Mormon choir is safest place for embedded journalist who can't sing - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

Mormon choir is safest place for embedded journalist who can't sing

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Terry Horne is publisher and editor of the East Valley Tribune and general manager of 1013 Communications Arizona, which also includes the Daily News-Sun in Sun City, the Ahwatukee Foothills News, Arizona Interactive Media, The Explorer in Tucson, Glendale-Peoria Today and Surprise Today.

Posted: Friday, February 10, 2012 5:17 pm | Updated: 5:20 pm, Fri Dec 6, 2013.

Athletes stretch before competing.

So does the Mormon Tabernacle choir. It is a few hours before Friday night's Arizona Centennial performance.

Music Director Mack Wilberg starts the choir with some mmms up and down the scale followed by everyone doing what looks like yawning with wide open mouths and no particular harmony. And then a few harmony bars. The 360 choir members literally look like they are stretching their vocal chords, with faces inwardly focused on the personal job at hand.

And then the real rehearsal begins. It must be how angels sound. Now, and later in the evening and again on Saturday they will be focused on being one singular musical instrument that is unlike any other in the world.

The Tabernacle Choir and 110 members of the Orchestra at Temple Square are getting ready to perform at US Airways Center in a signature event of the Arizona Centennial Celebration.

But right now is my highlight. I get to be Dan Rather. He invented the idea of a journalist being embedded in a war when he hid in the rebel camps with Afghans who were fighting and defeating the Soviet Army.

Today I am embedded in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Those are words I never thought I would write. Unlike war, it is one of the safest places on the planet. Surely the Lord has to be watching over such an inspirational event.

I am led to the tenors. Moments before someone asked me and three other guest choir members what part of the choir we should be placed with. The other three said baritone. I gave an honest answer: "I don't sing."

They hid me up high between two choir members with Arizona backgrounds that I had interviewed on the phone earlier in the week - Clark Edwards and Clifford Bentley. I told them I don't sing. They gave me a look like they didn't believe me.

I did try. Fortunately I wasn't on the top row. I could have been the victim of a push over the rail for the higher good of the choir sound.

When I did shut my mouth and listened to the scores of voices it was overwhelming.

And unless you are a professional performer you can't appreciate being in the middle of a 110-piece orchestra and 360 incredible voices. The choir bleachers vibrate. Goose bumps rise on your arms. You can't believe that so many human voices can sound as one and in such harmony they are like perfectly tuned instruments.

Most Arizonans that are familiar with the choir likely listen to the live half-hour broadcast, Music and the Spoken Word, on the radio. It is the nation's longest-running network program, having run continuously since 1929. The broadcast takes place every Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. in the Tabernacle on Temple Square.

Radio doesn't give them justice. My family watched a holiday television special featuring the choir. Surround sound and a TV screen don't get it done. Only when you are face-to-face with this musical machine can you feel its power, its personal inspiration from every single member of the choir and the passion of its director.

If lucky enough to attend a performance, you are seeing five former Arizona residents now in the Salt Lake City choir: Clifford Bentley, Jan Petersen, Clark Edwards, Debra Lloyd Gull and Barry Lloyd. The mother of the latter two also sang in the choir many years ago.

Alas, I can't sing in the choir. You have to be between the ages of 25 and 55 for a tryout. I fail there.

And like almost everyone else lucky enough to hear this choir, I fall short in the vocal talent department. Like I said, "I don't sing."

One guest singer, Sharyn Schaffter-Margita, won a PBS contest to sing with the choir. She said it was also on her "bucket list." It would be on mine but I've already done it.

The son of Roc Arnett, executive director of the East Valley Partnership, also is a guest singer. I shared with Roc that we had just performed with Grammy winners. He beamed a big smile. And so did I.

• Terry Horne is publisher and editor of the East Valley Tribune. Contact him at (480) 898-6501 or

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