“Tabernacle Choir Tours Pacific,” Ensign, Sept. 1988, 76–77
The Tabernacle Choir returned to Salt Lake City July 5 after completing the most extensive tour in the choir’s 141-year history. During the tour, which covered more than 22,000 miles, the choir performed sixteen concerts in Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii.
The choir also broadcast two of its weekly radio and television programs via satellite from Australia and New Zealand.
The three-week tour, which began with the choir’s June 14 departure from Salt Lake City, marked the first time the choir had performed in the South Pacific.
In addition to an estimated thirty-five thousand people who packed concert halls throughout Australia and New Zealand, another ten thousand attended special firesides in chapels and stake centers in the two countries. Millions more heard the choir sing on radio and television. Many others were aware of the choir’s activities through extensive news coverage.
The choir’s first stop was in Hawaii, where it performed in the Waikiki Shell in Honolulu, and at BYU—Hawaii’s Cannon Center in Laie.
Next, the choir flew to Auckland, New Zealand. There the choir was welcomed by a Maori chorus, who sang to them. Flanked by an enormous Maori war canoe, the choir responded with a moving rendition of the New Zealand national anthem, “God Defend New Zealand,” which was sung partly in English and partly in Maori.
After arriving in Auckland on Sunday, June 19, the choir traveled to Hamilton for a special sacrament service at the Church College of New Zealand. When the choir sang “Come, Come Ye Saints,” the congregation was visibly moved.
Following two subsequent concerts in the Auckland Town Hall, the choir traveled to Wellington, New Zealand, where it gave two performances the evening of June 22. The following day, the choir performed in Christchurch.
After leaving New Zealand, the choir gave afternoon and evening concerts in the Melbourne, Australia, Concert Hall on June 25, and in the Adelaide Festival Theater on June 27.
The choir then flew to Perth for two evening performances June 29, which were followed by performances in Sydney on July 1 and 2.
The last stop on the tour was in Brisbane, where the choir performed July 4 at Expo ‘88, Australia’s world’s fair celebrating that country’s bicentennial. The Tabernacle Choir had been appointed to officially represent the United States at the exposition’s U.S. Day festivities. President Ronald Reagan sent the choir a congratulatory telegram noting that “your presence will undoubtedly add luster to the bicentennial celebrations taking place in Australia,” and describing the group as “America’s most renowned musical ensemble.”
“This tour has touched the lives of common people and dignitaries the length and breadth of these lands,” said Elder John Sonnenberg of the First Quorum of the Seventy, then serving as President of the Pacific Area.
The new Pacific Area President, Elder F. Arthur Kay of the First Quorum of the Seventy, said the tour had left a major impact in the lands “down under.” In a letter to choir director Jerold Ottley, he said that when he looked into the faces of the choir, he knew he was looking at men and women “purified and sanctified through ordinances and covenants and years of gospel living in a pure form of missionary service.”
Wendell M. Smoot, choir president, said, “I can sum up this tour in two words: exhilarating and exhausting.
“We never dreamed how successful our firesides on non-singing nights would be,” he added. “We thought perhaps 200 or 300 people might show up. We were astonished at numbers like 2,000 in Auckland and 1,500 adults in Perth, where total Church membership is 3,000.”
More than 5,000 members and investigators gathered at four simultaneous firesides in Auckland, marking the first time such an event had ever been attempted at different locations.
“We found that members of the Church were starved for anything relating to their faith,” Brother Smoot said.
The tour included a few impromptu performances. When heavy fog brought a five-hour delay in departure at the Auckland airport, director Ottley led the choir in several songs, much to the delight of passengers stranded from other flights.
A similar unscheduled airport performance was given at Sydney, while the choir waited out another delay. All told, the singers spent seventeen hours in airports waiting for delayed flights.
In Perth, a large missionary chorus sang three numbers as choir members entered the airport terminal. The choir again responded in song.
The sponsors of the tours in the two countries, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand, praised the choir and said they were delighted with the performances.
When the choir returned to Salt Lake City, they were greeted at the airport by President Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, and other state and local dignitaries.
“You have done tremendous good for the Church, for the state of Utah, for Salt Lake City, and for the nation as you represented the United States at the two-hundredth anniversary of the founding of Australia,” President Hinckley said. “Our prayers have been with you, and to see you here represents an answer to our prayers. God bless you for all the good you have done.”
Correspondent: Michael Otterson, director of public affairs, Pacific Area.