The Legendary Choir Performance at Disney Hall
When The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square took to the stage of Walt Disney Concert Hall on June 20, 2018, the second stop on its Classic Coast tour, it brought back treasured memories of a previous concert. In 2005 the Choir performed on that same stage and that concert was as legendary in Choir circles as it gets.
It began with the invitation from the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) to be one of the featured choruses for their national conference. It was the “superbowl” for choral musicians, one of the larger choral festivals in the world.
“Early on,” Bonita Cross, former Choir member who sang in all the rehearsals and concerts recalls, “we were warned by both Craig Jessop, then Choir director and Mack Wilberg, associate conductor, - who had been to plenty of these events - that we mustn't be disappointed if we didn't have a reception from the audience that we are used to.” They suggested to the Choir not to be disappointed if the audience was less than enthusiastic. They would be the last choir for these choral conductors to hear, after hearing choir after choir for three full days.
Not familiar with ACDA, Cross imagined they would be singing to very serious musicians.
Jessop and Wilberg worked the Choir long hours to prepare for the concert. They selected repertoire very carefully, all had to be memorized and included several hymns. “I recall Craig saying that the other choirs at the festival would be presenting more "academic" pieces and that the hymns would come as a welcome respite.”
In order for everyone in attendance to hear the large performing Choirs, they each presented three concerts. The first was at Walt Disney Hall. After the 50-minute concert, Choir members walked the 2-3 blocks to Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral and performed again. They returned to back to Disney Hall for the final performance.
Cross remembers the first concert as if it were yesterday. “I recall being nervous as Craig took the stage to conduct the first set. It was a wonderful surprise! He received a huge welcome from the audience. The first set went over VERY well.” But there was more to come.
“When the doors opened, and Mack Wilberg walked out to conduct the next set, it was as though the biggest superstar in the universe had emerged.” These choral directors who had worked with Wilberg’s music and led their choruses singing his arrangements jumped to their feet and applauded wildly. “It was touching to watch Craig stand there with his hand gesturing toward Mack and applauding,” Cross notes. “I recall the admiration in Craig's face.”
Mack took his reception as he usually takes such applause. Humbly, and then raising his hand to acknowledge the Choir and Orchestra. “He endured it for as long as he could,” says Cross, “and when Craig left the stage, Mack took over his set and the rest is imprinted—never to be forgotten—into the annals of the Choir’s history.”
One of the pieces the Choir sang was the well-known Wilberg setting of the American folk song “Cindy.” Jim Christian, a Choir Staff Member, told of having overheard a couple of teachers who saw the title on the program complain about having to hear that “tired old thing.” Afterward, they changed their tune. He heard, “So THAT's how it's supposed to sound!”
“These remarkable men led us in what has come to be a "Top-Ten" choir experience for most of us who were there that day,” says Cross. “As the final concert came to a conclusion - we sang the Battle Hymn and when Craig turned to invite the audience to sing the final verse - what a sound! We've never, before or since, had such a chorus.