Run this scenario past your mind's eye: Jerold Ottley arrives by sea in New Zealand, jumps from the landing craft 50 yards off shore and wades in, baton drawn, exclaiming a la MacArthur, "I have returned!"
Actual projections are somewhat less physical. In the midst of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's three-week tour of the South Pacific (une 14-July 5), conductor Ottley will indeed be revisiting New Zealand, where he spent formative teen years when his father was LDS mission president, 1951-55.But the modest conductor does not see himself in a conquering, or even returning role. "I say I am going to New Zealand again, not that I am going back," he said. "I always knew I would go again at some point, but I surely never anticipated taking 400 of my best friends along!"
In its farthest flung and next-longest tour ever (nly exceeded by the European tour of 1955), the choir will give 17 concerts in 21 days: in Laie and Honolulu, Hawaii; Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, New Zealand; and the five most populous cities of Australia - Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Sydney and Brisbane.
Among highlights will be singing in the great halls of Australia, including the Sydney Opera House; making their first recording with Philips Polygram; and representing their homeland at United States Day, July 4, at Brisbane's Expo 88.
Excitement is running high all along the choir's tour route, advance radio and television spots are being played everywhere, and full houses are expected.
As for repertory, the concerts for Hawaii and to a lesser extent for New Zealand are on the light side, by request of the presenters. Besides beloved sacred music and master works, the choir will sing arrangements of American folk music, Broadway show tunes and patriotic music, plus national anthems and songs of each land visited. Australian programs will be a little heavier.
"For the first time I have used a single work for half the program," said Ottley, "Mendelssohn's `Hymn of Praise,' which actually comprises the bulk of his Second Symphony."
"There is a special something, an affinity between my husband and Mendelssohn," asserted JoAnn Ottley, who with soprano Heidi McKay and tenor John Prather will solo in this work.
Robert Cundick's "Unconquerable," an eight-minute work for choir and brass, was commissioned by the Barlow Endowment especially for the tour. Its poem by Ed Hart, professor at BYU, "deals with the concept of pioneering, colonizing, enduring," said Ottley, "an image that fits the countries being visited as well as America." The BYU Brass Ensemble will accompany.
Ottley wishes his singers were in more pristine vocal estate. "The choir is tired," he acknowledged, citing the many anniversary events they have sung at in Utah during the past year, and particularly the timing for recording the Hill Cumorah Pageant music last month, which cut deeply into tour rehearsal time.
"You know, we met on 145 days of 1987, and the first half of this year is running about the same," he said. "We are limiting our work for the remainder of the year, though we are committed to more anniversaries, at Snow and Weber State colleges. But the singers are up spiritually as usual, if we can just keep the voices where the spirits are."
In New Zealand, Ottley looks forward to again experiencing the spirit of the people, a fascinating mixture from all the South Sea islands and throughout the British Empire, and seeing the beautiful countryside. "No other country in the world has such a geographic range, from snowy alpine peaks to equatorial heat. The sea shore is accessible everywhere, thermal areas alternate with arctic conditions," he said.
As boy and young man, Ottley completed high school at the Auckland Grammar School for Boys, worked as a project missionary on the LDS Church College of New Zealand at Hamilton, and served a two-year proselyting mission.
At BYU he studied primarily instrumental music, and a little choral, but "it wasn't until I began teaching choral at Bountiful High that I really committed to choral music," he said.
However, he may have had a premonition of things to come when he was asked in Hamilton to provide some recreational opportunities for the missionaries. "We formed a chorus, including many Maoris, and even won a competition," he said.
"Tell her what you told the choir the other night," said JoAnn Ottley, and when Ottley demurred, she related, "An old Maori adjudicator singled Jerry out and told his chorus - `watch those hands closely, they are hands of destiny.' "
Ottley's talented parents, Sidney James and Alice Warren Ottley, were both devoted to music throughout their long and useful lives. "My father was fluent in Maori, he even wrote a song called `Land of Love, the South Sea Isles.' He took an old tune, `Hang Your Banjo on the Wall,' and fit Maori words to it, and it is still sung there," said Ottley.
He knows enough Maori phrases and custom to respond correctly to the traditional greeting that awaits the Choir in Auckland, delivered by Maoris in full regalia.
"The greeting dates back to ancient times," he said, "When the Maoris would send out a warrior to clear away any evil spirits among those arriving, closely examine approaching strangers, and test them, performing ritual movements. If all is well, they lay down a token of welcome, which you must pick up in a particular way, and always with the right hand. Then there is singing and dancing of the haka (ar dance)."
JoAnn Ottley, a noted concert and opera soprano, takes seriously her volunteer job as "resident mechanic" to the Tabernacle Choir. "I very early perceived that JoAnn's unusual and even unique talents as a vocal coach could greatly serve the choir. We are the only husband-and-wife team I know that does this sort of thing," said Ottley.
Mrs. Ottley advises on vocal matters, works with voices that are in trouble, gives workshops and attends all auditions. "I think of myself as an extra two inches at the end of my husband's fingers," she laughed.
Since the world is said to be made up of 400 people and their acquaintances, it's not surprising that the long arm of coincidence has played a role in the choir's advance planning.
First there was Sir Malcolm Rickard, music director of the New Zealand Orpheus Choir and head of New Zealand Broadcasting. And there was Iain McKay, a Wellington businessman and musician, active in musical causes, who was volunteer concert manager for Orpheus. McKay came into possession of a Mormon Tabernacle Choir recording, was deeply moved (e soon converted to Mormonism), and told Rickard, "You should hear this fantastic choir."
Rickard listened, was duly impressed, and decided to invite the singers to New Zealand. When he was next in the United States in 1964, he extended an invitation to choir officials on the spot, but financing was impossible. He did get approval to air Music and the Spoken Word on New Zealand radio. McKay regrets that Rickard did not live to see their 25-year-old dream come true; he passed away a few weeks ago.
Meanwhile McKay, now living in Utah and representing Bonneville Media in parts of Europe and Asia, persistently made contacts through his job, assisted by organist Peter Averi, who was for a time head of New Zealand Radio. Though things were pretty well set in New Zealand, a stronger presence was needed in Australia.
Enter Geoffrey Whitehead, who stepped down as director general of Radio New Zealand in 1986 and a few days later became head of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In October 1986 McKay met with Whitehead, told him the tour they were trying to put together, and asked if ABC would be interested in sponsoring.
"He said indeed they would," said McKay, "and called in his concert people. They were intrigued, but very skeptical that we could obtain the necessary concert halls on such short notice. But they set to work calling on Oct. 26, and by lunchtime they had booked all the halls for the exact days we needed - and this in June and July, high season for the arts `down under'!
"I went outside, the sun was shining, and I was walking on air. I flew home and talked to Udell Poulson (hoir manager) and Wendell Smoot (hoir president), they went back in five days and signed the contracts. No sooner were those contracts signed, than Whitehead resigned from ABC! That is a typical instance of the wonderful things that happen whenever I work with the Tabernacle Choir."
For McKay, the tour is an unqualified homecoming to the land where over the years he served as president of the Friends of New Zealand Opera and Ballet, on the board of New Zealand Opera, and as an entrepreneur and encourager of young artists. Studying one semester at BYU in 1964, he met his future wife, soprano Heidi McKenzie, in the first session of his first class. She will be returning to the scene of a bustling singing career, performing with New Zealand's orchestras and opera, on radio and television, before the McKays emigrated to the United States permanently in 1976.