This is a story of how the Internet can make what you didn’t realize was—but, in fact, is—your wildest dream come true: I sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
How I found myself singing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
While in the throes of planning our time in Salt Lake City, I was emailing with girl-about-town Heidi, who said if we were around on a Thursday night we should stop by Temple Square and see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse on stage. (Note: Weekly rehearsals are open to all.) I have always wanted to see the Tabernacle perform in person, so I did as the woman suggested and extended our time there to include a Thursday night. And then she casually mentioned, oh hey, her dad’s actually in the choir and—no promises—but maybe she could get me a backstage tour of the choir.
To which I responded something to the effect of: “AHHHH, THAT WOULD BE JUST AMAZING. YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT A HUGE PART MUSIC PLAYED IN MY CHILDHOOD YEARS, AND I’VE PRETTY MUCH WANTED TO HEAR THE TABERNACLE PERFORM LIVE SINCE I KNEW WHO THEY WERE.”
To which she quickly wrote back: “Good, because I heard back from my dad and my next question from him was: ‘is she musical? Would she maybe want to perform with us?'”
To which, without pause, I reproduced something like this: “$%@!*!(@)&#!)&)!%$^$&#$*!(!)!” because there were no caps or emoticons that could accurately convey how excited I was at the mere thought.
Or maybe I just wrote back: “Um, that would be AMAZING.” Because I seem to be lacking in adjectives these days that aren’t “amazing,” “fantastic,” “lovely” or “stunning.” (Don’t judge: I write for a living. By the time I get around to blogging three times a week, my mind is numb and devoid of a proper dictionary.)
And so Heidi set the wheels in motion.
The whole musical background is completely true, folks. While I don’t talk a lot about my past hobbies much, my childhood was split pretty evenly between year-round sports—basketball, soccer, tennis, softball and track—and musical endeavors, which included (among other things) voice lessons, piano lessons, guitar lessons (briefly), a cappella groups, church choirs, and, the most important of them all: the Aristocats.
The Aristocats, in its glory years, was the uber-competitive, co-ed show choir that hailed from my high school. All potential members were put through a very intensive week-long audition process, which included both sight reading, solo performances and dance and for which people started preparing years in advance (no exaggeration). The end result: 16 guys and 16 gals got to wear spectacularly tacky costumes and do fun things like swing dance and hip hop to ‘NSync numbers and travel to exotic places like Branson, Missouri and Enterprise, Alabama and Disney World in Orlando to perform. We rehearsed an hour and 40 minutes daily during school hours, plus rehearsals on some nights and weekends and frequent out-of-town competitions. Those Glee kids had nothing on the Aristocats (other than Darren Criss and Chris Colfer maybe).
Fast forward to the day of my debut. Heidi and I had exchanged logistical emails and she even offered to come along for the evening (and, by default, keep SVV company while, knees shaking, I climbed up into the choir loft). I met up with Heidi and her darling dad at Temple Square a few minutes before call time and got to ping her dad with a few questions on what it entails to be involved in the choir.
How to join the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
For starters, the audition process is 10 months long and involves, among other things, a test and musical theory and individual performances. Once you pass one round, you’re cleared to go onto the next. Once you’re in, there’s a bit of a training period and then you’re formally inducted into the choir. It’s all strictly volunteers, but each member can serve a maximum of 20 years—or until their 60th birthday, whichever comes first—at which point they are retired. Once you’re in, a lot is expected of you: one to two rehearsals a week, a Sunday concert and a summer tour—with 80 percent attendance. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is, in some eyes, the religious icon of the LDS church, and it makes sense that its entities would be held to such high standards.
And it turns out that any choir member can invite a guest along to rehearse with the MoTab, so long as they have a bit of a musical past and also are not a member of the LDS church (for obvious reasons—otherwise, every week the choir would be full to the brim with non-members!). Of course, that also means you have to coincidentally be friends with one of the choir members. I just lucked out in having an awesome blog friend (and her equally awesome father) who was willing to do a kind deed.
