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Archive for July, 2015

“We have a note from the sound booth,” Brother Wilberg said. “There is a baritone whose voice is a little too strong. It‘s coming from that microphone right in the center of the bass section, and it’s the one pointed straight down. Look up. If the microphone is right over you, it could be you.” He paused, then uttered a very familiar—at least to the Choir—directive, “Assume it’s you.”

We were rehearsing for the Pioneer Day concerts. I looked up. I was right under the indicated microphone.

Now please understand: I work very hard at blending in with the other voices in the baritone section and in the Choir. I don’t want my voice to stand out. I was pretty certain that I was not the person whom the sound technicians were noticing. HOWEVER, as Brother Wilberg frequently says, “Assume it’s you.” So I did. I assumed it was me and acted accordingly. I listened more carefully to make sure my voice did not unravel the fabric of sound we were all working so hard to weave.

It doesn’t matter if my voice were the clearest, most perfect instrument of vocal music ever created. When I’m with the Choir, I’m not there to sing a solo; I’m there to participate in the creation of harmony, to blend my offering with others, to create true and miraculous beauty.

But what if I’m the one singing the words and notes correctly, and the nearby brethren of the Choir are not? As inconceivable as that may be, I am sometimes right and they are sometimes wrong. (I know. I know. You can stop laughing now. Really, you can. Breathe. That’s it. You’ll burst a blood vessel. Good. That’s better.) When I know I’m in the right, I can gently remind my brethren. I can point out the mistake by opening the sheet music and pointing to the erroneously sung note. Usually, if I can show the exact place in the music, the others will make the adjustment. However, often there are handwritten changes in the music that represent the interpretation of the previous steward of the sheet music or the previous conductor. Sometimes, such changes are no longer applicable. They may be erased or crossed out. When that happens, there can be differences of opinion.

For example, today, one chorus we sang had the word “all” crossed out and replaced by a handwritten “the”. Most people in the section had this change written in. However, in my music, the change hand been erased. (In other words, at one point we did sing “the”, but now we were supposed to sing the original text.) So there was a brief discussion as to which word we should sing. We didn’t have time to refer the question to Brother Wilberg, so we decided to sing the text as written. As we listened to the rest of the Choir, it became obvious that most (but not all) of the Choir was singing the original text. So, as it turned out, I was correct and my position on the subject was adopted by the entire section.

However, if it had turned out the other way (i.e., if the section had decided to sing “the” instead of “all”) I would not have improved our performance by loudly (or even softly) singing the correct word. If I had done that, my voice would have stuck out. AFTER the performance, I could have pointed out the problem to the section leader, and HE could have gone to Brother Wilberg for clarification. That would have been the correct way to handle the situation.

(NOTE: The chorus in question was composed by George Frederick Handel. So, one could say that would have been the correct way to Handel the situation, but that would just be too punny, so let’s not go there.)

When I was in junior high school in Suitland, Maryland, I was a member of the school choir (because we had moved to a new state and city, and the new school didn’t have an orchestra and my cello just wouldn’t fit in with the school marching band). Our choir teacher that year decided that we would sing a song entitled “That’s the Time I Feel Like Making Love to You.” You read that correctly (and hopefully, more than once): she thought this song was appropriate for 7th, 8th, and 9th graders to sing. Actually, I’m having a hard time believing this would be appropriate for any choir composed of children to sing. Ever. (Or adults, for that matter, but I digress.) But that song was on our concert program. Not only that, we went around to elementary schools to sing this song.

When I went to the teacher privately and told her (very politely, in my opinion) that I could not sing that song, my teacher (who was normally a very nice lady) told me that I would sing it or I would get an “F” in the class. (NOTE: Most people know that performance music classes in junior high school are typically an “easy A,” so long as you show up, participate, and have a good attitude. Apparently, my teacher considered my position to be unacceptable.) I told her that I would not sing those lyrics. She told me that I would just have to live with the consequences.

