Portland: Winning Friends and Influencing People
“Winning friends and influencing people”—through the years that phrase from the title of Dale Carnegie’s famous book has surely been used more than enough to have become a cliché. Yet still I turn to it, because it’s hard to think of a more concise description of the work of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square. When President Hinckley told Choir President Mac Christensen that he wanted the Choir and Orchestra to tour the Northwestern States, he expressed a particular desire for us to make a stop in Portland. The experiences we have had there confirm that the city was in a particularly receptive mood, and we leave with a feeling that we have indeed made many friends and influenced many people.
Once again there was free time for excursions throughout the city. From the famous Rose and Japanese Gardens to Powell’s Bookstore to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) to the Saturday Market, where hundreds of local artists and craftsmen display and sell their handiworks, Choir and Orchestra members strolled and looked and bought and ate...
...And all the while they also talked and laughed and shared with the people they met. A special new CD containing several selections from the most recent releases of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir label was produced just in time for this tour. It is only available to members of the Choir and Orchestra for the express purpose of providing something of our own handiwork to share as gifts as we make new friends.
Singing in the Rose Garden Arena
Saturday afternoon we headed to the Rose Garden Arena for yet another rehearsal and sound check. At this point in the tour there is not a great deal of rehearsing to be done—just a spot check here and there of things that may need a little polishing.
But fine tuning the sound system to suit each venue is an important part of the attention to detail that leads to impressions such as this one from a reviewer of our concert in Seattle:
“The choir is a marvel of organization, with perfect showmanship, quick segues and unity of visual presentation. It has created a concert that really works as theater. It moves, in every sense of that word: swift and efficient pacing, emotionally moving performances.” (Click here to read the entire article.)
After having written about so many concerts it is difficult for me to come up with a fresh perspective. And so I was delighted to receive the following account of the Portland concert written by a member of the Orchestra at Temple Square. Meredith Campbell is a fabulous violinist. Not only that, she is concertmaster of the Orchestra. Here is what she had to say:
“The experience in Portland was especially exciting for front row members of the Orchestra at Temple Square. We are the first to gage the audience aura because we come on stage early to warm up. All performers 'feed' off their listeners, and this group seemed to be expecting a feast. Somehow, the space between us seemed smaller — more like an intimate venue then a sports arena. Craig Jessop came on stage with his powerful energy, and we were off!"
"The first half of the program was almost flawless. Particularly impressive was the sound system in that huge space. Our technical team did an incredible job. We could feel the energy of the listeners, which gave us the strength to ‘go for broke.’ It felt as though no mistake could be made, no passage was too difficult and nothing was beyond our reach."
"‘Call of the Champions’ resounded through the hall to herald a great second half. The emotion and beauty of the music, the scale of the different arrangements and the diversity of musical style had by now taken the audience hostage. We were on our way to an evening of music that lingers in memory as one of the best."
"Then to see the darling enthusiasm of a young girl on the front row who held up a sign that said, ‘We Love America's Choir,’ to have a burst of true "standing ovation" energy from a young man just down the way that affected the entire audience, to ride on the united sound of gratitude after we finished Shenandoah, or feel the joy of expression at the end of Betelehemu, left all in the hall having experienced an incredible musical feast."
"Our dear Prophet's words came to fruition. We did need to sing for the people of Portland. We were blessed by their response and renewed by the experience. Our audience did as much for us in emotional support and love as we gave them in musical performance and spirit. It was a truly inspired evening. Thanks to our leaders for vision and energy. Thanks to the backstage team and the onstage leadership that gave us the ability to come and share with our audience!"
I can give an enthusiastic second to Meredith’s account! Seldom—outside of the 21,000-seat Conference Center—have we been greeted by such a large, energetic crowd. The 10,903 people in attendance cheered so loudly as to make us wonder whether they were confused and thought they were attending a Portland Trailblazers basketball game! Choir administrative manager Barry Anderson told us later that after the concert he met an arena employee who was a graduate of Brigham Young University. He was thrilled about the concert and told Barry what a joy it had been. He went on to say that the arena had hosted another concert the night before. Many of the ushers and operators of concession stands had told him what a contrast there was between the kindness of the people attending the Choir and Orchestra’s concert and those who had been there the night before. “Why can’t we have more concerts like this?” they said.
