Another Smashing Tabernacle Choir Tour

“Another Smashing Tabernacle Choir Tour,” Ensign, Oct. 1992, 75–77

Another Smashing Tabernacle Choir Tour

While summer’s balmy days floated by for many of us, members of the Church’s most widely known goodwill ambassadors—the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—fulfilled yet another fast-paced missionary assignment.

Billed as a tour to the “Heartland of America,” this time Choir members planed and bussed to eleven smashingly successful concerts—often standing room only—in ten cities in fourteen days through eight U.S. states and Toronto, Canada, between July 19 and August 1, performing before an estimated 65,000 concertgoers.

And in all places, music reviewers and critics were out in style:

  • “It was a spectacular affair.”—(Toronto Star.)

  • “Our country has certain institutions that transcend the times: Presidential politics. Apple pie. And the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. … The mere presence of the Choir inspires awe: Even sitting in silence, they dominated the hall, the women in ethereal white flowing gowns and the men in tidy burgundy blazers.”—(Columbus Dispatch, Ohio.)

  • “Dead on pitch, a gorgeous sound, perfect balance, clear diction, flawless ensemble, confident attack, and on-a-dime response to music director Jerold Ottley’s baton were givens. … Saturday, more than 13,000 showed up and simply went wild for the group and its music.”—(Milwaukee Journal, Wisconsin.)

But it wasn’t only the media who outdid themselves in the cities and surrounding locales of Richmond, Virginia; Toronto; Rochester, Michigan; Columbus and Cleveland, Ohio; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Ames, Iowa; Springfield, Illinois; and Independence, Missouri. It was also concertgoers, many of whom were deeply impressed after attending the evening’s program:

  • From a midwestern state legislator: “This is one of the most marvelous experiences in my life—to hear the choir.”

  • From an Iowa college president: “It was worth the three-and-a-half-hour drive to the performance—and the three and a half hours back.”

  • From a Michigan professor of music: “The evening was magic.”

  • From the mayor of a midwestern suburban city: “The concert of the century.”

  • From an Ohio minister: “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one of the United States’ greatest treasures.”

This praise—and much more—was frequently heard at invitation-only receptions held before or following the evening’s concert, events to which were invited state and city VIP guests involved in government, community, religion, education, and other fields. Also in attendance as honored guests were state and city LDS leaders: area presidencies, stake presidents, mission presidents, and other Church leaders and their spouses.

Typical of extraordinary efforts by local Church leaders and members for local activities were those of members in Richmond, Virginia, who organized activities attended by dozens of mayors, members of county boards of supervisors, city and county managers, city councilors, governor’s office personnel, superintendents of schools, media guests, music professionals, and civic and religious leaders. Prayers at a preconcert dinner and postconcert reception were given by religious leaders of other faiths from the greater Richmond area.

Remarks at the concert were by Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder, who said, “It is my great pleasure to welcome to Virginia the true voices of America.” Inasmuch as the entire “Heartland of America” choir tour was heralded to commemorate the five hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage, Governor Wilder said, “Columbus’s landing five hundred years ago helped ignite a new civilization in the New World. … That spark that Columbus lit has altered not only the New Lands, but all lands.”

Official statements and proclamations by state or city governmental leaders were the order of the day (23 July 1992 was declared as “The Salt Lake City Mormon Tabernacle Choir Day” in Columbus, Ohio; 30 July 1992 as “Mormon Tabernacle Choir Day” in Illinois by Governor Jim Edgar and also by the city of Springfield). And in Wisconsin, Governor Tommy G. Thompson recognized 1992 as the “Year of Celebration of the Wisconsin Mormon Sesquicentennial” in honor of over 150 years of contributions by Latter-day Saints to the state where fourteen thousand members now live in forty-five wards and branches.

As gratifying as were these events, there was another dimension that will forever mark the 1992 summer tour. That is the broadly based, enthusiastic welcome given by community leaders and townspeople to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (and thus to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) at the three former headquarters of the early-day restored Church—Kirtland, Ohio; Independence, Missouri; and Nauvoo, Illinois.

