Saturday, July 30, 2016

Gott Sei Mit Euch - Mission to Europe

600 people, 19 flights, 5 hotels, 7 concerts, 6 countries, 10 cities and I don't know how many buses.  It always boggles my mind to think of all the planning and logistics that goes into touring with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Orchestra at Temple Square, the staff and guests.  And yet, like most events with the Tabernacle Choir, everything always runs surprisingly smooth.  Members of the Choir and Orchestra are set apart as missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  However, being out of the country, away from work and away from Facebook brought "set apart" to a whole new level.  I had a different routine, a dedicated purpose, and I actually met and bonded with the people I sing with every week.

I've hesitated to blend these two parts of my life (the Choir and being a fabulous Mormon, which is the premise of this blog), but what the heck.  They're both important and they both intertwine in significant ways.  So I thought I'd share some highlights of our tour (for a more complete diary, please visit the Mormon Tabernacle Choir blog at https://www.mormontabernaclechoir.org/blog.html.

AmDam 30

I was put on the last flight to Europe, with a night-time flight over the Atlantic, an 8-hour layover in Amsterdam and a midnight arrival in Berlin.  But there was a positive spin on it.  We had some of the funnest people in the choir and orchestra, and we had a canal lunch tour of Amsterdam arranged for us during our layover.  We called ourselves the "AmDam 30" group and yes, we had our share of dam jokes (Amster-Amster-Amster-Dam-Dam-Dam).  It was a little strange to think...we left Salt Lake City on the afternoon of the 27th and didn't get to Berlin until 11:30 or so at night on the 28th.  Something that impressed me was that our choir president and tour guru were there to greet each and every group (with a piece of chocolate).  They were also there to greet us as we arrived home (but without the chocolate...).

Concerts

As mentioned above, we gave 7 concerts while we were in Europe.  These were held in Berlin, Nuremberg, Vienna, Zurich, Frankfurt, Brussels and Rotterdam.  It's kind of hard to pick one concert out over the others.  Every concert had wonderful musical moments.  Every concert ended in a standing ovation and voluminous cheers (including a very audible "Whoah!" after a performance of "The Battle of Jericho"), which we were told not to expect from European audiences.  One of the more notable concerts was on our first Sunday in the historic Musikverein Golden Hall in Vienna.  Most choir and orchestra members would probably agree agree that this was one of the hottest halls temperature-wise (I think only one hall we performed in had air-conditioning), but the sound was glorious.  I could hear the sopranos in ways I 
hadn't before!

Our program had two parts.  The first half featured a continuous set of songs of praise, with a recurring theme based around "All People that on Earth Do Dwell" (the same melody as "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow").  These pieces came from various time periods, with works by Gustav Holst, Johann Sebastian Bach, George Friedrich Handel, Alberto Ginastera, and our very own Mack Wilberg.  One of my favorites was Brother Wilberg's "Requiem Aeternam."  I enjoyed the string interludes and the rich choral harmonies that were heard and felt throughout the hall.  I also liked Ginastera's "Alleluia" from his work, "Psalm 150," even though it's kind of weird.  It started out sounding like some strange Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, but it concluded with the main melody embedded in a complex system of various meters, with sixteenth notes in the sopranos, triplets in the tenors and quarter notes in the low bass.  I guess you'd have to hear it to know how cool it is.

The second half began with our traditional international pieces, "Ah El Novio" (or for some of us...ah-hell-no-vio) and "Betelehemu."  The audience was always impressed when we started moving and clapping.  Then we sang some of our American folk songs, and we concluded with some Latter-day Saint hymns.  As can be expected, I loved singing such pieces as "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," "Come, Come Ye Saints" and "The Spirit of God" in such prestigious venues.  A crowning performance for me was in Rotterdam.  Unlike many of the concerts, I was able to see the whole choir and orchestra.  It was thrilling to be able to see the cymbals clash during the powerful ending of "The Spirit of God."  

At the end of each concert, we sang "God Be With You," most of the time in the language of the country we were in.  It was a very special moment for everyone involved at each performance.  Up until our final concert, I was wondering, "Why learn it in Dutch when we sang it in English in Brussels and German everywhere else?"  However, as we started singing, and as many in the audience started chiming it, I knew that it was a needed blessing for many.

