Requisit Respite

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Tabernacle Experience

Last November, a friend in church invited me to join a community chorus. She said, "We'll be singing in the Tabernacle in March."
I said, "Whaaa?"
"The women's chorus is called We Also Sing. There's also a men's chorus called Because We Sing."
No audition necessary. Just come and sing. They were hoping for 364 women. What an invitation. I took her up on it.
Ten rehearsals. That was all that was necessary. Ten rehearsals and an amazing choir director, Merrilee Webb, apparently well-known in and around the Salt Lake area and beyond.
My first evening at a ward building in Taylorsville was not what I expected. It was filled--packed-- with women of all walks of life: mothers, grandmothers, teenagers, widows, divorcees, from 18 to 95 years old.
The warm-ups were hysterical. Sing fifths up three octaves, stay on the top fifth for three counts, then glide back down three octaves by fifths. It was FUN!
The director was funny, like a stand-up comedienne, yet spiritual, and posed many profound ideas. She would explain the songs, why they written, what they meant. I left spiritually fed every time. And she was stern enough to request and expect our best, which we delivered.
I persuaded Jewely to join. She loves to sing as much as I do. I knew she would like this. It was something we could do together.

Jewely and I ready to leave for the performance.
We had to wear all black with a solid-colored scarf.

After surviving the winter's flu season and snow season, the time for the dress rehearsal was upon us.
On Wednesday, February 27, all day at work I was anxious. I couldn't think. Distracted. Jewely and I and our friend, Linda Shirley, headed for Salt Lake City and arrived at 7:15.
Ready or not.
We found our seats. We sang. We paused for technical adjustments. We sang again.
Because I couldn't stand the whole time, I sat in the front row with the other "sitters." I sat next to a blind woman who had a Braille machine to help her. I never was able to talk to her long enough to have her explain it to me. On the other side was Merrilee's sister, Michelle Walker, who had a solo part in the first song.

That's me, behind the organ, in the blue scarf.
I was smack-dab behind the organ and it fascinated me, along with the organist and his techy machines. He didn't use sheet music, but an ipad. He said he had been coveting one for ages, so decided to splurge. I prayed the battery wouldn't run down. There was a small monitor on top of the organ that pointed directly at Merrilee and he could watch her without turning his head, but by glancing up at her on the monitor.
A picture of organist, Eric McKirdy, during dress rehearsal.
Jewely ended up sitting at the very top on the left side.
A blurry Jewely at the very top on the left.
These pictures were taken with Nick's phone before the performance.

Merrilee told us, due to the acoustics in the hall, we would only be able to hear ourselves sing and possibly the people next to us and behind us. She was right. I mostly just heard myself and occasionally I heard Michelle next to me. Never from behind, though. I sang solos on all songs, it seemed, and I sang with gusto.
I was concerned because I have been having trouble with my voice for more than a year. I wondered if it was from anesthesia from my surgery last year, or some other unknown trouble. I determined to sing in the choir, even if I had to move my mouth with no sound coming out.
During the course of rehearsing, my voice came back. I was overjoyed. I felt like I had lost part of my identity when my voice didn't always show up to the task. Now I can sing again!
When I left the Tabernacle Wednesday night, I felt I could stop there and be perfectly happy. Little did I know how much more awesome it would sound on performance night!
Again, all day Friday I was farklempt. Distracted. Anxious. Nervous. The songs kept invading my mind and I sang in my head all day long. I left work early and got home to relax a little before we had to leave and not be rushed. Jewely got off early, too.
We got there in time to hear the whole men's chorus performance. Awesome! The last song they sang was a rendition of "Nearer, My God, To Thee" that sounded like a Celtic chant. I can't explain how wonderful it was.
In the program was written: "We are 120 men who come from cities from Spanish Fork to Syracuse. Some of us go to jobs we love, and others go to our jobs anyway. Some of us are still in school, and our families wonder what our jobs will be. We try to be good sons, dads, and grandpas. We can forget you're in the room if there's a game on TV, and sometimes we don't throw our dirty cothes where you think they should go. But we know you love us . . . because we sing!"
Next up . . . the women.
The women's program stated: "We are 300 women who come from cities from Spanish Fork to Syracuse. Many of us are wives and mothers. Some of us are divorced, widowed, or single. We are housewives, employers, employees, and students. Some of us are rich and struggling, and others are poor and struggling. We laugh, we cry, and we try to make a difference. Oh, and . . . we also sing!"
The pink spotlights reflected onto us and we were all pink.
This shot is of the alto sections.

