Archive for June, 2013

The back cover art for The Penitent is finally done!  Check it out at: http://www.unwillingchild.com/book2.html  Ben Savage does great work!

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We didn’t see much of Milwaukee.  We saw a lot of the inside of the theatre where we performed and the hotel where we ate and slept, but not much of anywhere else.

When we arrived in Milwaukee, the busses delivered us (the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square and our “entourage”) directly to the venue.  It was a magnificent old theatre: the grand old lady, gilded and decorated in the ornate style of a bygone era, has graced the city for a century and been the chosen venue for musicians of renown and presidents of the United States.  We rehearsed at the theatre, and then were instructed to walk directly to the hotel for dinner.  After dinner, we walked directly back to the theatre.  After the concert, we picked up our luggage from the busses, and walked directly back to the hotel, checked in, and went to our rooms.  We had been given a strict injunction, like that given to Bilbo and the dwarves: “Stay on the path!”  We were told to stay together in one large group, go directly between the theatre and the hotel, and only when directed to do so.  Once we were checked into our rooms, we were not to leave the hotel until our assigned times to board the busses for Madison, WI. 

As we traversed the well-worn path between our two authorized destinations, police officers lined the streets, reminding me once again of Mirkwood in “The Hobbit”, the police standing like the great trees, sentinels along the only path through a dark and foreboding forest.  Actually, the people in Milwaukee were universally friendly, but the police requested that, for our safety, we not venture outside.  The morning of our departure from Milwaukee, I saw a mounted officer sitting atop a magnificent brown quarter horse.  It was obvious from the reaction of the local residents that the officer and his horse were anything but a normal sight.  I asked the peace-keeper, as I petted the neck of his great horse, if it were customary for mounted police to be in this area.  He said, “We always try to maintain a strong presence, but we are here today to protect your group.” 

I want to emphasize that the people we encountered in Milwaukee were, without exception, very friendly and very helpful.  And while I appreciate the concern for our safety—I really do, by the way—I have to wonder: how bad does an area of the city have to be to require a police escort for 600 people? 

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Have you ever wondered what the Mormon Tabernacle Choir does while traveling on the Sabbath day while on tour?  We have the most incredible sacrament meetings, for one thing.  We also had a wonderful fireside on Sunday night, and while I cannot share the details, it was a real treat.  On other tours (i.e., not this one), we have visited Nauvoo or some other sacred site.  But at the end of the day, it is not your typical Sabbath at home; we are a small army that is travelling, so we stay in hotels, eat, and perhaps travel in buses.  In other words, we are employing other people to host, feed, and transport us, causing them to work on the Sabbath day, and it’s unavoidable.

Some meals are catered or provided by the hotel, feeding us en-masse.  At other times, that is simply not practical, so we are issued per-diem money and left to buy meals on our own.  Such was the case on Sunday.  Lunch was “per-diem”.  Our hotel, though magnificent, was not within walking distance of any non-hotel restaurants, so we had two choices: the expensive steakhouse or the small coffee shop (with sandwiches) in the hotel.  Most of us opted for the less-costly coffee shop.  My wife and I split a sandwich, a yogurt parfait, and a lemonade.  The coffee shop sold a popular brand of coffee and our lemonade came in a cup sporting the coffee logo.

As I exited the coffee shop, I spotted the member of the First Quorum of Seventy (one of the Church’s general authorities) and his wife who are accompanying us on this tour.  They were sitting at a table, enjoying the same meal as we.  I held up my cup to the Seventy and his wife and said with a big grin, “Join the Mormon Tabernacle Choir!  Get a drink from Starbucks on the Sabbath day!”

The Seventy’s wife smiled at the joke and said, “You’re such a rebel!”

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It is a long-standing tradition, when the Choir goes on tour, to have a guest conductor come to the podium and lead the Choir in an encore number.  Usually, this guest conductor has no musical experience.  The whole thing is done for fun and to add some local flavor to the performance.  Our guest conductors have been local politicians, celebrities, community leaders, or non-LDS religious leaders, and they are selected by a committee from the local community.  We’ve had some memorable experiences with our guest conductors.

Yesterday’s guest conductor, however, was truly special.  Navy Lt. Commander James Gennari is a Navy nurse.  In January, 2012, Lt. Commander Gennari and another brave medic risked their lives to remove a LIVE rocket-propelled grenade from the leg of a wounded Marine.  The RPG had impaled itself in the Marine’s leg, but had not gone off.  Lt. Commander Gennari was able to remove the grenade, save the life of the Marine and the Marine’s leg.  For his act of uncommon courage without regard to his own personal life or safety, Lt. Commander Gennari was awarded the Bronze Star.

LtCm Gennari pointed out that he was there to represent all the men and women, past and present, of our armed forces, and believe me, that would have been enough to bring tears to the eyes of this old B-52 pilot, but his personal courage was truly inspiring.  Lt. Commander Gennari is a hero.  I thank my God for men and women like him.  In extraordinary and horrific circumstances, he did not hesitate to lay his life on the line for another.

This morning, the Choir assembled for sacrament meeting in the huge ballroom of our hotel.  I was privileged to pass the bread and water, the sacred emblems of the selfless and atoning sacrifice of my Savior, Jesus Christ.  One of the men officiating at the improvised sacrament table was Collin Jeffries.  Regular readers of my blog will recall that Collin is a stagehand with the Tabernacle Choir.  Unable to serve a proselyting mission for the Church due to physical limitations caused by meningitis, Collin was honorably excused from missionary service.  However, he chose to serve a local mission as a service missionary, and he was assigned to serve as a stagehand for the Choir.  This assignment came in spite of the fact that Collin walks with a pronounced limp and has no use of his right hand.  His missionary service is now completed, but Collin continues to serve as a volunteer.

