At least 360 men in Utah County are believers of the axiom “less is more,” and they are putting their proverbial money where their mouth is. They haven’t been home for a Sunday supper in weeks while preparing to sing at the priesthood session of 181st Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Oct. 1.
And there is more losing to do than just a meal on Sunday evening.
Many of them have also lost head and all facial hair, and will be required to lose jewelry and boldly colored or patterned ties as well in exchange for something darker and more subtle.
No music, no backpacks, no phones, iPods or carry-ons, no color in your socks, fresh haircuts and no cologne or spiky hair.
“And we’re glad to do it,” says Joel Baldwin of the Pleasant Grove Utah Timpanogos Stake. “Following a dress and grooming standard set for this choir means that the congregation can focus on the intent of the songs we sing without distraction.”
Baldwin sings baritone in the choir along with his 18-year-old son, Isaac, who sings second tenor and agrees with his dad.
“Our uniform contributes to our performance which means that even the television audience listens to our singing instead of looking at the guy in the NFL tie,” he said.
Sandy Steele of the Pleasant Grove Utah Grove Creek Stake in Pleasant Grove is the dress and grooming manager for the choir.
“There was a gentleman here last week in full beard that looked like he could have played Santa Claus at Christmas time.” she said, packing a small box of bad-example sample ties. “I didn’t see him here tonight – at least I didn’t see his beard in the crowd. These men make sacrifices to be here.”
"There is some sacrifice, but it is small in comparison to what I will get back,” Isaac Baldwin said. “I have never sung in the Conference Center or for a prophet.”
"At the onset, we saw several great individual performers and soloists (agree to sing) who had willingly chosen to conform to a strict standard of this choir,” said LDS Church Music Representative Dennis L. Crockett.
“To contribute to the mission of the choir, like developing the Christ-like attributes we seek, we set aside personal aspirations. There is some losing of the individual expected. They made the choice to join the greater agenda.”
Local rehearsals began on Aug. 21. The men will have gotten together for six official practice dates for an average of 2 1/2 hours of rehearsal that includes sectionals warm-ups, instruction, but does not include any travel or performance time.
Music has traditionally been an important part of LDS conference and is generally provided by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the exceptions being the Saturday afternoon and priesthood sessions. Others performing for those sessions have been regional, institute, Missionary Training Center and BYU choirs.
The selections of musical numbers are usually taken from a repertoire of LDS hymns and their various arrangements with an occasional piece from traditional sacred choral.
Pleasant Grove-area men will sing W.H.Walters' "Rise Up O Men of God," arrangement by Ron Staheli, and two LDS hymns with arrangements by choir director Justin Bills. Three other pieces have been rehearsed by the choir to be used in case of need. All will be memorized.
"I am the only one allowed to use my music from here on out,” said Mike Carson, choir organist. “If I get lost we're all in trouble.”
Spiritual thoughts given at the beginning of rehearsals have focused on sacrifice and acting as one with one mind and voice.
Bruce Hansen of the Pleasant Grove Utah Garden Stake acknowledged that choir members are from all walks of life, sporting various backgrounds, and still everyone "is equally important to the choir's success. No one choir member is more valuable than another. We choose to be a part of something greater that ourselves.”
“Rehearsals definitely have an air of the mission field,” Baldwin said. “Even in practice we don our suits and white shirts, and have the same goal: that people around the world will hear and be moved. That they will listen to the speakers with that much more focus."
Davison Cheney blogs at davisoncheney.blogspot.com.