Mormon Tabernacle Choir makes difficult look easy

Classical 101's Boyce Lancaster, center holding music, practices with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on June 12, 2013 at Nationwide Arena.(Photo: Beverley Ervine, WOSU)
Classical 101's Boyce Lancaster, center holding music, practices with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on June 12, 2013 at Nationwide Arena.(Photo: Beverley Ervine, WOSU)

As the old saying goes, it ain’t as easy as it looks.

I have seen many musicians perform in my lifetime and one thing is a constant — the best make the most difficult passages look easy.  Some of the “bands” I played in in high school spent a lot of time making the simple look difficult.  We could make three chords and a basic drum beat appear incredibly complex.

Yesterday afternoon, I was privileged to have the opportunity to spend nearly two hours rehearsing with the  Mormon Tabernacle Choir at Nationwide Arena, as they prepared for the opening performance of a Midwest tour.  As we approached the doors to the arena area, the sound of 350 voices rolled through the building.  It’s not unlike the first time I saw Niagara Falls.  I heard it long before I laid eyes on it.  Even then, I had no idea what I was about to experience.

I was taken to the front of the stage where I was handed a music-stuffed folder, then led around to the bass section where I was greeted warmly.  I’m sure they were just glad to have an extra voice!

I quickly realized that I was the only one in the group with music.  I would later learn of the handicap that presented when my section-mate told me the piece we were about to rehearse would require some swaying back and forth and rhythmic clapping.  OK so the routine went something like this, read the music, watch the conductor, sway back and forth, clap.  Got it.  Oh wait, the piece is in Spanish.  ¡Ay, caramba!

The choir’s program was a mix of Classical, American folk hymns and spirituals, Broadway, and Welsh music, spiced up by a Nigerian carol and a 15th-century Sephardic wedding song.  

Music Director Mack Wilberg and Associate Music Director Ryan Murphy run a tight ship.  It’s a relaxed group, but focused.  Much attention is paid to detail, diction, enunciation, entrances and pitch. As I said earlier, it’s not as easy as it looks.

A highlight of my experience was the unexpected appearance of a guest conductor, E. Gordon Gee.  He was warmly welcomed, entertained with some brief remarks, then got down to the business of conducting 76 Trombones from Meredith Willson’s The Music Man.  Dr. Gee made some comment about considering that his audition since he needed a job, and off he ran.

Nothing, however, can prepare you for the sound. The difference between listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from a distance and singing in it is like watching Niagara Falls from an observation platform as opposed to standing beneath it.  Instead of feeling the spray, you get drenched!

Any of you who sing in one of the many choirs in Central Ohio know what it takes to perform at a consistently high level.  It takes sacrifice, time, and a lot of practice.  We are blessed to have so many great vocal ensembles in our community and I am now blessed with a much better understanding of what it takes to make that happen.  Bravo to you all and much thanks to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for such a wonderful experience!

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