Choir's media impact
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The Tabernacle Choir's tour to eastern and central Europe and the Soviet Union concluded June 29, but the impact of that tour is still being felt. Through extensive media coverage, particularly radio and television, the sounds of the Tabernacle Choir still ring in the eight nations where the choir performed, and will for some time to come, according to those who worked on choir publicity.
Months before the 21-day tour began, representatives from the Church's Public Affairs Department and Bonneville Communications, the Church's broadcasting arm, started orchestrating widespread coverage of the tour.Heading up those efforts were Iain B. McKay, director of International Media for Bonneville Communications; Michael Otterson, a director with the Church Public Affairs Department; and Michael Obst, Public Affairs Director of the Europe Area.
They contacted media representatives in Germany, France, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Russia in the Soviet Union to secure coverage of the concerts. They figure the potential viewing and listening audiences of the choir's performances are 339 million.
"Besides broadcasting the actual choir concerts, most organizations also filmed an introductory documentary about the Church and choir that featured individual choir members and staff, local Church members and missionaries," said Brother McKay.
He said broadcasters frequently commented on the "radiance and cooperative spirit" of the choir members who, despite long bus rides, lack of sleep, missed or interrupted meals, and performing under hot television lights, "still turned in stunning performances." He said seasoned broadcasters were "groping for superlatives" in efforts to describe the choir.
Miklos Szinetar, vice president of Magyar (Hungarian) Television and stage director at the Hungarian State Opera, is representative of the enthusiasm with which broadcasters received the choir.
"It was an enormous success," he said of the concert in Budapest, which concluded after eight encores and six curtain calls. "Eight encores is absolutely not normal in Hungary. The public was so enthusiastic. This was the first meeting between the Hungarian public and the Tabernacle Choir. Never before has there been such an audience reaction to a choir. Perhaps it was because the size, high level of music performance and the special spirit that the choir radiates was a complete surprise for the Hungarian public.
"Originally Magyar was planning one program. After such a big success, they are now planning two programs, each 50-60 minutes in length, plus a documentary of the choir's visit, including interviews with choir members."
Brother Otterson conceded that from the beginning he had high expectations for wide media coverage of the choir's tour, but the coverage in Russia, he said, "was beyond my wildest expectations."
"In 15 years working in Church Public Affairs, I've never met such consistent determination to give us excellent coverage," he said. "The Russian television crews worked past midnight. They're thirsty for information about the Church. I've never dealt with crews that were as determined to be helpful. I expected to find the media still so stifled and bureaucratic that they would be difficult to work with, but the thing that surprised me was the incredible length Russian TV would go to in order to be cooperative.
"The publicity we received is positive. Further programs about the Church are planned. The choir's tour had perfect timing, arriving when nations are opening. To be able to get in on the ground floor like this is a tremendous opportunity."
Brother Obst said: "We are absolutely grateful for what has happened, for the choir's tour and the ensuing media exposure. We're also grateful for the relationships we've established with broadcasters in these nations. We've become friends. We're sincerely interested in the people and they've felt this. We look forward to the programming yet to come.
"We feel blessed. We can clearly see the Lord's hand in guiding us to the right contacts."