I watched in awe as Collin used his good hand to press the bread against the balled and immobile fist of his right hand, tearing the bread carefully and meticulously.  Then Collin blessed the broken bread.  Tears spilled from my eyes as I helped pass the bread and water to assembled members of the Choir and Orchestra.

Collin could never serve in war.  He doesn’t have the physical capacity.  One would think that he wouldn’t be able to serve as a stagehand, but that was where he was assigned to labor, where he continues to labor, and he doesn’t let his physical limitations slow him down.  He will never receive the accolades that Lt. Commander James Gennari has so deservedly received, but like James Gennari, Collin Jeffries is a hero, if a quiet and, ironically, unsung one.


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As we rode our bus through the urban areas surrounding Chicago, on our way to the concert venue at the Ravinia Festival, we had the privilege to observe many interesting store fronts.  “Beef and Pizza” (I’m not sure I want to know what that means…), a men’s fedora shop, “School of Italian”, a White Castle (I haven’t seen one of those in ages!) with a marquis declaring, “WIN A TRIP TO THE BET HIP HOP AWARDS”, a hookah shop, a Polish bookstore, “Ribs, Chicken, Gyros, Vienna Beef Sandwiches” (once again, I don’t think I want to know…), “Fifth Third Bank” (OK, that one was on the south side of Chicago, but the name struck me as funny), the tavern right next door to the day-care center, “NOW RENTING LARGE 1 BEDROOMS” (isn’t that an oxymoron)), “VENTAGE CLOTHING” (that’s how it was spelled), a bar right across the road from “Physician and Surgeon” (in case you get hit as you stagger across the street), and many others. 

But the best one of all?

The building is about the size of a small fast-food restaurant.  Nestled between gas stations boasting prices nearly a dollar higher than we are currently paying in Utah, the one-story yellow brick building sported windows all along the street, each festooned with white letters: “SURGICAL CENTER: Lap Bands, Vascular Surgery, Hip Replacements, etc.  WALK INS WELCOME”

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As I communicated in my last post, transporting, moving, and herding the 600 people of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square and our “entourage” while on tour is a daunting task.  Perhaps, not quite as daunting, but still no mean feat is FEEDING that many people in a timely and courteous (and palatable) manner.  Most of the time, the massive meals come off without a hitch.  And typically, the food is bounteous and delectable.  (The tale is told of one sister in the Choir who returned from tour, marched angrily into the general manager’s office, tossed one of her wardrobe dresses on his desk, and declared, “It doesn’t fit anymore, and it’s YOUR FAULT!”) 

Having traveled straight from the airport to the concert venue (a hockey arena) in Columbus, OH, we were greeted with the delicious and inviting aroma of barbequed pork.  (Well, what else would expect in the mid-west?)  Right there at the arena, a sumptuous and mouth-watering feast was prepared: pulled-pork sandwiches, salad, home-style macaroni shells and cheese, potato salad, cookies, and of course all the bottled water and soda we could drink.  Actually, I’m listing that in reverse.  It was the bins of ice-cooled drinks that greeted us as we entered the buffet area.  We found orange soda, lemon-lime soda, diet and regular caffeine-free cola.  Now there is no strict prohibition against good Latter Day Saints drinking caffeinated soda.  Some drink it, and some don’t.  (I’m in the “don’t” category.)  Still, it was gratifying to find that the caterer was sensitive to our Mormon sensibilities. 

However, the first iced bin that greeted the mob of thirsty Mormon troubadours was filled to the brim, untouched (except perhaps by our wonderful bus drivers).  When I arrived, one choir member had his cellphone out.  He was taking a picture of the contents. 

With a big grin on his face, he snapped a picture of the numerous cans of iced-tea and said, “I’ll bet that’s not a big seller.”

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As some of you may know, I am currently touring with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square.  When we go on tour, we require 3 airplanes, 11 buses, 2 luggage trucks, 4 semi-trucks, and 8 support vans.  Apparently, it’s a major undertaking to move 600 people and their luggage, sound equipment, risers, musical instruments, and organ.  (The 600 people include 300 choir members and 100 orchestra members.  The remainder are stage crew, support staff, and a limited number of spouses.  And yes, if your spouse comes along, you have to pay for him or her.  But I digress, as I often do.)  This tour, we are performing concerts in Columbus, OH, Indianapolis, IN, Chicago, IL, Milwaukee, WI, Madison, WI, and Minneapolis, MN. 

My wife got to come along on the last tour (two years ago).  She had wonderful experience, even if she did have to listen to the same concert night after night.  She described it as living in the temple for eight days.  I am very grateful that she was able to accompany me on this tour as well. 

Yesterday, we got up at 3:50 AM to board one of the chartered jets.  We flew to Columbus, OH for our first concert.  Needless to say, when we arrived, we were very tired, and possibly not looking our best. (I certainly wasn’t, but that’s not much of stretch.)  Now, the wonderful folks at the airport in Columbus arranged for the busses to meet the planes right on the tarmac so we could bypass the terminal.  Our luggage was transferred from the planes directly to the busses as we walked down the mobile stairs and boarded our assigned motor carriage. 

Our bus drivers are the best.  Most of them request the assignment to drive with the Choir every time we go on tour.  They are courteous and helpful and very friendly.  The driver on our assigned bus is no different. 

However, he left the radio on. 

As we wearily clambered aboard the bus, we were greeted with the melodious strains of AC-DC screeching out, “We’re on a highway to hell!” 

I hope that’s not an omen.

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