It's hard to top the accomplishments of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir over the past century.
In 100 years the choir has produced 175 albums, two platinum records and a Grammy. The talented members with golden voices have toured the nations of the earth and performed at presidential inaugurations, special events and other historic venues. The choir's radio broadcast of "Music and the Spoken Word" has been selected for induction into the National Radio Hall of Fame in November.
But while those accolades and achievements are sources of dignity and delight, the choir's true mark of success is not found in a display case or CD sales.
The choir's highest objective is musical missionary work.
In 100 years of rehearsals, concerts, tours and radio broadcasts, countless hearts around the globe have been touched through the choir's sweet-sounding tones.
"The choir's main missionary purpose is to sing the very best they can with the spirit so the people who hear them perform are touched by the spirit," said Ron Jarrett, a former choir member who now serves as an assistant to choir president Mac Christensen. "That is really where we put a lot of our energy and time. Anything else is secondary."
When accepted into the choir, each member is set apart as a music missionary. When the choir travels or ventures out into the public, they dress nicely and wear name tags. Mission presidents in the areas where the choir will travel send letters with information about current missionary activities, ways to help and other relevant demographics. The choir members carry LDS Church pass-along cards with them and copies of CD samplers to share with people they meet.
"We stand out. People say, 'Oh, you must be from the choir.' It opens doors for conversations," Jarrett said.
Some of those conversations serve to clarify misinformation about the church.
"We get to show people we are not so unusual, that we are good people, that we don't have horns," Jarrett said. "Our members have good experiences and talk about how grateful they are to be in one place or another. It's a marvelous experience."
Ask a choir member, and he or she will recount numerous stories of meeting a family or individual who attended a performance and was deeply moved. A CD was shared and a referral made. Unfortunately, it is rare for the musical missionary to ever hear the rest of the story.
"We don't hear about a lot of them (conversion stories), but elders and sisters always bring investigators to the concerts and baptisms go up," said David Meidell, a 10-year veteran of the choir. "But just as much as that, it's the quiet letters of thanks from people who are struggling and looking for comfort in a rough time of life. Those are the paydays for us in the choir."
Jarrett, who sang first tenor for eight years, tells the story of noticing a family at a concert and feeling a strong prompting to talk to them. After the performance, he tracked them down outside and introduced himself. Turns out all but the grandmother were members of the church. They had come to the concert at her request. Jarrett handed over a CD with his business card and wished them well. Later on he received an e-mail from the family. They had played the CD on the ride home and given it to the grandmother as a gift to remember the concert.
"Again, you don't know what happens. But you follow the promptings of the spirit and just do what you need to do. The Lord takes care of the rest," said Jarrett, who has also served as head of the choir missionary committee.
For Meidell — a seminary teacher of 33 years — sharing his musical testimony with people around the world is one of the highlights of being in the choir. It's also meaningful for him to consider that all five of his sons saw him on television during general conference while they were serving missions in Brazil, France, Philippines, California and Canada.
"I love every week, Thursday night or Sunday morning when they ask how many are there for the first time and thousands raise their hands," said Meidell, who joined the choir as a tenor in 2000. "They are hearing the choir and feeling that feeling for the first time. It's a wonderful opportunity."
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