too!! Doesn't it personalize it and give more purpose to your playing? What a beautiful way to capsulate our experience, punctuated with quotes like you have done. I appreciate you taking the time to put this all together so I can benefit by re reading my own similar experiences. I LOVE KAT CALL! (That's my new nick name for ya sorry)

  4. and p.s. thanks for the mention of the sewing kit hoopla. Good times!! :) Thanks for not mentioning where I lost my magnet back.

  5. I am so sad I missed it, but so happy that others were able to experience such a wonderful tour. I loved all the pictures and am so happy I could read your blog. I love you!

  6. I was not feeling well today and finally had a chance to sit here and read the post. It was beautiful and I cried through the whole thing! Thanks for sharing such great experience and for uplifting me!