Tuesday, July 28, 2015

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!

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