"9/11 | Coming Together" 20th Anniversary Special

The Tabernacle Choir Blog

Day 4 - Ravina

Kristin Gerdy
Alto - Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Chicago Is Our Kind of Town

Today the Choir and Orchestra said goodbye to Indianapolis and headed west to Chicago. The Choir first visited Chicago during the World's Fair in 1893—its first trip outside Utah—and has returned seven times, most recently in 2007.

We boarded our 11 buses at 9:30 this morning for our four-hour drive to the Windy City. Before embarking everyone needed breakfast—and we all seemed to have the same idea: grab a muffin and juice from the hotel coffee shop. One bewildered employee remarked that she had never sold so many smoothies but not a single latte. We used the drive to catch up on reading, sleeping, movies, and chatting, and I've been told one bus had an impromptu sing-along.

Our destination was Ravinia Park in Highland Park, Illinois, 18 miles north of Chicago. The Ravinia summer music festival is one of the premier festivals in the United States, and this marks the Choir's second appearance.

Because of an accident on the expressway, my bus was forced to detour and go up Lakeshore Drive. This was particularly meaningful to me because since my father grew up in Chicago and I still have many extended family members in the area, the drive took me past some of my favorite places, including the Museum of Science and Industry.

We arrived at Ravinia and had our rehearsal and sound check. While it may seem strange to rehearse for a concert when we had just performed last night, the perfection that Dr. Wilberg expects requires constant fine-tuning. Today's rehearsal was emotional for me for two reasons: first, because it hit me how lucky I am to sing in the Choir and second, because of the guests who sang with us.

During our drive this morning we watched a video segment of former Choir director Craig Jessop talking about Dr. Wilberg. He commented that Mack is a musical genius, the type that comes around only once or twice in a century. As we rehearsed, and particularly as Mack worked with us to perfect the demanding a cappella "Nunc dimittis," I was overcome with emotion as I realized again the privilege of singing under his direction.

Today's rehearsal continued our tradition of having guests from the area sing with us. Dan Ponce, a reporter for Chicago's WGN Television and founder of the renowned a cappella group Straight No Chaser, joined the Choir men, while the women were honored to welcome Detroit's Jan Bishop.

Jan watched the Choir on TV while she was growing up but had never seen a live performance. A convert to the LDS Church, Jan was taught the gospel by Larry and Betty Paulson, now of Chicago, parents of one of her music students. Later, when Larry needed a kidney transplant, Jan gave him one of hers. It seemed appropriate that she do what she could to help save his physical life since he had made such a difference in her spiritual life.

The concert tonight was wonderful. The crowd of about 8,000 filled the pavilion seats and spilled out onto the vast lawn area. In mingling with the audience before the concert I met fans young and old, those who were seeing the Choir for the first time, and those who were returning, but universally they were excited for what awaited them—and they wouldn't be disappointed!

The end of the concert was particularly poignant. Instead of honoring a single individual as guest conductor, the Chicago committee decided it wanted to honor a class of people: our servicemen and servicewomen worldwide. To represent that group and lead us in our encore was James Gennari. Gennari, a trauma care nurse in the Navy, was awarded a Bronze Star for gallant action and selfless disregard to his own safety. In January 2012, Gennari was working in a field hospital in Afghanistan when a Marine was brought in with a 14-inch-long live grenade impaled in his leg. "I took his hand," said Gennari," and said, 'I promise you, I won't leave you until that thing is out of your leg.' " And he didn't. As he stood on the podium enthusiastically leading us in "This Land Is Your Land," I thought back to the comment he made when we rehearsed earlier in the afternoon: "We serve because you need us to. None of us do it alone, and the 'big guy' was there too."

While we as Choir and Orchestra members certainly don't compare to our military heroes, we too serve because our Heavenly Father and His children need us to. We most certainly don't do it alone, and He is always with us.

I'll sum up the day with Dr. Wilberg's closing words as we finished our rehearsal and prepared for tonight's concert: "Savor this place. Savor the moment." I hope we all did.