When the choir sang that particular song, I simply closed my mouth and did not sing. I did NOT leave the risers or make a scene or shout a protest or carry a sign saying, “This song is sinful!” I simply quietly obeyed my conscience. The first couple of times the choir sang that song, my teacher gave me the “evil eye.” But after the first couple of performances, she simply ignored my abstention.

And I still got an “A” in the class.

As mortal and imperfect sons and daughters of God, we sometimes come into conflict with those around us, especially over matters of conscience. When such contentions arise, there is very little we can do to change the behavior or opinions of others. We can lead by example. We can declare truths. We can strive to live according to those truths. We can invite others to listen to and accept those truths. But we can’t change another person’s heart. Truly changing a heart can only be accomplished by two people working together: the person to whom the heart belongs and the Holy Ghost. I can’t change your heart and you can’t change mine. And attempting to do so, attempting to force you to say or act as if you agree with me would be as evil you trying to coerce me to act as if I agree with you.

On the other hand, we should NEVER compromise our principles. We should never call evil good or good evil. We should never try make the two equivalent, because they are not and can never be equivalent.

But we can still be Christ-like to those who disagree with us.

Recently, I saw a billboard where a cartoonish face with a white beard and a big smile was depicted in front of a rainbow. The caption said, “God loves gays.” In response, I declare that He DOES love those who practice a homosexual lifestyle. God loves all His children. That is an immutable truth. He also says, “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance.” (D&C 1:31) This also is an immutable truth. So God does indeed love gays. He also loves me in spite of my many sins. He also loves abortionists, but that does not mean that he tolerates the murder of innocent children.

The day is coming—indeed it is already here—when those who refuse to call evil good, who refuse to violate their consciences, who refuse to participate in that which God has called an abomination will be persecuted, fined, punished, and imprisoned by those who demand that everyone agree with them. This has happened over and over again throughout human history. This tactic is not new. And in every age of the world, there have been saints who refuse to bow, who refuse to equate the philosophies of men with the word of God.

We must stand fast, but we must do so without resorting to the enemy’s tactics. We must love the sinner while refusing to tolerate the sin, but we must do so as Jesus did. He said, “Nevertheless, thou art not excusable in thy transgressions; nevertheless, go thy way and sin no more.” (D&C 24:2) Always remember that repentance is possible, even for the vilest of sinners—even for you and me.

Repentance is not a word of condemnation. Crying, “Repentance!” is not damning; it is redeeming. It is a cry of hope, of love, of mercy. It is a way of saying, “There is a way back! There is hope! Don’t give up! Don’t surrender to sin. Flee from it. Flee unto Him who has paid for our sins—yours and mine. He will heal you. He will make you whole.”

I’ve got my sins, and you have yours, whatever they are. And while I will do what I can to gently help you along your path of repentance, I will continue along my own path. I cannot change you. I’m not trying to change you.

Because, you see, the only person I can try to fix is myself. Whenever there’s a conflict between you and me, rather than trying to force you to change, I’m going to “Assume it’s me.”

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In my last post, I talked about the pain I’ve been dealing with for the past eight months or so.  I also said that I was more than willing to endure the pain to experience the blessing of serving in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  If that is the sacrifice God asks of me, I will gladly offer it.

Since coming home from tour, things have not slowed down.  We had rehearsal on Thursday night.  On Friday morning, we sang at the funeral of President Boyd K. Packer.  Today, of course, we had the broadcast and an extra rehearsal afterward.  This week, we have the Pioneer Day concerts.  (Monday and Wednesday are the only days I will not be at Choir this week.)

When I awoke this morning at 5 AM to get ready meet my Choir carpool at 6 AM, I was greeted by the familiar pain in my knees and ankle.  When we arrived at Temple Square, my knees were still pretty stiff.  I remember pain when I was changing into the wardrobe for the day (black suit and gold tie).  Then I began the long walk to the Conference Center that leads through tunnels and the steep ramps in the parking garage.  Once in the Conference Center, I remember pain as I climbed the stairs into the Choir loft to Row 5.  We rehearsed until about 8:35, at which time we started the run-through.

