Reader voices: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and me

By K. Clark Mitchell

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Feb. 23 2014 5:00 a.m. MST

Justin Lewis conducts Beethoven’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from "Christ on the Mount of Olives" performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square on Sunday, Feb. 17. Lewis won the choir's "Conduct the Choir Video Facebook Contest."

Debra Gehris

What a wonderful and terrific experience it would be to sing with the great Mormon Tabernacle Choir. To devote oneself completely to performing the great music of the world, travel to wonderful places for the sole purpose of inspiring people, giving them great cause to re-examine their lives and to perhaps be the means of reducing prejudice and increasing understanding of the mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the world would be incredibly worthwhile.

It would be absolutely wonderful and worth every sacrifice and every inconvenience. In short, it would have been glorious and soul-satisfying.

For others, but not for me.

Those who know me know that I have not spent one minute in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and I have never been any closer to membership than to have several good friends more qualified than I who have told me of their great love for the choir and for the great people in it.

I have listened and believed what they said and I have listened to the great choir and marveled at what has been accomplished over many years. The choir is an unmovable part of my life and always will be. I will always regret that I did not have the experiences that I actually dreamed of having.

It, therefore, becomes obvious that I have never had any relationships in the Tabernacle Choir, but this is not to say that I have had no short and sweet relationship with the choir.

How can that be? I'll endeavor to tell you.

In 1949, I was called to the LDS Church's Western Canadian Mission with headquarters in Edmonton, Alberta. This mission was very large and consisted of all three western Canada provinces. My first field of labor was in the Saskatchewan city of Moosejaw.

I was next transferred to Calgary in Alberta and then to to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Let's talk about my time with my last companion. His name was James Richards. He was from Pleasant Grove. I had extra great respect for him. Elder Richards, who has since passed away, and I entered the mission at the same time and were released together. He showed his faith and enthusiasm and his desire to serve when he quietly accepted the call to come to Vancouver and labor with me as my junior companion. I grew to love him.

Elder Richards and I worked together for the last three months of our mission experience. Part of our calling was to solicit free time from local radio stations to allow the church to do meaningful public relations work.

Someone before us had already succeeded in securing broadcast time of 30 minutes on Sunday evenings for the express purpose of airing music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Soon after Elder Richards' arrival, District President Keller gave Elder Richards and me the assignment of taking care of those broadcasts. What did either one of us know about radio? Nothing. We had to learn in a hurry.

We made a quick weekday trip to see the great people at station CKMO, 1410 kHz (AM) to see if we could calm our growing panic. We had an ample collection of the choir's large 15-inch records, and the station engineers explained that each choir selection was precisely timed and that by properly combining the times of several of the choir hymns and songs with one of the printed Spoken Word talks which we also had, and which were also precisely timed, we could come up with a program of exactly the right length for the broadcast time.

With the assistance of CKMO personnel, we could double-check our program 15 minutes before air time and do well.

Next, the announcer wanted to know who was going to narrate the program. That brought on an additional wave of panic. We hadn't even thought about that and had assumed that a CKMO announcer would handle it. He told us that there was no one at the station that would consent to do it. Elder Richards and I were in a quandary. All the other elders were busy with their own assignments. Ee knew no one in the Vancouver Branch and the elder who had narrated before had been released.

We were in a tough spot! The announcer had left the room for a few minutes leaving us to fret about the question. When he returned he could see the worried look on our faces and said, "Well, let me listen to you two guys." He then placed Elder Richards and I in the glass broadcast booth in front of the microphone with the text of a Spoken Word sermon in our hands and auditioned us both on the spot.

The rest is history. After our audition, to my great surprise, he turned to me and said, "Your voice sounds good and you'll do just fine."

During those last three months, I found myself nervously facing the microphone and struggling to do justice to the wonderful and inspirational talks of our great Elder Richard L. Evans and loving every single minute of it. I was able to closely connect and identify with Elder Evans as a result of reading his talks over and over before the broadcast to try to get them right.

We came very close to missing a broadcast only one time. On the Sabbath day, we usually attended meetings in the lovely little North Vancouver Branch. We attended church, had dinner with members and then left to catch a bus either across the Lion's Gate bridge or to a ferry dock.

This day we missed the bus and it was raining hard. We always carried our umbrella canes and were not getting too wet, but we were getting later by the minute and in danger of being late to broadcast.

Relief came in the form of a stranger driving by who noticed we were in trouble with the next bus 30 minutes away and us in the rain. He made a U-turn and came back and asked if he could help. Gratefully we told him that we had an urgent appointment in downtown Vancouver. He then proceeded to drive us across the Burrard Inlet and into downtown and let us off exactly in front of CKMO with a little time to spare.

Those were experiences never to be forgotten as I had the privilege of weekly hearing the sacred opening hymn, "Gently Raise the Sacred Strain for the Sabbath's Come Again," and our beautiful "God Be with You 'til We Meet Again," while I (quite unbelievably as I think back on it today) heard myself saying those wonderful and traditional words: "Again we leave you within the shadows of the Everlasting Hills. May peace be with you this day and always ….

Yes, I have had a short and sweet relationship with our most wonderful Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I will always treasure it and never forget it.

Elder Richards and I gave our very last "Music and the Spoken Word, originating from the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah" on the 7th of December (Pearl Harbor Day) 1952.

K. Clark Mitchell lives in Salt Lake City.

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