Site Seeing

While our main priority was to plant seeds of the gospel through music, we did have some recovery days and designated site-seeing days.  We lodged in Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Paris, and visited various sites in and around those cities.  I mostly hung out with my tour roommate and a few others.  We visited the Berlin Wall and other memorials, the Marienplatz in Munich, Neuschwanstein Castle, Heidelberg Castle, Palm Gardens in Frankfurt, the Anne Frank House and Madame Tussaud's in Amsterdam, a Segway tour and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.  

 I think one of my favorite places was the Anne Frank House.  I remember learning about her story in eighth grade, and it was something else to be where it actually happened, to read about those events with older, more mature eyes.  It reminded me of the reality that some similar things still happen today with people of various religions, skin color, gender and sometimes sexual orientation or variant gender identity.  And it's not like there is always an easy answer for all of it either.  I've come to learn that it's ultimately up to each individual to lay hold upon that which is good--for me that is the gospel of Jesus Christ--and let love flow.  Another poignant part of the museum was a video clip where Anne's father, Otto Frank, described part of his experience reading her diary.  He was heartbroken at how self-critical she was in her writing.  He didn't know a lot of what she went through emotionally.  He said, "Most parents don't know well their children."  This hit me very hard, having gone through my own battles with self-criticism and self-loathing as a result of believing that was what it meant to "be humble."  That might be one of Satan's greatest tools that causes so much hate in the world...getting us to doubt ourselves.  How different it is to realize that we CAN be happy about ourselves.  We can celebrate and develop our positive attributes.  We can recognize them as divine strengths.  We can simply LOVE ourselves!

After that deep thought...Another favorite of mine was the Heidelberg Castle.  Now, Neuschwanstein was intact and embedded in the most glorious landscape I have ever seen, while Heidelberg was in ruins.  But I enjoyed the history and visualizing the size and beauty of the castle and its surroundings.  I also thought it was cool to see the college town of Heidelberg with the old, castle looming above it, preserved in it's war-torn state.

Heidelberg

Neuschwanstein

Neuschwanstein

My roommate and I visited the top of four different structures: the Glockenspiel and St. Peters Church (Munich), St. Bartholomew's Church (Frankfurt) and the Eiffel Tower (where do you think?).  He counted the steps while I huffed and puffed.  In all, we climbed 1,200 steps one way, and of course we came down too.  It was well worth the money and the exercise!  I think my favorite may have been the Eiffel Tower, something that I had only seen in movies (mostly "Anastasia") and learned about in my junior high French class.  It was odd to think that at 10 in the morning I was up on top of the Eiffel Tower and later that same day (almost) I ended up back in my own bed in North Salt Lake (27 hours later including the time change).

Glockenspiel from St. Peters
 Hence Forth and Forever

We returned home (back in Utah) on Saturday, July 16 (well...early Sunday in the case of our flight).  We were home, but our tour didn't really feel over as we had two concerts to prepare for the following week!  As is commonly stated, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir organization is a "train that keeps on going."  


Eiffel Tower
It's a difficult world we live in today.  
We were in Paris when the awful attack happened only six hours away in Nice.  We were saddened to hear of some more horrific incidents in Munich shortly after arriving home.  I am grateful for our safety, for the security personnel prepared the way and came alongside us, and for those who reminded us each to be aware of our surroundings and stay in the safe zone (and that's a good lesson in obedience!).  We also did not forget the previous attacks in Brussels and in Paris.  During our Sacrament meeting in Frankfurt, we were told that we would bring peace and healing to our European friends who have been through so much fear and heartache.  And isn't that the good news of gospel, the hope that comes through the love of Christ and striving to live as He would have us live?  I am humbled to be able to share that message with my little baritone range in such a marvelous choir.


*And if anyone cares, yes, there are many fine gentlemen in Europe.  They take good care of themselves and inspire me to do likewise.  But yeah...as I've been telling people...that moment in Amsterdam when I was so preoccupied with the fully clothed men that it took me a while to notice the topless woman standing in the middle of the town square...yeah.

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