However, it was just before the run-through that I realized I was not experiencing ANY pain.  No pain at all.  And I was free from pain throughout the run-through.  After the run-through, we had a short break (about 15 minutes or so) before we had to be back in our seats for the broadcast.  I STOOD for the entire break (i.e., I didn’t look for a place to sit).  I was pain-free for the entire broadcast.  After the broadcast, I walked back to the wardrobe room.  I walked quickly, almost skipping all the way.

As I write this, I am still pain-free.

I can’t honestly remember the last time I went through an entire broadcast (or a full day) without significant (read, “excruciating”) pain in my feet or legs.  I know it’s been YEARS.

I don’t know if this miracle is temporary or if it will continue, but I am grateful, even if it is only for today.  I don’t know if this blessing is a “reward” for enduring, but even if the pain returns tomorrow (or Tuesday night at our next rehearsal), I’ll still be grateful.

Today, I was able to sing my heart out for the Lord, free from physical pain.

This morning, we sang Mendelssohn’s “Happy and Blessed Are They Who Have Endured”.  This took on special meaning for me today.

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We’re home from tour (actually on I-15, driving home).  And I am VERY happy to be back.

In my daily vignettes about tour on this blog, I have focused on the wonderful, the miraculous, and the many, many positive aspects of tour.  I have been very, very blessed to be a part of this tour.  And I am very, very grateful.

Did I mention I was very grateful?  Well, it’s true.

However, there is more to the story.  And now that tour is over, I would like to share it with you.  Please stick around and read the whole post.  Well, here goes…

I injured my left knee back in November, right in the middle of rehearsals for the Choir Christmas concerts.  The roundtrip walk from the Church Office Building parking lot to the Tabernacle to pick up our music (and possibly dress in wardrobe) and to the Choir loft in the Conference Center is about 1.25 miles.  That’s a tough walk when your knee is screaming at you with every step.  But there simply was no time to slow down.  So I just kept going.

While favoring my left knee, I injured my right ankle.  Then I developed a plantar fasciitis in my right foot.  Walking was painful and standing (such as during a broadcast or concert) was agony.  I finally went to a podiatrist, got a cortisone shot in my foot, and orthopedic inserts for my shoes.  I got another cortisone shot in my knee and had some fluid drained from it.  While all this helped… somewhat, the healing has been—shall we say—slow.

Before leaving on tour, my doctor gave me medications to manage the pain while I heal.  I have four different pills that I take.  I’m following my doctor’s advice and don’t exceed the prescribed dosage.  However, standing during a concert is really… difficult.  Add to that a mile-long hike to and from a venue (such as we did at Carnegie Hall), and the difficulty multiplies.

When we sang at Yankee Stadium, we had to stand for nearly three hours straight in order to sing for five minutes.  Let’s just say that by the time I got to my seat (at the end of the fourth inning, no less), I was in a LOT of pain.  In addition, we have had some LONG bus rides.  Most of the time, my knees are crammed up against the seat in front of me.  This has been difficult as well.

If I take enough medication to keep the pain in-check (notice that I said, “in-check,” and not “eliminated”), I get nauseated—not a good thing to happen during a concert.  So, I try to time the medication so I don’t get sick until AFTER I get back to the hotel or at least when I’m on the bus-ride back to the hotel.  (Standing—because there isn’t enough room to kneel—in a tiny bus “bathroom” while puking and trying to make sure all of the vomit goes into the tiny toilet is just loads of fun.)

When we got to the hotel in Boston Sunday night, we realized we had left my CPAP machine in the hotel in New York City.  The NYC hotel is very graciously shipping it back to Utah for me—free of charge—but in the meantime, I am unable to sleep for more than a minute at a time without the machine.  Needless to say, I’m exhausted.  It’s been two sleepless nights so far, and it will probably be about a week before the machine arrives.

