Sunday, October 11, 2015

Singing with The Mormon Tabernacle Choir

As a relatively new member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, I have had the wonderful opportunity to sing in the past four General Conferences of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter–Day Saints. During one of those Conference addresses we were reminded of the importance of lifting up our voices in praise to God.

Having had watched General Conferences throughout my life, I was always drawn to the music that was sung by the choir. Now as a choir member, I have to say that the thing that thrills me as much as anything else, is lifting my voice and joining it with the voices of my brothers and sisters in the audience and throughout the world as we sing the intermediate hymns.

We are a choir of 300 voices, who sit behind the Apostles and the other General Authorities. From our vantage point we are looking into the faces of the approximately 20,000 faithful church members in any given session. And of course, the meeting is being broadcast throughout the world. After opening the session with a hymn and prayer, and after listening to some talks by our leaders, we have the opportunity to sing together. The member of the First Presidency states, “And now at the signal from the conductor, the choir and congregation will join in singing, . . .”

Then the organist begins to play an exciting introduction to the hymn on the organ and we are ready to unite our voices. I feel the music emanate through my whole body as each verse of the song is added. As the music fills the room, I can feel the vibrations from my head to toe as they are produced through the gigantic organ pipes that surround me. The Tabernacle choir organists bring the music to life.

As the membership sang together this week at General Conference, I was again filled with the Spirit. The words and music that we sang filled my soul and were so meaningful. During the first session we sang, “We Thank Thee O God for a Prophet.” I marveled that in that room alone, 20,000 fellow saints were bearing testimony that we indeed have a living latter-day prophet who leads and guides us. We were all reminded of the joy of the gospel and of the importance of accepting and not rejecting its precepts.

During our second session we stood and sang, “How Firm a Foundation.” Collectively as a choir and congregation we were reaffirming our love for the Savior, Jesus Christ. We testified that Christ will succor us in our trials and afflictions. We testified that we can lean on Him for repose. Finally in the last session it was announced that we would all sing the hymn, “Rejoice, the Lord is King.” We continued to praise and adore the Lord, Jesus Christ. “Lift up your heart. Lift up your voice. Rejoice again I say rejoice.”

To rejoice is to be glad, to take delight and to be joyful. As I sing the songs of Zion it brings me great joy. One of the aspects of singing with the Tabernacle Choir is that I am a musical missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Another oft sung hymn is “I Believe in Christ.” I am grateful for the opportunity to “raise my voice in praise and joy, in grand amens my tongue employ,” because I do believe in Jesus Christ. I know He lives and that He is our Savior and Redeemer.


Susan Curtis

Thursday, October 1, 2015

20 Years with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

I was blessed for 20 years to sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  This time of year, as we approach the October General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,  brings back wonderful memories and feelings.  I loved singing for 3 sessions of every General Conference. I loved the overwhelming Spirit of God that permeated the Tabernacle and later, the Conference Center.  Each building was filled to overflowing with faithful Saints who had come to hear the word of God taught by modern day Prophets of God.  And that is what we heard.  We were taught at the feet of Prophets and heard their sacred witness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.   They know the Savior!   I was amazed how often our music fit in perfectly with the talks for a particular session.  I could see the Lord’s hand in the proceedings of each Conference.  I felt very humbled to partake of those blessings.

Each member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is set apart as a musical missionary.  We get to bear our testimonies through song as we sing the weekly broadcasts of Music and the Spoken Word.  The Choir also travels the globe giving concerts that bring the Spirit of the Lord to thousands and thousands of people.  We sing so people can feel the Holy Ghost.  The Holy Ghost brings peace and happiness and bears witness of the Lord’s love for His children.

The greatest missionary tour that the Choir ever took was a three week tour to Eastern Europe and Russia in 1991.   We traveled to 8 countries:  Germany, France, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Russia.   Four of these countries had been behind the Iron Curtain until shortly before our visit.  But then Velvet Revolutions occurred and the Berlin Wall fell.  We were there to sing to people who had lived for 40 years under oppression and hardship and finally had a new-found freedom.  We could tell as we watched these people that they were hungry and we brought them food—not meat or fruit, but the bread of life—the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The audience response was incredible. We were given standing ovations at every concert and in many of those country’s audiences never give stand ovations.   Many people had tears in their eyes and enthusiastically applauded us and waved until every choir member had filed off stage at the end of our performances.  They didn’t want to leave the concert halls and the special Spirit or feelings they felt there.  We knew that for most of these people, it was the first time they had felt the Holy Ghost.  They didn’t know what they were feeling and they didn’t have a name for it, but they felt it just the same.

My husband accompanied me on this tour and he would always take the opportunity to speak to people when he attended our concerts.  He spoke German, thanks to serving a 2 year mission for our Church in Germany as a young man.  He befriended a couple in Dresden, Germany and gave them a tape of Choir music. They corresponded with us for a while.  This is from their first letter we received after we returned home.  “Your concert was for us a big experience.  The whole auditorium and the choir was like a family and we went home with a good feeling and were very happy.  With great enthusiasm we told our friends about this event.  Thank you for this marvelous evening.  Often we listen to the choir—music from the cassette, this nice gift from you.  Enclosed you will find the criticism from our newspaper.  It is full of praise, not only about the high quality of the performance, but also about the special human atmosphere.”  They were describing the Holy Ghost.

We spent a week in Moscow and St. Petersburg and the strongest impression I had as we traveled through those cities, was that the people never smiled.  I guess there wasn’t a lot to smile about in their lives.  I felt that they were spiritually dead.  I kept thinking to myself, “They need the light of the gospel.”  When we had a chance to talk to the people one on one, I could see that I was wrong.  They had wonderful strong spirits and were beautiful people, but they had been kept in a spiritual prison by their government.  The Choir gave firesides for church members along with our concerts, because many of them couldn’t afford tickets to our concerts.  Steve’s ticket to our St. Petersburg concert cost the equivalent of 18 cents in our money, but the local members still couldn’t afford that much.

We met a beautiful young woman, in her late 20s, after the fireside in St. Petersburg.  She was standing alone and so we approached her and luckily she spoke English.  She had heard about the fireside the night before at our concert and had decided to come and see what the Church was all about.  She said, “What is it about you people?  I feel so warm and good when I am around you.”  I gave her a hug and told her it was because we love her.  She replied, “ You are so entirely different from what I was taught about Americans in school.  What makes you so different?”  At this point I spotted a pair of sister missionaries standing close by.  I pulled them over and said,  “You have to meet her.  She’s golden.”  I was reminded of the Savior saying, “My sheep know my voice.”

Five hundred people traveled on this tour and every one of us had different experiences and opportunities to touch people’s lives.  In Alma 5:7 we read, “Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God.  Behold they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word…”  I am so grateful that I  had the opportunity to participate in these miraculous experiences and see Light come into people’s lives.

Jan