“To think that we were once driven out of all these towns—and then to be welcomed back with open arms to the places of our spiritual roots with cheering and hurrahs for more! That’s something!” said a choir member.

Indeed, at Cleveland, of which Kirtland is a suburb, more than three hundred civic and business leaders, including more than fifty mayors, attended planned activities; positive information about the Church appeared many times on fifty-six radio stations, in twenty-seven newspapers, and on nine television stations that serve northeastern Ohio.

Here occurred the spiritual highlight of the tour for most choir members: a visit to Church sites in Kirtland, among them the Kirtland Temple, now owned by the RLDS church. At the 27 March 1836 dedication of the Kirtland Temple, the hymn “The Spirit of God” was sung by a choir whose members were positioned in each of the four corners of the temple’s main floor. In their 1992 visit, Tabernacle Choir members in a sense reenacted that occasion, the choir dividing to the four corners of the room and then singing “The Spirit of God.”

“Never in my life,” said choir member Gary Halversen, “have the words to that hymn impacted me with such meaning and power. We realized that it was right there in that room where the ‘visions and blessings of old’ had returned. As we sang, we looked at the altar where the angels had come ‘to visit the earth.’ I truly wanted to ‘sing and … shout with the armies of heaven!’”

“I have never had anything touch me so deeply as when we sang ‘The Spirit of God’ and ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ in the Kirtland Temple,” said another choir member. “Tears just flooded down my face. I think half of us could hardly sing, we were so filled with the Spirit.”

Said choir member Janice Curtis, “I’m not the only one who knows that there were angels singing with us. I know that our spiritual forebears were very pleased that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was singing in the Kirtland Temple.”

Said a Kirtland resident, “From where we sat, it sounded like angels singing right from heaven.” Another Kirtland resident: “This has to rank as one of the greatest events to ever come to Kirtland.”

Karl Anderson, general chairman of the choir’s visit to Cleveland/Kirtland, poignantly reminded choir members that after the Church’s 1838 departure from Kirtland, the Prophet Joseph Smith said that Kirtland would again “see good and glorious days” (History of the Church, 4:204) and that the Lord revealed, “I, the Lord, will build up Kirtland” (D&C 124:83).

Warm and gracious expressions were voiced also in Nauvoo, Illinois, after the choir’s short twenty-minute, noonday, outdoor concert for 4,500 persons. Those feelings may be represented by the expression of people from Springfield, Illinois (where the Prophet Joseph Smith had spent a number of days defending himself against false charges from enemies). Officers of Springfield’s United States Concert Corporation published literature of the choir’s visit that said: “This will be, in all probability, the outstanding musical event in Springfield’s history, certainly in this 20th century. … The Mormon Tabernacle Choir—A Preview of Heaven.”

At Independence, Missouri, President Gordon B. Hinckley, First Counselor in the First Presidency, again attended a concert, having also attended the Toronto, Canada, concert and local activities there. Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints President Wallace B. Smith’s most cordial welcome at the opening of the evening’s concert and President Hinckley’s response regarding the “beauty of the Auditorium” were more than symbolic. Said Tabernacle Choir president Wendell Smoot, “Even though we had extraordinarily good crowds, nearly all to capacity on the entire tour, it was in Independence where we saw the most enthusiastic audience—extremely warm, very friendly.”

“What a time it was,” said a choir member. “Those were wonderful days in the old Church headquarters areas—linking arm in arm again, loving each other, feeling a healing with people caring for the Mormons and what we are and what we have become since we last left their communities. What rich days for members of the Church everywhere!”

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir in song at the magnificent Roy Thomson Hall (exterior, upper left) in Toronto, Canada. (© 1992, Roma Studios, Guy Della Fortuna.)

Several tour concerts were held in amphitheaters such as this at Rochester, Michigan. (Photo by Nils B. Johansson, Jr.)

Six thousand listeners enjoyed this Ames, Iowa, concert. (Photo by Kevin Nilsen.)

The choir was warmly welcomed at their concert at the RLDS Auditorium in Independence, Missouri. (Photo by Bruce Mathews.)

Jerold Ottley leads symphony and choir at Milwaukee concert. (Photo by Gerald Purser.)