Then to top it all off, yesterday, as I was walking into the venue in Boston, I tripped on a brick in the pavement and fell, landing head-first on the sidewalk.  That was bad enough, but I managed to do my face-plant right in front of President Jarrett (President of the Choir) and Dr. Price (the Choir’s physician).  As I struggled to my feet, rubbing my head and wiping away the blood on my hand (I don’t even remember striking my hand on the pavement), saying, “I’m OK,” my only thought (other than “Ouch!”) was, “Please don’t tell me I can’t sing in the concert tonight!”  I didn’t voice that thought, but it was foremost in my mind.

Seriously—I was more worried that I might not be allowed to sing than I was about a possible concussion.

As it turns out, the result of the impact to my thick skull seems to be limited to a lump on my eye-socket.  So, it’s not a concussion—it’s not serious.  I’m more in danger of getting a black eye than any lasting cranial damage.  The bleeding on my hand was just a minor scrape.  I’m going to be all right.  My dignity—or what remained of it after 55 years of—well, being me—is dead.

And while I was out on tour, my doctor’s office called and confirmed that the little mole on my back is cancerous.  I get it removed tomorrow.  Yay!  And hopefully, that’ll be the end of that, although we’ll keep a watch on it.

But, I’m not alone in dealing with problems during tour.  Many of us have problems with our feet and legs.  We’re not all young whipper-snappers, after all.  I know of one woman whose feet swell so badly that she hasn’t done any sightseeing at all, because she’s saving her strength for the concerts.  Another woman was shoved off a curb (most likely on accident) and badly sprained her ankle.  Another woman in the Choir came up to me last night after our final concert and gave me a hug.  She said, “I heard about your fall.”  (Apparently, EVERYBODY has heard about my Three Stooges impression.)  “I have troubles with that too,” she said.  “I fall a lot.”  Other people are dealing with problems at home.  One woman in the Choir had to fly out late to join us in New York City, because her husband just had major surgery.  Others are agonizing over wayward children.  (I can sympathize with that.)  Others are self-employed and are giving up two weeks of income.  Others must continue to work at their jobs remotely, using virtually every spare minute.  (I can sympathize with that one too.)  Others are sacrificing family vacations to be on tour.  Others are quietly dealing with heartaches which they choose not to share.  The simple truth is that all of us are dealing with something.

So, why am I telling you this?

Because it’s all been worth it.

I have had so many wonderful, miraculous experiences on this tour.  I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  I haven’t asked for Heavenly Father to remove the pain.  All I have asked for is the strength to endure, because the blessings I have received are beyond priceless.  They are worth every fleeting moment of exhaustion and pain.  Because the pain is fleeting.  The exhaustion is temporary.  But the blessings are glorious and eternal.

And that which is eternal is worth any temporary sacrifice.  Raising children will bring you more joy and more sadness than anything else you could possibly do in this life.  But it’s worth it.  Being a member of this Church will bring upon you persecution from others, but the eternal blessings are worth it.  We just have to endure to the end.  That means enduring the temporary to be granted the eternal through the amazing grace of Jesus Christ.

Now as I come to the end of this glorious adventure that has been the 2015 tour of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square, I’m not going to dwell on the pain that I’ve had to endure.  No, I will remember the joy of seeing audiences leap to their feet with tears in their eyes, of feeling the Spirit poured out upon us like a musical Pentecost, of having complete strangers come up to me and thank me with tears in their eyes, of spending two wonderful weeks with my lovely, sweet, supportive, eternal companion.

And I have only one regret at the end of this tour: I only get to go on two more! 

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We definitely did NOT have enough time in Boston!  Cindy and I took a bus tour around the city this morning.  We saw “Cheers”, the Boston Commons, the old churches, the “Make Room for Ducklings” statues, and the U.S.S. Constitution!  “Old Ironsides” was the highlight of the Boston sightseeing tour for me.  But the ship itself was closed!  We couldn’t go aboard.  However, we got to see it up close in dry dock where the Navy is refurbishing it.

Then the Choir and Orchestra had to hurry over to the Wang Theatre for our rehearsal and sound check.  During the rehearsal, Brother Wilberg said, “There will be a lot of Boston blue-bloods in the audience and they are skeptical.”

So we had to rise to the challenge.

