How Do You Travel with a Large Choir on Short Notice?
With only a few weeks’ notice, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir had to quickly arrange for 215 singers plus staff to travel to Washington, DC to perform at the 2017 U.S. Presidential Inauguration. Moving a group of this size is not a simple task and doing it on short notice made the task even more challenging. It was more than just singing at the inauguration—the Choir needed to make sure they would have airplane seats available at the right times, food to eat, hotel rooms to sleep in, buses to move the Choir around Washington, DC, as well as security clearances for all the participants. It was a complex task, but one that Choir administrative manager Barry Anderson accepted and quickly got to work to accomplish. Two days after receiving the invitation, through many phone calls and emails, Anderson had all the key arrangements in place.
Because the performance took place outside the U.S. Capitol building in cold weather conditions, it was important to make sure the singers were comfortable. During the Opening Ceremony for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, the Choir performed at an outdoor venue in coats provided by the Olympic Committee. After the Olympics, the attire was gifted to the Choir and stored for future use. The warm, cream-colored Olympic coats with matching turtlenecks were taken out of storage to be used again for this special occasion. The red-plaid scarves made by the ladies’ wardrobe committee accented the coats for this internationally broadcast event.
The day before the inauguration, Choir members checked in at the Salt Lake International Airport at 4:30 a.m. for their chartered flight to Washington, DC. Once the plane landed at Washington Dulles International Airport and luggage was gathered, the Choir traveled directly to the U.S. Capitol building for their mid-afternoon rehearsal with “The President’s Own®” United States Marine Corp Band®. The bus ride from Dulles to the Capitol building took over two-hours (instead of the normal 40 minutes) due to traffic and security within the city. At the end of the rehearsal, the Choir’s bus trip of 6.2 miles to check in to the hotel took 90 minutes! The Choir ate dinner together at the hotel and retired to their rooms, knowing that breakfast and their hotel check-out would be very early the next morning.
Bright and early the following day, this time with a police escort, travel time to the inauguration site at the U.S. Capitol building was only 20 minutes. By 8:00 a.m. the Choir had cleared security and the singers were waiting to take their places on the stage on the west terrace of the Capitol building. The inauguration committee was prepared and had small clear rain ponchos available for every Choir member to take with them to the stage. The rain ponchos were needed – and many wore them through the pre-ceremony activities.
Music director Mack Wilberg conducted the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, accompanied by the U.S. Marine Band® and director Lt. Colonel Jason K. Fettig, in the performance of the Wilberg arrangement of “America the Beautiful” just before noon. Commenting on the song selection, Wilberg said, “The lyrics were written by Katherine Lee Bates in 1893 during a visit to Pike's Peak in Colorado. It's one of our great songs because it talks about our heritage and our continued potential as a great nation.”
After the ceremonies were over and the dignitaries had left the stand, the Choir members made their way back to the buses and box lunches. By 2:00 p.m. they were on their way to the airport and their return flight to Salt Lake City. By 6:00 p.m. the chartered flight was on its way home.
For the Choir members, it was a short trip of less than 40 hours from Salt Lake City to Washington, DC and back, but it was packed full of memories. Ron Jarrett, president of the Choir, summed it up well when he said, “The opportunity for us to be in Washington, DC, was an opportunity to serve this great country of the United States, an opportunity for us to share the healing and powerful message of music with the entire world.”
Here are some additional links for coverage of the Choir’s performance at the inauguration:
- Full inauguration coverage on the White House website. The Choir’s performance starts at about 1:38:40.
- Explore in detail with a gigapixel camera image of an inauguration photo.
- Visit the Choir’s website for more details and pictures of the 2017 inauguration and additional history about the Choir’s participation in prior inaugurals.