Orchestra Sits Front and Center
The Orchestra sits “front and center” when it is on stage with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Especially on tour. Just ask any member of the Orchestra, and they will agree that tour is a live performance in the best of ways.
The Orchestra is invested in the concert the same way as the Choir. “We get swept into the performance because we are an integral part,” says concertmaster Meredith Campbell, who has been with the Orchestra since its beginning in 1999.
In the great concert halls on the Classic Coast Tour—from Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles to the Orpheum in Vancouver—“you can hear how you fit and how everyone else fits,” Campbell explains. Some of the halls have been best suited for choral performance, some for orchestral. All of them have provided sound that was stunning. The Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa was remarkable for the sound of the Choir; it enveloped the audience and set the stage for the very well-received tour performances. Weill Hall at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center was ideal for the Orchestra. At every hall, audiences appreciatively gave standing ovations—some even before the concert’s conclusion.
Contrast these tour performances with when the Choir and Orchestra are performing at home in the Tabernacle. The acoustics are legend for the audience, but it is hard for the Orchestra to hear the Choir and vice versa.
Kerstin Tenney, violinist, sees the Orchestra as an equal partner with the Choir. “We need all the parts for a good performance, including the stage crew, the sound technicians, and a receptive audience.
The Orchestra adds “a lot of breadth to the music and a lot of excitement,” says Justin Moon, a percussionist who has also been with the Orchestra since its beginning.
“Not only do I get to play with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I get to do it with Mack Wilberg,” says Danny Soulier, timpanist. “He is an absolute genius.” For Soulier, the hardest piece to play on the timpani is “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” The music changes pitches 13 times in 29 notes. He has to hit and tune and be involved all the time listening to the Choir. “If I am early or late, everyone knows it.”
Like the Choir, all the Orchestra members are volunteers. When the Orchestra first began, many were skeptical that an all-volunteer ensemble could succeed given musicians were used to being paid. But the component of service to God brought many fine instrumentalists to the roster who like to turn around in their seats with the realization that “I am playing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.”
Orchestra members, like Choir members, have built strong friendships. Much of the comradery comes from tour. “In the early years of the Orchestra, one of our conductors was having a hard time getting us to stay quiet,” Moon recalls. “He kind of laughed and said, ‘This doesn’t happen in professional orchestras because they don’t all get along quite as well.’”
Do Orchestra members have a favorite on the program? They like them all—“Psalm 148” to “Cindy.” But “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is universally beloved. Mack Wilberg’s arrangement—full of emotion—showcases both the Choir and the Orchestra.
The Choir and Orchestra close every performance singing a cappella, “God Be with You Till We Meet Again.” “I love it because I get to blend my voice with the Choir, the whole group,” Kerstin Tenney explains. “Lately I have realized what I am saying, what I am singing.” We are “hoping we have touched someone,” Moon adds, “hoping they are feeling the Spirit of God coming from us through our music.”