If the cheers and hooting and standing ovations were any indication, I think we succeeded.  I know that the Spirit flowed unrestrained at many moments during the concert, particularly during “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”.  I know that I was weeping freely.

This last concert was best of all.  Thank you, Boston!

Tomorrow, we fly home.  I’ll have one last post concerning this tour.  I don’t think you will want to miss it.  Stay tuned…

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After nine nights on Times Square, we finally headed to Boston.  But first, we had another wonderful sacrament meeting.  After sacrament meeting, I took a small walk on Times Square—most likely the last I will ever take.  I made it a point to go up to three NYPD officers and thank them for watching out for us.

After having spent so much time in New York, I no longer wonder how it is that New Yorkers have such a hard time understanding us in the “fly-over states”.  We know what it’s like to have a garden, a back yard, to be able to just take a walk down our home street without running smack-dab into thousands of people.  We know what’s it’s like to own and drive a car, to be able to park on the side of the street, to be able to say hello to perfect strangers without fear of reprisal or being seen as a “mark”, to see the stars at night, to see grass and trees everywhere, to not have to plant AstroTurf on the rooftop of a skyscraper just to get a little greenery, to buy a soda or a milkshake or an apple without being reminded just how many calories are in it.  Hey, you go into a McDonalds in NYC, and NOTHING costs only a dollar.  How could anybody possibly live on minimum wage in a town like that?

Still, even if we don’t have a ton in common, we are all still children of God.  And there are some really great people in New York.  There are really great people everywhere.

And when we got to Boston, the hotel fed us steak and whole lobsters!

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How do you top Carnegie Hall?  How about spending Independence Day at WEST POINT??!!!  That’s right!  We sang in a concert at the United States Military Academy at West Point.  We performed with the West Point Army Band.

Today’s event was a closely guarded secret.  Even the Choir and Orchestra didn’t know where we were going until we got on the busses this morning.  The reason for the cloak-and-dagger confidentiality was that the outdoor venue known as Trophy Point can’t accommodate a very large audience, even though the event was open to the public.  The Army didn’t want to let the public know that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would be performing as it might have drawn a massive crowd.

As it was, our performance was a wonderful surprise treat for the audience and the Army cadets.  And it was an unexpected treat for us as well.  We were privileged to hear some wonderful performances from military musicians.

And the fireworks were spectacular!

I especially enjoyed touring the memorials of that historic location.  At Trophy Point, we saw many cannons that were captured in various wars, from the Revolutionary War to the Spanish-American war.  Confederate cannons from the Civil War were buried barrel-down, symbolically representing that they would never again be fired against the United States.

We heard the story of Benedict Arnold’s treachery when he plotted to deliver West Point to the British.  Although nothing remains of the original fortress, we got to see and handle part of the massive chain that was stretched across the Hudson River to deny passage to the English Navy.

Today, West Point United States Military Academy represents the polar opposite of Benedict Arnold’s treason: honor and service.  What a wonderful way to spend the 4th!

I love this country.  More importantly, I love what she represents: freedom, honor, and the God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  I pray God that we will return and embrace and defend the principles of our Heaven-inspired Constitution.

America is unique among the nations of the world.  Our might comes not from our Army, but from our God.  Our freedom and rights come not from our government or our president, our congress, or our courts.  They come from God.

We must return to Him if we wish to truly be free.

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Take me out to the ballgame!

We sang a medley of George M. Cohan songs and then “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the New York Yankees-Tampa Bay Rays game tonight.  To avoid traffic, we had to arrive almost two hours early.  By the time we sang, changed clothes, and I bought a couple of hot dogs and cheese fries, I had been standing for nearly three hours (and had missed almost all of the first four innings of the game).  I was exhausted and in pain.  (I injured my knee back in November, and the healing has been slow.)  However, we had a great time.  We had to leave after the tenth inning, because we have to be up at 5 or so tomorrow morning.

However, due to the magic of smartphones and mlb.com, I was able to keep everyone updated on our bus.  Just before we reached our hotel, the game ended with the Yankees winning 7-5 in the twelfth inning.  That was very cool.

