Sunday, June 1, 2008

Mormon Tabernacle Choir as a Missionary Organization

As I was researching my post on Singing and LDS Missionaries I came across a large body of quotes on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as a missionary organization. I decided to find out what has been said about the group by the General Authorities. I will deal with their history and mission in my first post, statements by the LDS general authorities in my second, in my third post I will discuss actual member missionary work one member is doing and my final post will be about their most recent album Called to Serve.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has 360 members and represent men and women from many different backgrounds and professions and range in age from 25 to 60.

Under FAQs it says: "As the Latter-day Saints moved west, Church President Brigham Young included musicians among members of the advance parties. Consequently, a small choir first sang for a conference of the Church in the Salt Lake Valley on August 22, 1847, just 29 days after the first group arrived. The origins of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir may be found in the desire and commitment of early converts to include appropriate music in both sacred and secular events. . . . Just west of the temple in Salt Lake City stands the historic Mormon Tabernacle, completed in 1867 after 4 years of construction. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir got its name from the structure, which has been home to the Choir since its earliest years. It is said that Brigham Young suggested the Tabernacle's unusual design after contemplating a hollowed-out eggshell cracked length- wise. Brigham Young wanted the Tabernacle roof to be self- supporting, without pillars or posts to obstruct audience views. (The balcony with its supporting pillars was added later.) Because of its extraordinary acoustics and historical significance, the Tabernacle has been designated both a national historic landmark and a national civil engineering landmark. The Tabernacle's design also accounts for its extraordinary acoustics—another reason the Grammy Award-winning Mormon Tabernacle Choir calls the Tabernacle home." The first leader of the Tabernacle Choir was John Parry.

On 6 April 1892 at the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple Richard Neitzel Holzapfel wrote: "The congregation of thousands followed the clarion sound of the Tabernacle Choir in unitedly singing one of the Church’s most soul-stirring hymns, “The Spirit of God,” first sung at the dedication of the Kirtland Temple fifty-six years earlier and sung at the dedication of every temple since that time. “When the great song, ‘The Spirit of God Like A Fire is Burning’ was sung by the united audience,” wrote Charles Savage, Utah photographer and choir member, “a feeling different thrilled through me from any one I ever experienced. The hosannah shout was something long to be remembered and one I never expect to hear again during my life.” (Charles Roscoe Savage Journal, 6 Apr. 1892, Manuscript Division, BYU Library).

The Salt Lake Tabernacle Choir
commenced broadcasting on Tuesday afternoons and have been singing live on radio and later television since 15 July 1929 in a program which became Music and the Spoken Word . For the first three years they were carried over the U.S. NBC network. But a short three years later, the choir did a double switch to Sunday mornings and to CBS. There have been three men that have given sermons on the program: Richard L. Evans, J. Spencer Kinard, and Lloyd D. Newell. They have sang at five different U.S. Presidential inaugurations.

Lisa Ann Jackson wrote: "
The broadcast began in the late 1920s with an idea that came to Earl J. Glade, founder and manager of what would become Salt Lake City radio station KSL. It struck him that an emerging technology—network radio signals—could be used for a musical broadcast featuring the Tabernacle Choir and organ. Brother Glade convinced the choir, and the first broadcast aired on 15 July 1929 to 30 stations.

In June 1930 Richard L. Evans was named the official announcer. The broadcast, which started on NBC, was picked up by the CBS Radio Network, which still carries it today. The voice of Brother Evans, who became Elder Evans with his calls to the Seventy and later the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, rang out for 41 years on Music and the Spoken Word. He became a household name, and some not of his faith claimed him as their spiritual leader.

I belong to the Richard L. Evans church,” one elderly gentleman told missionaries who knocked on his door. Robert D. Monson of Ogden, Utah, was one of those elders. “We could not convince him that the church we represented and the church of Richard L. Evans were one and the same,” Brother Monson wrote in a letter to the choir. “After repeated attempts to convince him, we presented him a copy of the Book of Mormon and parted friends.”

Elder Evans’s tenure came to an end with his unexpected passing on a fall night in 1971. His final broadcast had aired just hours before."

Richard L. Evans was instrumental in bringing Music and the Spoken Word to television in 1949 which has continued until today as the longest continuous broadcast of any show in America. They have performed in over 4,000 broadcasts. Music and the Spoken Word is broadcast on 2,000 radio, television, cable, and satellite stations on four continents

Each year the choir goes out on tour and considers that missionary work. Robb Cundick in 2005 shared his touring journal. The On the Road in 2007 Touring Journal is also available.

