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?


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