I’ll admit it: I was NERVOUS. I know it’s silly—I was one of 300 voices; it’s not like I got up there and had to sing a solo—but it had been so long that I’ve done any other singing along with Taylor Swift on my car radio that a) I wasn’t sure if I still had perfect pitch and b) I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to read music anymore, especially singing the alto line, which is not the melody. But the main thing I was nervous about was what to wear: Could I wear my hair down? Is that offensive? Mormons, can they show their lower legs? Or is that a sin? I didn’t know. I had only packed two nice outfits for the whole six-week trip: a BCBG wrap dress for my anniversary dinner that was decidedly inappropriate for a religious venue and a navy Banana Republic cardigan and matching skirt that hit just below my knees. It was one of my more conservative ensembles, and I was hoping I wouldn’t be an embarrassment to the choir. (I wound up putting my hair in a bun and wearing Sam Edelman sandals, despite the downpour outside.)
I entered the concert hall, and all the women (most of them with their hair down, I should note) were sporting fuchsia robes and the men in suits. I half-hoped they’d offer me a robe, too, so I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb (even more than I already did). No such luck. As it turns out, I was already destined to be singled out, as the conductor turned to the choir to introduce me and asked me to stand—in front of the whole venue! Which, bear in mind, included the entire choir, the symphony and more than 500 guests in the audience. I hate being asked to stand in front of a crowd: I was embarrassed enough during the 15-minute ceremony at my wedding with just 80 friends and family members looking on!
The next thing I was worried about was not knowing the songs, but here’s where I totally lucked out: The conductor handed out new music for the next concert, the first piece of which was “Oh What a Beautiful Morning!” I’ve only known that song since I could walk. I couldn’t believe my luck. The next song was a contemporary religious piece I’d heard in the past, so at least I knew the melody, and the last one was a Charles Strouse ditty (not Annie but equally as beautiful). How much do I love that the MoTab is so hip they perform Broadway tunes (my favorite)? Even more impressive: They generally get a new piece of music, work on it from 10 to 20 minutes at rehearsal, then perform it perfectly Sunday morning at the concert.
I was surprised how much reading music is like riding a bike; I had no problems picking out the alto line and singing along. That said, I forgot that aside from reading notes, you also have to read tempo, dynamics like crescendo and mezzo-piano and fortissimo and other musical cues. It’s a lot to remember if you haven’t done such in about a decade. Still, I was getting into it, and it made the longing to sing in a choir resurface in the pit of my stomach. I never realized before how much I truly miss performing—in any capacity.
Debra, who is the events manager and who took all the close-up shots of me, had seated me next to Celia, also an alto, who happened to be a journalist, as well, for the city’s daily paper. She was so welcoming, and—in typical friendly Salt Lake fashion—all the other altos around me turned to greet me with a kind word and a smile when I took my seat. I’ll reiterate: The nicest people in the world live in this town! Celia even turned to me at one point and said I had very nice voice, one that Mack would like. This made me blush for two reasons: As a woman, I’m not good at taking a compliment, and also it meant she could hear my singing loud and clear when I was trying to sing so everyone around me knew I was participating but not loud enough so anyone could pick my voice out individually. Oh well.
While I was in the loft, SVV was in the audience, furiously documenting every moment of the night. One of the kindly ushers approached him and asked if he’d like to go to the balcony and escorted him up that way, as he threw the tripod over his shoulder and dozens of camera-toting tourists glared at him and clearly wondered what granted him special treatment. (Being my husband, that’s what.)
Rehearsal let out early that night, as the choir had performed a mini-concert for a convention earlier in the evening. Heidi’s dad felt bad that I came on an abbreviated night, but I didn’t care: I was beaming the rest of the night and all weekend from my stint in the choir loft! Plus, he gave me three of the MoTab albums—Hollywood and show tunes, America, and religious songs—which SVV and I have been rotating in the trailer CD player ever since.
A huge thanks to Heidi, Heidi’s dad and, of course, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for welcoming me with open arms. You absolutely made my day, week, month, and year and left me with such a great memory of my time in Utah. And for those of you visiting the Salt Lake City area, you must see them at the weekly Thursday night rehearsal or their Sunday morning concert. I would make a special trip back to the Utah capital with the sole purpose of hearing the choir belt out an encore of the Grammy Award-winning The Battle Hymn of the Republic.