On Saturday, 2 October 1993 Gerry Avant in the Church News described how the Tabernacle Choir members are called as missionaries:

Choir members are called not only to sing but also to serve as special missionaries. After they pass strict audition requirements and have been accepted into the choir, they are sent letters calling them to serve in the choir. The letters are similar to the ones issued to full-time missionaries.

Each choir member is set apart as a special music missionary, with the calling to sing to their brothers and sisters everywhere in the world," said Wendell M. Smoot, president of the choir. "These choir members are given the understanding that their membership in the choir does not only involve singing at general conferences, concerts, firesides, broadcasts and other events where the choir participates, but it also includes their personal interfacing in a friendly and positive way with those who are not members of the Church.

"There are people who have a great curiosity about the choir and are willing to talk with one of its singers but who initially might not talk with a full-time missionary.

Choir members help soften hearts. Missionaries find it's much easier to talk with people after they've heard music by the Tabernacle Choir."

Pres. Smoot said that each choir member has cards with his or her name and address and a picture of the choir on the front and information about the Church and choir on the back. Choir members may give these cards and sometimes cassette recordings to the people they meet."The choir members have a particular liking to the souvenir tape we produced several years ago entitled 'Sixteen Favorite Songs and Hymns of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Story of the Restoration,' " Pres. Smoot said. "It is available through Church Distribution and is one of the most popular recordings that we have. Over the years, choir members have given many thousands of cassette recordings of this particular album to people throughout the world. The impact of this one recording upon missionary work probably will never be known-untold numbers have been prepared to receive the gospel message after being touched by the singing of the Tabernacle Choir on this one tape.

"As a result of this type of missionary activity, the choir receives many letters following a choir tour requesting more information about the Church and the choir itself. As a result of these letters, which choirmembers receive almost weekly, it is the responsibility of the choir members to respond and set up a correspondence with these individuals in answering their questions. This is the procedure we follow in most areas of the world. However, in those countries where the Church is not legally recognized, the choir members do not distribute any kind of information about the Church, nor do they engage people in conversations about the Church. This was the case on our concert tour to Israel."

On Saturday, July 7, 2007 Gerry Avant wrote again in the Church News about some missionary activities they perform:

Musicians on a mission.

That's the best description of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and members of the Orchestra at Temple Square. From June 21 through July 3, their mission field was in one Canadian province and four U.S. states. As is the case with many missionary endeavors, the musicians found their labors challenging and exhausting, but extremely rewarding.

Their tour got off to a rigorous start, calling for four concerts within 24 hours — a performance schedule few other groups would even consider. On three charter planes, they left Salt Lake City on June 21, arriving in Toronto, Ontario, that afternoon. On June 22, they performed matinee and evening concerts in Roy Thomson Hall. About 11 p.m., following the last concert in Toronto, they boarded 11 buses and traveled to Buffalo, N.Y., with some buses arriving between 1-2:30 a.m. . . .
Most missionaries are transferred from one area of their mission to another every few months. But these musical missionaries transferred nearly every day....Nearly every missionary returns home with at least one "awesome" experience to share with family and friends. For many on the choir's tour, Ravinia provided some of the highlights. First, the audience broke attendance records for a classical music concert. The covered amphitheater was filled, and several thousand watched the concert from the lawn. Some 10,000 people attended that concert.

Another highlight came at the end of the concert. For an encore number, Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago's Catholic Diocese, stepped on the conductor's podium and led the choir and orchestra in a version of "This Land Is Your Land" modified to include Chicago-area landmarks. . . .

The choir's first tour, he said, was in 1893, when it traveled to Chicago. "And now, in the year 2007, the choir is continuing to fulfill its divine destiny in reaching out, making friends and bringing the Spirit of the Lord into these concert halls."

Mac Christensen, president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, said, "This tour has touched hearts of people, members and non-members. It has touched people at hotels and along our route as well as at concerts. Wherever the choir has been, we've had missionary experiences. The Spirit was so strong. People have had tears in their eyes. There has been no doubt Heavenly Father was in charge. The tour of 2007 will go down as one of the greatest missionary tools."

The Mormon Tabernacle is a major source of missionary referrals and produces thousands of interested investigators each year for full-time missionaries to teach. Many member also engage in member missionary work in the Salt Lake Valley. In addition that last album released by them had a missionary theme. For over a decade they have been responsible for the conversion of thousands of new converts.

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