Merrilee started from out in the audience singing a Hawaiin chant which we joined in on as she proceeded up the steps to her post at the podium. It was a warm-up we did at the beginning of every practice.
The first song, "This is One of those Moments," from "Yentl," was a fitting herald to my feelings of singing in that venue. There are moments that no man can take away, no wave can wash away, no wind can blow away . . . There are moments you wait for and dream of all your life . . . I felt like standing up and shouting "THIS is one of THOSE moments!"
Merrilee, years ago, had arranged a medley of three Primary songs for her Hawaiin primary students when she taught at BYU-Hawaii. "My Heavenly Father Loves Me," "My Light is But a Little One," and "Lift Up Your Voice and Sing."
Next came "Praise to the Lord," which I had sung in Catholic church growing up, but there are different words here. I loved the harmonies in this rendition.
My very favorite song we sang was "Psalm 23" aranged by Z. Randall Stroope. The flutists were superb. When we ended the song, the sound reverberated and ricocheted off the ceiling and walls. Stupendous! Tears filled my eyes. Michelle, sitting next to me, had to wipe the tears from her face. I hope the echo is audible on the CD recorded that night.
Another one of Stroope's pieces, "Revelation," was powerful. Scary. Conveyed the message. Locusts, scorpions, hail and fire. The percussionists had fun with the drums on that one. Even though I knew it was coming, the sound made me jump.
Orson F. Whitney's "Savior, Redeemer of My Soul" is one I've been singing in my head ever since. It's the same rendition from "17 Miracles." A flute accompanied this song as well.
I have loved "The Mom Song" ever since my sister Kathy shared the YouTube of Anita Renfroe's stand-up a few years ago. I was delighted we would sing it. It went so fast I could hardly get all the words out. But it was effective. Everyone loved it and applauded their arms off.
The next song we sang was not a favorite of mine. Very depressing. "My Love's in Germany," a Scottish Folk Song. I believe it was written during WWI. However, singing it in the Tabernacle made all the difference. That "you can hear a pin drop" mantra came to life as the reverb resounded and caught in my throat. I guess I like that song now.
Merrilee told the audience she chose her 10 favorite songs that the chorus has sung in the years past. There was nothing new, except for me and Jewely and whoever else was singing for the first time.
"The Pilgrim Song," an American folk hymn, next on the program, was also one of my favorites. I loved, loved, loved the solists. Brought a tear to my eye. Do you know how hard it is to sing when you cry?
As the applause died down and Merrilee prepped for the next song, I heard the Spirit speak to me; yell to me, "Look around! Take note! You don't ever want to forget this feeling or this experience!"
I heeded the prompting and looked at the women across the way, then out into the lights blurring the audience. I looked at Merrilee, so beautiful, looking back at all of us. I didn't realize it was time for the last song. I'm so glad the Spirit was audible through the haze of my emotions.
"Mo Ghile Mear," an Irish folk song, was last on the agenda. It was one of the two songs we had to memorize. I can see now why she picked it for last. I thought "The Mom Song" would garner a standing ovation in itself and we even took a bow after that song, but the one phrase from the soloist's words to this Celtic song said it best. "Now the time has come to leave . . ." I never really heard those words until that moment. Ah-ha, thought I, that's why we're singing this last. It also ended with a loud drum to match our loud shout. The echo rush was priceless!
I can't wait for the CD!
Afterward, Jewely met me with my coat. She confided she enjoyed it so much more that night than the dress rehearsal.
Yes, my dear, so did I. One hundred times more!

Thank you to all our friends and ward members who made the trek to SLC to attend the performance.