“Tabernacle Choir, Japanese Saints Share Gospel Joy through Music,” Ensign, Nov. 1985, 106
Many Tabernacle Choir members feel they reaped as much as they sowed during their recent concert tour of Japan.
While choir appearances gave a boost to missionary work in that country, choir members basked in the appreciation and kindness of the Japanese.
During the tour, August 15 to 28, the choir performed concerts in Osaka, Nagoya, Tokyo, and at the Tsukuba Science Expo ’85. Choir president Wendell Smoot said some thirty thousand people attended the concerts. Millions more had the opportunity to hear the choir sing as part of a nationwide telethon benefit that raised approximately $6 million to aid victims of famine in Ethiopia.
The Tabernacle Choir tour was sponsored by the Chukyo TV Broadcasting Co., which had also sponsored the choir’s last Japanese visit, in 1979.
It was obvious that Japanese audiences were impressed by the choir. But choir members were equally impressed by the Japanese. Brother Smoot recalls, for example, the love expressed by members in Osaka, who had waited hours at the airport, despite a flight delay, to greet the choir. He recalls the thousands who sat patiently in oppressive midday heat to hear the choir at the Expo concert. Everywhere, the choir’s hosts showed exemplary graciousness. Then there was the outpouring of love when, “after every concert, Japanese members came up to us and told us how much they enjoyed our music.”
Despite the language barrier, communication took place.
Spencer Kinard, announcer for “Music and the Spoken Word,” had a written Japanese narration that briefly explained the Church’s pioneer heritage and led into the choir’s rendition of “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” He asked choir member Yoshie Walbeck, a native of Kobe, Japan, to tape it for him so he could memorize the pronunciation.
Audiences were especially appreciative of three numbers the choir sang in Japanese, including solos by JoAnn Ottley and by Sister Walbeck, Brother Smoot recalled.
“I think the biggest influence the choir had was on the members of the Church. I think they were uplifted,” Sister Walbeck commented. “When they see the world-renowned Tabernacle Choir come to Japan to sing and to mingle with them, they feel more than ever the blessing of belonging” to the Church.
Japanese audiences were very complimentary of the choir’s use of their language in song, she said. They were also impressed with the personal qualities of choir members.
Sister Walbeck noted that many Japanese members used the choir concerts as missionary tools. When one member family first learned of the coming tour, they started a Tabernacle Choir fund to buy concert tickets so they could take nonmember friends to hear the choir.
“The choir had a great uplifting influence.” Brother Smoot said. “It made them feel they are indeed ambassadors of the Church.”
Part of that influence undoubtedly came through choir members’ individual missionary efforts. Though they could not speak the language, they found a way to tell the Japanese they met about the gospel. They gave away 1,039 Japanese Books of Mormon with personal testimonies and pictures of their families inside. They also gave away 4,000 brochures about the Church, and 3,200 Articles of Faith cards carrying the picture of the choir.
Combined, the concerts, the appearance on the telethon to aid others in need, and the individual missionary efforts provided the choir a great opportunity to be “a reflection of what the Church stands for,” Brother Smoot said.