My wife and all the other spouses and guests who attended the game with us received free NY Yankees ball caps.  And that was cool too.  However, on the back of each cap is very clearly emblazoned one word:  Budweiser.

Ah, well…

Still, it was a fun time.

Tomorrow is Independence Day and we have something very special planned.  Details tomorrow!

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Our second and last night in Carnegie Hall, and it was magnificent and fun!  Even better, we sang to friends of the Choir.  Santino Fontana (Prince Hans from Frozen and our guest artist at the Pioneer Day and Christmas concerts last year), Laura Osnes (our guest this year at the Pioneer Day concert later this month), Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Abby Cadabby and Rosita from the Sesame Street Muppets (minus the actual Muppets) were there cheering us on.  Before the concert, as the men of the Choir were lined up outside, Leslie Carrara-Rudolph (Abby Cadabby) walked by us making her “fairy wings” gesture and wished us all fairy wings for the concert.

At the end of the concert, as is our custom on tour, we had a guest conductor for our final encore.  Tonight it was our good friend Santino Fontana.  He did a great job (which was no surprise).

It’s nice to sing to our fans, even when we don’t know them personally.  But it’s a real treat to sing to our friends.

Also, on a personal note, as I was leaving Carnegie Hall, a man came up to me, grabbed my hand, and said, “I just love watching you sing!  You sing with such great expression!”  And as I was walking home, a lady told me how much she loved my book.  That was the icing on the cake of a great night.

Tomorrow, it’s Yankee Stadium, where we’ll be singing “Cohan’s Big Three” and the National Anthem!

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In my wildest dreams, I never thought that I would one day perform in Carnegie Hall.  I am so grateful for the opportunities that membership in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir affords me.  I won’t tell you how much the tickets cost for tonight’s performance, but it was a LOT.  It’s a very humbling experience to be on that stage and sing with three hundred of my best friends.

But it’s not just the Choir.  There are one hundred orchestra musicians, three organists, two conductors, numerous stage hands, sound crew, lighting crew, staff, security, and many other unsung (no pun intended) heroes that make this possible.  We couldn’t have had this marvelous (and for me, once-in-a-lifetime—OK, twice-in-a-lifetime, since we are performing there again tomorrow night) experience, without these wonderful people.  Saying, “Thank you,” isn’t enough, but I say it now.

Thank you.

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Today was NOT a Choir day.  Today was a rest and recovery day after our concert and long bus ride last night.  (We got back to the hotel at 1:45 AM.)  Our rest and recovery consisted of meeting our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter in Central Park.  We went to the Central Park Zoo.  And it was WONDERFUL.  Not the zoo, but spending time with our family.  My granddaughter, who is not quite two, has been very standoffish.  My son and his family visited us a month ago and my granddaughter wanted nothing to do with Cindy or me.  It was hard at the time, but we understood and did not push her.

However, at the zoo, she let me hold her and carry her and walk with her for more than an hour.  It was such a special time for us.  (Actually, it was heavenly!)  OK, OK, it was nice to see my son and daughter-in-law as well…  (We love you, Bryan and Jessie!)

After our visit, Cindy and I went back to the hotel and rested and recovered for a bit.  Then it was off to dinner, a visit to Carlo’s Bake Shop (you know, the Cake Boss guy—not his Hoboken bakery, but a franchise), and a Broadway show.

What a Broadway show!  Move over Les MiserablesAmazing Grace is truly amazing!  I bawled my face off.  (Actually, I’m still bawling my face off.) The CD won’t be out for another three months.  I can’t wait!  What a wonderful story!  So well done.  Such amazing voices.  Such wonderful music.  The Holy Spirit’s power washed over me.  What makes this one so special is that it is a TRUE story.  Now I want to go home and watch the Ioan Gruffudd movie again.

God lives!  He is there.  The Savior atoned for my sins and yours.  Turn to Him.  He will heal you and guide you to the path of redemption.  He will welcome you back.  And that welcome will be glorious!  In the words of John Newton:

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,

Bright shining as the sun,

We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise

Than when we first begun.

 

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