Reflections Upon the First Week
And that brings me back to the theme of winning friends and influencing people. The next day was Sunday. Early in the morning we held a Sacrament Meeting before departing for San Francisco. Having just passed the half way point of the tour, it was good time to reflect upon our experiences. President Mac Christensen asked a sister from the Choir to share her testimony. I would identify her by name but the story she shared was rather personal and so I think it would be better to leave her anonymous. She began, “The testimony that I want to share with you today is that what we do really matters. It is important, and the influence that it has is not just in the lives of our audience and those who hear us in concerts and on recordings. It has an influence and impact in our own lives, if we will let it.”
She then told of an experience with a person who is very close to her. This person grew up a member of the Church but has not attended meetings for years. Many times she has given him gifts of Choir recordings, but he has always seemed disinterested and she suspected they were sitting unopened in a corner somewhere. But when “Consider the Lilies” came out she felt emboldened to tell him, “This one is special. The lyrics and the spirit of this CD reflect my own testimony.”
Not long ago they talked on the phone. She had assumed that this recording would just be tossed on the pile with the others, but in the midst of discussing other things, he suddenly said, “You know that recording [the Choir] did? It was something about, ‘Lilies.’ How long ago did you do that?” “Oh, two or three years,” she replied. He continued: “It’s kind of different, isn’t it? And I liked the orchestra. It was different at first, but the more you listened to it, the more you liked the orchestra.”
As the conversation ended there were tears in her eyes. She knew this meant he had listened to the recording several times. She doesn’t know what influence it might have upon his life. But this, coupled with the influence of faithful priesthood home teachers, neighbors, and friends who keep reminding him he will be welcomed with open arms at church, has her feeling optimistic. She closed by saying she knows such a story and testimony could be repeated many times among members of the Choir and Orchestra. “The music that we sing, and the spirit of the music that is recorded, has an influence not just upon our own lives, but in the lives of our families and the lives of those who we know and love.”
Everyone who spoke had something to say about how the Choir and Orchestra touch lives. Stan Parrish, Assistant to President Christensen, said:
“Some of you may know that I have spent some time in Washington, D.C. Washington is a city where titles are very important. The titles of Senator or Congressman or Ambassador or Secretary represent tradition. And tradition represents power in politics. But as I have traveled and shared experiences with you, I think the most powerful title I have seen for making positive change, and for moving and touching lives, is the title of 'Volunteer.'”
Brother Parrish also spoke of the importance of cultivating feelings of gratitude for the many things with which we have been blessed.
To conclude, we heard from Elder Keith K. Hilbig of the Second Quorum of the Seventy and his wife, Susan. Elder Hilbig was assigned by President Hinckley to travel with the Choir for the concerts in Spokane, Seattle and Portland. The Hilbigs also attended the VIP receptions that precede each concert. This being their last day with us, they bade us farewell.
Sister Hilbig said that she grew up in a nonmember home and attended a very small Branch of the Church. “I was connected to the Church by the Choir,” she said. “The only time I saw my father cry was sitting in the Tabernacle, listening to you. And I believe you were instrumental in his conversion [to the Gospel] at the very end of his life.”
Elder Hilbig spoke of the VIP reception in Portland:
“Last night we had representatives of fifteen different religious organizations in the city. There were seventeen members of the state legislature present; U.S. Senator Gordon Smith; educational leaders. And in every instance they were uniformly impressed. I wish you could have the opportunity to meet with them afterwards so that you could feel of their enthusiasm and their interest in what you do and how you do it. The impact of that night and the nights before will linger long in these communities because they have been touched by the Spirit.”
He closed with these words of counsel:
“You, as artists, in particular, are sensitive to the Spirit. You have a built in advantage over the rest of us. I would encourage you not only to invite that into your performances for its wonderful impact on all who listen. But I would also invite you to bring that into your life more fully. As good as you are—as faithful and obedient and contributing as you are—there is still another dimension that can be sought in interacting with the Spirit: to increase our own understanding of the Gospel—that which we individually learn, not just that which we learn collectively. And thereby our lives as members will be refreshed. And we will come to know the Savior through the Spirit.”
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, as the events of the first week of this tour have continued to demonstrate, is a powerful force for winning friends and influencing people on behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was touching to reflect upon the impact of this world-class organization. Each of us feels so very thankful to be a part of it. But as is the case for all who are traveling the road of life, there is much to learn and much to do in strengthening our relationship with our Heavenly Father so that we may be all the more helpful in building up His kingdom.
Story by Robb Cundick
Pictures by Deb Gehris and Marene Foulger.