Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Mormon Tabernacle Choir's summer tour: Governor, senator serve as guest conductors

'300-plus best vocalists in all of America'
Published: Friday, June 24, 2011

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The governor of Virginia, Robert McDonnell, described the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as "300-plus best vocalists in all of America." From the response of the audience at the choir's concert June 20 at Norfolk's Scope Arena, he made a correct assessment.

Photo by Gerry Avant
Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell conducts Mormon Tabernacle Choir in encore of "This Land Is Your Land" during a concert Norfolk, Va., on June 20.

The audience clapped, cheered, whistled, waved and wiped tears. The music-loving crowd conveyed just about every emotion associated with words such as "inspiring," "uplifting," "positive," "enlightening" and "entertaining."

The governor was among the 7,500 or so audience members who attended the first concert on the choir's 2011 summer tour. He also joined the choir and Orchestra at Temple Square on the stage as he mounted the conductor's podium to lead them in "This Land Is Your Land," which was performed as an encore.

Photo by Gerry Avant
Choir member Alex Boyé performs "Rocka My Soul" during Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert in Norfolk, Va., on June 20.

"What a thrill," Gov. McDonnell told the Church News after the concert as he expressed his feelings of being on stage with the choir and orchestra. "It was a real thrill, a real honor, a real treat, a blessing, to be with these people who have God-given talents and who want to share their gifts with people."

On June 22, Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) directed the choir in the same encore number at the conclusion of a concert at Wolf Trap at Vienna, Va., near Washington, D.C.

Mack Wilberg, director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, paid a visit earlier in the day to Sen. Warner to give him some advice.

Photo by Gerry Avant
Audience responds to concert by Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Norfolk, Va., on Monday, June 20.

By the senator's own admission, he needed to hear what Brother Wilberg had to say and, more important, observe the music director in action. The advice and direction were specific: how to conduct the choir and Orchestra at Temple Square during that evening's concert at Wolf Trap in Vienna, Va.

Photo by Gerry Avant
Sen. Mark Warner, left, receives direction from Mack Wilberg on how to conduct the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Sen. Warner hinted that he is not the most musically inclined member of the Senate. "In third grade for our Christmas play I was one of the three wise men and, literally, the teacher told me to just mouth the words," he said of his singing ability.

He claimed he wasn't much better on instruments, saying that he was further stunted in his musical experience when he took up tenor saxophone and was in his middle school's marching band. The big event for his small town was the homecoming parade, during which the middle school's marching band got to play with the high school's band.

"I was so dreadful," Sen. Warner said. "I couldn't march and play and keep time so the band director would make me march in front of the whole band, hoping to shame me into doing it right. I would dread homecoming day."

He said that directing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square helped him overcome that "crushing blow" of his school days' musical experience. This year's tour includes performances in Philadelphia, Pa.; Chautauqua, N.Y.; and Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

The choir and orchestra have been impressive not only in their performances but also in their stamina. They left Salt Lake City on June 20 on three charter flights, the first at 4 a.m. and the other two shortly thereafter. From the airport in Norfolk, they went directly to Scope arena where they spent most of the afternoon in a sound check. After only a brief time at their hotel they traveled back to Scope arena and took their places on stage.

Todd Jacobs, a member of the orchestra, described what many of the singers and musicians experienced. "We were supported in our performance at Norfolk," he said. "We had been up all day traveling and at the sound check, and most of us had very little sleep the night before. We all felt we were probably going to collapse part way through the concert. But we got on the stage and on the downbeat we were just 'there.' We were definitely supported in our efforts and it came from above."