“Their Concert Message,” Ensign, Oct. 1991, 48–52
We have heard of the concerts’ results—encores, cheers, thunderous clapping, and tears—more tears than one could have imagined. But what was it that these audiences heard in the two-hour concerts performed night after night?
In summary, the concert they came to hear was an inspiring Church meeting in song, powerfully formulated by Tabernacle Choir music director Jerold Ottley.
Following the singing of the nation’s anthem or national song, in places where that was appropriate (in some places singing of such anthems is not regarded as acceptable), each evening began with an artistic overview of the concert when the choir sang lines adapted from Walt Whitman’s “A Song of Joys”:
O! Listen to a jubilant song
The joy of our spirit is uncaged. …
We sing prophetic joys of lofty ideals. …
We sing a universal love awaking in the hearts of men. …
Listen to our song, … the joy of our spirit is uncaged.
(Norman Dello Joio, “A Jubilant Song.”)
After this promise of things to come, an unmistakable musical prayer was offered upon the meeting. In the rich, subtle tones of the choir, reverently fell out the words of LeRoy Robertson’s “The Lord’s Prayer”: “Our Father who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name.” The deep, resonating sound of the basses seemed to undergird all of nature in their plea. When “The Lord’s Prayer” was not sung, the choir’s reverent petition was the hymn of praise, “Alleluia.”
Then came the heavy doctrinal messages in each evening’s concert. How fitting that in these lands where scattered Israel is spread out like sand upon the seashore, and where those of Judah have been so heavily oppressed, the call went out in Hebrew from Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms,” whose words are taken from Psalm texts. It was as a message from the Old Testament, witnessing that the promises of ancient prophets are ready to be fulfilled.
In mildly discordant tones reminiscent of their trials through the ages, the choir sang in Hebrew these words:
Know ye that the Lord, He is God.
It is He that hath made us. …
We are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Enter into His gates with thanksgiving,
And into His courts with praise. …
Why do the nations rage,
And the people imagine a vain thing? …
Let Israel hope in the Lord
From henceforth and forever.
Behold how good,
And how pleasant it is,
For brethren to dwell
Together in unity.
Then from Robert Cundick’s “The Redeemer” came the great promise of the redemption—this time using the texts and the English language of the great latter-day Restoration to show how Old Testament promises were fulfilled:
Behold! And He shall be born of Mary. …
In Jerusalem, the land of our forefathers. …
Yea, even … the Son of God! …
He is the root and the offspring of David,
And the bright and morning star. …
And let him who heareth … come,
And let him who is athirst come.
And whoso will, let him take the water of life
Freely, freely, freely. …
Surely I come quickly
Even so, come, Lord Jesus.
The majestic shadings of the last lines seemed to aurally open the doors to the Lord, doing musically what Thorvaldsen’s open-armed statue The Christus does visually. Said a choir member, “When we get to the point where we sing out ‘Freely, freely, freely,’ it is almost too much for me. I’m almost overcome with emotion.”
No matter what changes in musical selections were made in various concerts, these two scriptural presentations—“Chichester Psalms” and songs from “The Redeemer”—were always sung. It was their impact on the spiritually sensitive, and that of the Spirit which worked through them, that elicited a considerable number of the emotional and spiritual experiences with which choir members were blessed during the tour.
A similar impact came from the intensity of “Love So Amazing, So Divine,” an audience favorite with words by Isaac Watts:
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride. …
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all!
Said a choir member, “On the way to the concert I always say a prayer to know who in the audience to sing to. I consider seriously the words of the songs we are to sing. When I sing ‘See, from his head, his hands, his feet’—it’s as if I’m bearing personal testimony to the person in the audience I’ve selected. I feel the Spirit so strongly.”
At this point in the program, a change of pace took place. The sermons had been delivered. Now came the suggestions for applying the gospel message. In these lands that have known generations of military conflict and pain, always exuberantly received was the black American spiritual “Down by the Riverside”:
I’m goin’ to lay down my heavy load
Down by the riverside. …
I’m goin’ to lay down my sword and shield. …
And I ain’t gonna study war no more.
It was time for the last part of the program and the encore section—the toe-tappers and hand-clappers, songs heralding the joyous blessings of those who get aboard the gospel train. If they had not done it yet, it was time now for those roof-raising sopranos, warmly soothing altos, brightly toned tenors, and rumbling basses to do their thing. The choir sang:
“Shenandoah,” an American folk song from boatmen on the Missouri. The choir’s pure, pristine tone gives unsullied voice to everyone’s fondest dreams as they sing, “O Shenando’, I long to see you.”
“Deep River,” another folk song, in which the wondrous bass voices seem to reach down into river bottom as they roll out, “Deep River, Lord, I want to cross over into campground.”
“When the Saints Go Marching In,” with its unforgettable rhythm-and-blues call of “Oh, when the saints go marching in … Oh, Lord, I want to be in that number. … Oh, when the new world is revealed … Oh, Lord, I want to be in that number.”
The choir closed each concert—prior to encores—with “Cindy,” a folk song from America’s Scottish and Irish settlers. Its point, happily made in the choir’s inimitably lush harmonies, is that dreams can come true:
I wish I was an apple,
A hangin’ on a tree.
And ev’ry time my sweetheart passed,
She’d take a bite of me. …
Get along home, little Cindy.
I’ll marry you someday!
Its robust character, syncopated onstage clapping, and final shout of “Hooray!” guaranteed encores.
Among the encores was always the worldwide Tabernacle Choir favorite—the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” One choir member said: “I used to think the ‘Battle Hymn’ was just a song from the American Civil War. But it has come to mean more than that to people. It is a song of faith that there is a God, that this world isn’t just whizzing through space on its own. He’s there. He’s coming. And He’s got a work for us to do. The words took on new meaning for me while we sang them to these people who have not had freedom and have not been able to even learn about the gospel. The words became critical for me: He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat. He is sifting out the hearts of men before his judgment seat. In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me. As he died to make men holy, let us live to make men free. God is marching on.”
The service is now over. The addresses have been given and a listing of the promises and joys awaiting believers has been joyously presented.
Of their truthfulness, an entire choir and musical ensemble have testified. It is time to bring the meeting to a close. It is time for “God Be with You Till We Meet Again,” the closing prayer of the 313 missionaries to their eager congregation: “By his counsels guide, uphold you; with his sheep securely fold you,” they nearly whisper. “God be with you till we meet again.”
Many in the audience thought they were going to enjoy just another evening out. What they got was a world-class concert and a glorious Church meeting all wrapped into one.