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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The most straightforward way to describe the first day of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's 2013 summer tour to the Upper Midwest is simple: "It was long."

Some 320 members of the choir, 65 members of the Orchestra at Temple Square, a contingent of support staff and guests — just under 600 people total — left Salt Lake City early Wednesday morning, June 12. The first of three chartered planes lifted off at 6 a.m.; the last at 7 a.m. Upon arriving in Columbus, Ohio, the first stop on their tour, the singers and instrumentalists went directly to Nationwide Arena, the venue for that evening's concert. They spent the remainder of the day there.

The orchestra took its place on stage around 7 p.m.; choir members lined up at 7:15 p.m. to take their places for the concert, which began at 7:30 p.m.

Most performing groups would go directly to their hotels after their concert, but not this choir and orchestra. Around 10 p.m., they loaded up on 11 buses and embarked on a ride to Indianapolis, Ind., some 175 miles away, with a scheduled arrival around 1 a.m. Thursday, June 13. By the time keys were distributed to their rooms, it was after 2 a.m. before most could call it day. Some choir and orchestra members had arisen between 2 and 3 a.m. Wednesday in order to meet their flights, so by the time their heads hit pillows Thursday morning, they had been up and going nearly 24 hours.

Since no concert was scheduled Thursday evening, the choir and orchestra had a chance to relax that day and gear up for the remaining five concerts on the six-city tour: Indianapolis on June 14; Ravinia Music Festival near Chicago, Ill., on June 15; Milwaukee, Wis., on June 17; Madison, Wis., on June 18; and Minneapolis, Minn., on June 20.

Squeezed into the schedule are two mini-concerts set for June 19, the first at Trail of Honor Park at Black River Falls, Wis., and the second at Highground Veterans Memorial Park at Neillsville, Wis.

The choir and orchestra will return to Salt Lake City on charter flights Friday, June 21.

"It isn't a vacation," said Ron Jarrett, who was called by President Thomas S. Monson last August to serve as president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir organization, which includes the choir, orchestra and Bells on Temple Square. "Some people say, 'Oh, you're going on a great vacation with the choir.' But this is a working week."

He described the tour, especially the first day, as "rigorous." Then he added, "The Lord looks out for them. I can totally bear witness to that fact that this is the Lord's work and he will get it done and it will be in his time and in his way. He will sustain all of these choir and orchestra members so that they can do it. They might have achy feet, they might have bad backs, they might not be feeling real good, but when it comes to being ready to perform, ready to go on stage, they put their uniforms on and their life changes. They just turn right around and they are there to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. It might take all of the strength they have, but it comes across in such a very positive way."

The concert in Columbus concluded with Mack Wilberg, the choir's music director, handing off the baton to Gordon Gee, president of Ohio State University, to direct the choir in singing "This Land Is Your Land."

"I have had a number of privileges in my life. Directing the Tabernacle Choir is one of the most important I've had," he said. "They made it easy. I could have stood on my head and they would have still sung beautifully."

The concerts are being conducted by Wilberg, the choir's music director, and Ryan Murphy, associate director. Richard Elliott and and Andrew Unsworth are accompanying the choir on a digital organ.