Thursday, December 17, 2009

Our Not-Quite Tabernacle Choir

Jeanne P. Lawler, “Our Not-Quite Tabernacle Choir,” Ensign, Dec. 1996, 48–49

During the 1993 Christmas season I was serving as a senior missionary “far, far away” in Bangalore, India. The first week in December, three days after I arrived, I was asked to help organize and direct a choir in the Bangalore Branch of the Church because the members wanted to participate in an annual choir festival held in that city. Neither my companion, Sister Annie Christensen from Utah, nor I were aware of what this festival entailed, but we agreed to help out.

I selected “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains” (Hymns, no. 212) to sing in the program, and 16 people attended the two enthusiastic rehearsals held on a rooftop of a member’s home. They were not familiar with part singing, so we sang in unison without musical accompaniment. If a piano was available at the festival, then I would play instead of direct.

The date of the performance arrived. As we alighted from our harrowing motorized ricksha ride to downtown Bangalore, we stood gaping before a huge city building. It was draped with a large banner that read “Festival of Christmas Music.” Stunned, we walked up the broad flight of stairs and into the foyer, which was filled with costumed participants. This was a big event!

We scrambled to get one of the printed programs. Listed were the names of several church, college, and university choirs that were participating. We looked for our group and gasped as we read, “L.D.S. Choir (Mormon’s Tabernacle).” We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

We went aside and prayed, pleading for heavenly help. I turned to my companion and said, “You’ll need to direct the choir!”

She replied, “I’ve never done that before in my life!”

“Just smile,” I assured her. “Make a figure eight and look confident.”

When the curtain opened for our number, my companion had our Indian “Mormon’s Tabernacle Choir” arranged on risers ready to perform. All seven of the sisters on the front row wore beautiful saris, and the nine men behind them wore suits and white shirts. Sister Christensen, as director, was magnificent. She even took a bow!

Then I took a deep breath, walked on stage, and sat down at the piano, an old upright with ivory missing from some of the keys. My companion raised her hand and started her figure eight, and I played the first chord. The sound that came from the choir and piano shocked me, and I could hardly play. It sounded as if part of the real Tabernacle Choir, whose name was printed by mistake on the program, was singing that night. I knew then that our prayers had been answered and that there must have been a choir of angels singing along with our little group. As the last note sounded, there was silence. Then, in the auditorium, thunderous applause erupted. The curtains closed, and we wept with joy. Guess who won a prize that night? We did!

The fourth verse of the carol we sang that evening reads, “Hasten the time when, from ev’ry clime, Men shall unite in the strains sublime.” Many voices, both seen and unseen, must have united that night in Bangalore, India, in singing praises to the Lord.

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