Monday, November 28, 2011

"Gloria" was glorious!!

 I'm on a high that I don't think I will be coming down from any time soon.  Singing Lex de Azevedo's "Gloria" with the Millennium Choir at the Tabernacle on Temple Square Saturday night was an amazing experience and one that I will treasure for a long time to come.

I can't count how many times I have sung "Gloria."  We recorded it back in 1998 and have been singing it almost yearly ever since.  (I missed the past two years.)  I've sung it in the Citadel in Jerusalem, in the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in Los Angeles, at BYU Idaho, USU, UVU and Dixie State College.  I've sung it in huge concert halls, tabernacles and little churches.  I've sung it with a huge symphony orchestra and with just piano.  Always it's been a great experience.  But this year?  Singing at the Salt Lake Tabernacle?  I'm not sure we've ever sung it better.  Emotions were high and passion was strong.  I think there are a few reasons for this.

One...this is what happened last year the night before "Gloria" was to be performed.
I was not scheduled to sing last year....conflict of rehearsal times.  But obviously, the rest of my friends in the Millennium Choir had been rehearsing for weeks.  The Provo Tabernacle was decked out in it's Christmas finery.  BYU TV was planning to video the whole concert for replay later.  The dress rehearsal went off without a hitch.  But when everyone woke the next morning (the opening day of a 3-day concert run) they were devastated to learn that the Provo Tabernacle had caught fire late the night before and burned to the ground.  The cause was later determined to be a Tabernacle light fixture that had been set aside in the attic...which actually had started burning before the dress rehearsal was even over!  Tragically, there was no smell of smoke at the time or maybe the destruction of the building could've been averted.  It was horrifying news.  And I cried along with the rest of my friends, despite the fact that I was not involved in the production that year.  Millions of dollars worth of equipment, musical instruments and costumes were lost.  With the absolute worst loss being, of course, that beloved and historic building!!  But "the show must go on"so arrangements were hastily made for performances at the American Fork Tabernacle.  Costume and musical instrument rentals were generously donated.  Ticket holders were not disappointed.

Tears were shed once again this past October when, in the LDS General Conference, President Monson announced that the church would indeed be rebuilding...but not as a tabernacle.  The new building would be dedicated as a 2nd Provo temple.  Oh!!  What joyous news!  I was with my friend Kim (the producer of all of Lex's shows) at a rehearsal for "Harriet" that we were both performing in when we heard the news that Saturday morning.  She sobbed as I hugged her.

So as you can imagine, emotions were high and memories of that fateful night last year were flying fast and furious this past Saturday....with the immense gratitude that good came out of tragedy...and that here we were, ready to perform "Gloria" once again.

Add to that the fact that this was not a normal "Gloria" performance.  Not only were we singing in the historic and beautiful Salt Lake Tabernacle for the first time, but we had singers from all over the world!  Lex decided 9 months ago to try to arrange for a virtual choir to sing the big finale with us.  Something along the lines of Eric Whitaker's "Sleep."  (See here)  But in this case, Lex wanted a virtual choir TO JOIN WITH a live choir!  It's never been done, as far as we know.  So he sent out an invitation across the web...asking all of us to help him further it along.  Those who could be in Salt Lake City over Thanksgiving week were invited to audition for the live choir.  Those for which travel would be impossible, were invited to learn the music with the help of click tracks and videos of Lex directing the music, and record themselves singing.  Each video was combined into one amazing Millennium Virtual Choir that sang with the Live Millennium Choir at the Tabernacle during the big "Gloria" finale.  In that virtual choir there were singers from 8 different countries and all throughout the United States.  There were singers in the live choir that traveled from as far as Georgia and Connecticut to sing with us in the Tabernacle.

Before the concert started (to a sold out audience!) Lex shared a story.  That of his beloved Grandfather, also a composer.  A man who had been his best friend, he said, and who had encouraged Lex in his music.  His Grandfather had dreams of seeing an oratorio that he had written be performed in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.  It was not to be.  But when Lex was just a little boy, his Grandfather had told him that he believed his hopes and dreams would be realized in Lex.  So it was to this story...many of us in tears...that Lex dedicated this performance of "Gloria" to his Grandfather, and we began singing.

George Dyer as the Angel Gabriel, Greg Pearson as Zacharias and Isaiah, Melinda Lockwood Debirk as Mary and Catherine Hyde Stambaugh as the narrator....all phenomenal soloists who make me weep with the emotion and power in their voices and their words.  The exceedingly talented musicians...2 harpists, a harpsichord (!!!), grand piano, tympani, Daron Bradford playing every woodwind instrument known to man, and then of course, the incomparable and famous Tabernacle organ!  The concert was going exceedingly well...but we were all a little nervous about the finale.  Would it work??  Dress rehearsal earlier that afternoon had been a bit dicey getting the virtual choir and the live choir in sync.  I have no doubt that I was not the only one praying inside as we made our way to the big "Gloria" finale.  I was watching Lex's face closely.  I could see the hope there as he and the musicians put on their earphones and waited for the click track to start and the video to show up on the two big screens above our heads.  And then I watched as that look of hope turned to one of pure joy....a huge grin splitting his face as everything started up exactly perfectly, as planned...the culmination of 9 months of work.  And I cried.  Cried through the rest of the performance.  It was truly amazing!!

This music, this choir, these experiences....they have changed my life and I can't tell you how blessed I feel, how thankful I am for it!   

A letter from Lex to the choir:
Dear choir,
Looking back upon the many performances in which I have participated, there are three which stand out above all the rest.  In chronological order, there was the opening night of the California Saturdays Warrior cast, the Jerusalem performance of "Gloria" and our "Gloria" concert in the Tabernacle the other night.  Yes, It was a thrilling experience to be in the Tabernacle! but it was made all the more wonderful by your magnificent performance.  I would love to thank each of you individually for your contribution to the extremely successful concert.  I have often said and do believe that scratches on a piece of 5-lined manuscript and waving arms in the air does not music make. It is your performance that makes music live. . . And you made it live magnificently Saturday night in the Tabernacle. 

I was also very touched by the lovely pocket watch- such a thoughtful, meaningful gift! Before retiring the night of the concert, I sat by the fireplace trying to take in the impact of the evening, took out the watch, read the inscription and wept again. Thank you so much.  I will cherish it always.

While we do not know what the future holds for "Gloria" next year, we have high hopes for something equally as wonderful and hope that you will all return to be a part of it. We will let you know as soon as things are firmed up.

Thanks again for your individual contributions to the 2011 "Gloria" performance in the Tabernacle.  Have a blessed Christmas.  Until we sing together again-
Lex de Azevedo


Randy said...

Wow! Sarah! What an amazing recounting of the GLORIA experience! I echo your sentiments to the tee. btw...Darren Bradford is the amazing woodwind artist. Thank you so much for doing this. --Randy

Mary said...

You left me in tears. How I wish that I could have joined you. That would have been amazing.

MELISSA said...

I didn't cry in the Finale but I did cry reading your post. you have captured the emotions and feelings of that night and of before. you are a gifted writer. Thanks! I love you.

Kelli Morrison said...

Thank you for this emotional and vivid description! I wish I could have been there in person. I was a member of the virtual choir. Lex also emailed us a letter after the performance. If you are interested in posting it, I would be happy to forward to you.

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