Tour Diary #3 - Being On the Other Side Of the Stage at Walt Disney Concert Hall
Written By: Bonita Cross, former Mormon Tabernacle Choir Member
What a pleasure to return to The Music Center’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. As a former member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I had the great opportunity to sing here with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir when the Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square performed the closing concerts for the 2005 American Choral Directors Association’s National Convention. Now as the Choir returns, I have the opportunity to be on the other side of the stage – this time as an audience member.
I’ve been asked if it’s hard not to be “up there singing with them.” I have to say it isn’t what I expected. I recall many occasions when I was singing wondering how it would be if, for just a few minutes, I could be in the audience and experience what I had been feeling in the loft. I can now say as an audience member, I have it all! It’s a remarkable thing to know that these individuals—these 300+ singers and the 60 orchestra members come together with their separate personalities, challenges, heartaches, successes—everything that makes them distinct from each other, and with the drop of a baton come together with incredible discipline, cohesion; and “one-ness.” As a whole, choral people are very social and I know from first-hand experience that it takes some self-control to focus on the director and make such an event as tonight’s concert come together as remarkably as I witnessed at Disney Hall.
Singers in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir can stay until they turn 60 or have 20 years in the group - whichever comes first. As I retired in April of 2017 with just over 20 years I was fortunate to be able to transfer my lucky [for me!] part number “A5” to my beautiful and talented daughter, Josie, who had auditioned and qualified to join the Choir the summer before. We shared a couple of performances together, then I moved on. Her dad, a Choir volunteer staff member, and I are pleased and proud as can be to be in the audience witnessing her experience her first Choir tour. This concert isn’t an easy performance from where she stands. Standing being one of the key words. It’s exhausting - physically and mentally. Every note and word is memorized - huge concentration is required to bring it all together. Months of rehearsal and preparation have gone into what we witnessed here tonight - especially for those like Josie who are new to this particular repertoire.
As a choir member, I loved seeing how it all came together. My favorite section is the “Contemporary Sacred Song.” Particularly the Ginastera “Alleluia.” Not a very easy piece to sing - it’s all over the place musically, but such a celestial celebration! Very stirring.
I recall Mack Wilberg’s comments on the Albright “Agnus Dei” – “It’s a lovely piece mostly in the style of ‘cluster chords.’” Mack once said: “This piece is a minute and 20 seconds long. That’s as long as any chord cluster piece should be.” That said, there’s a tightness and richness in the harmonies - like unique individuals joining together - it blends beautifully.
It was fun to see “Ah, El Novio” as well as American folk song “Cindy.” They are stunning, toe- tapping pieces both visual as well as aural. “Betelehemu” - always a crowd pleaser - was great fun to watch and remember. It isn’t an easy thing to sway, clap and shout ...all at the same time.
There were a number of spine-tingling moments. “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” has long been a personal favorite and Mack Wilberg’s setting combined with that inspiring text made for a highlight of the evening. Another such moment happened during Ryan Murphy’s setting of the stirring folk hymn: “Pilgrim Song.” Simply beautiful.
For the final encore, guest conductor Dennis Prager, a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, did a wonderful job from the podium. He maintained a steady beat and had a great time leading the perennial favorite: “This Land Is Your Land.”
What a remarkable thing it is to be here - to travel with this amazing group of people, meeting new friends, renewing old friendships, being a good mother and weeping as I watch my daughter perform. Two concerts down. Five more to go. I look forward to witnessing every note!