Rock Star Does Sound Check with Choir and Orchestra
A rock star singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? How did that happen?
At afternoon sound checks on the day of tour concerts, the Choir extends special invitations to a few members of the community to practice with them. These guests stand right next to Choir members. And they sing.
Jess Harnell, acclaimed voice talent for such animated films as Animaniacs, Doc McStuffins, and Sofia the First and a former member of the band Rock Sugar, was on the list.
He walked into Walt Disney Concert Hall in the heart of Los Angeles on June 20 at 2:00 in the afternoon not knowing what to expect. He described it as being “thrown into the frying pan.”
“I looked up and so many people were smiling and waving at me,” Harnell recalled. Many in the Choir recognized him from Salt Lake’s Comic Con, now rechristened FanX. “What a beautiful family to be part of.”
He took a designated place on the stage, and immediately the Choir all around him started to sing.
Harnell didn’t want to just stand there and move his mouth; he wanted to sing. He recalled, “They started throwing sheet music at me that was in Spanish and then stuff that was in African, and I am like going, ‘Let me get this straight; I am sight reading music I have never seen before, picking a part, trying to follow along, and it is in a foreign language.’” But it worked out, and when it came to an end Harnell didn’t want to go.
“It’s like being swept away in this beautiful wave of sound, and I got to feel like I was a part of that, a very small component. It was great.”
Harnell spoke later of his admiration for the 150-year legacy of “tradition and quality,” calling it a “high bar that has never wavered.” When it comes to choirs, he said, “the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is the greatest choir in America.” High praise from a former rock star who shared the stage with such legendary bands as ACDC and Aerosmith.
Harnell jumped at the chance eight years ago to attend the Choir’s Sunday morning performance of Music and the Spoken Word. He has been a fan ever since, attending whenever he is in Salt Lake City. He even flew in specially to attend the Choir’s traditional Christmas concert.
“In terms of choirs,” Harnell explains, “I don’t think anybody could possibly do it better than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I cry because I find it so moving. I find it moving on an emotional level, and as a singer I find it moving on a technical level because their precision is unbelievable.” His favorite song is “God Be with You,” sung to the audience by the Choir and Orchestra members at the end of every performance.
Harnell, who has performed in thousands of venues at all kinds of great occasions, said of his singing with the Choir at Disney Hall, “I will never forget this. I have never had such a musical experience before, and I don’t think I will ever have it again.”
The evening concert was sold out to a very appreciative audience who gave a standing ovation at intermission and who stood multiple times at the conclusion of the program. The Choir last sang in the hall in 2005.