A few weeks ago, I worked behind the scenes on a worldwide broadcast for my church. It was a celebration of people of color, and as the script and songs unfolded with more soul than I’ve ever seen around here, I felt overwhelmed by the special nature of the event. The performance was electrifying and those who were in attendance talked about it for days. Well, as we were doing the rehearsal the night before, we had to do two run-throughs of the full show, with an hour-and-a-half break in between. It was a long evening. Happily, the break fell during the golden hour. I wanted to stretch my legs and get out of the dark control room of the Conference Center, so I went for a walk across the street on Temple Square.
If you’ve never been, let me tell you that it is one of the most peaceful places around. The minute you step onto Temple Square, there’s just a different feeling: a sense of quiet, reverence, order, natural beauty, and peace. Flowers of every color, shape and size are profuse and perfectly planted, and the trees are mature and generous with their shade. A background soundtrack of reassuring gurgle and calm come from the water features on either side of a rectangular grassy pathway that leads to the focal point, the temple: grey granite, castle-like, quiet and majestic. Its reflection floats in a still, oval-shaped pond that is often surrounded by people smiling and taking pictures. I used to live right up the street on First Avenue, and can say that nowhere have I found a more dense peace than the quiet of an early-morning walk through Temple Square. As I ambled past the dome-shaped Tabernacle on my rehearsal break, its doors open, a glorious and familiar sound floated out on the summer evening breeze.
“Come, thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace; Streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.”
Like a fisherman’s hook, it reeled me in. Stepping into the wooden wonder of the Tabernacle, I decided to forego the hard pine benches full of visitors from around the world and stood instead in the middle of the back. Instantly I was awash in sound. The unique shape of the building is patterned after the inside of your mouth so that the sound can reverberate all around the dome without interruption. And with over 360 voices and a full orchestra in that echo chamber, the sound that lifts and drenches each person watching is a mighty one.
I was taken back to a former period in my life in which I sat on the opposite side, within the horn section of the orchestra, tenors and altos right behind me. I would often look out at the audience when I could steal a glimpse away from my music to wonder who they were and where they were visiting from. Sometimes you’d make a connection and watch the transformation in their eyes, from detached observer to grateful receiver, tears spilling as the music filled their soul to more than it could sensibly hold. I spent every Thursday evening and Sunday morning here for a full decade, offering my talents without compensation to build a greater good…what our faith calls consecrating…playing a small part in a production aimed to spread the message of God’s love through an all-inclusive medium: music. Now that I work for the broadcast in that dark control room rather than on the stage, there are times I miss the warm associations with all the members involved, the front-row access to the audience, and the enveloping, healing sound. But it was glorious to stand there on this summer night for a few minutes, experiencing what our visitors experience, being reminded of the sacred nature of this work. As luck would have it, Ryan, the conductor, needed to do a “tape and time,” so I got to hear one of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s signature pieces start to finish. It cleansed me.
“Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above! Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it–Mount of thy redeeming love.”
At the conclusion, I walked back out into the evening breeze, making my way around the whole property. My watch ticked down our break time as the sun slid towards the desert horizon; it was soon time to head back. The second run-through of our program felt more settled, and thrilled me again. I realized with stunned appreciation how much goodness was flowing outwards from that 10-acre plot in downtown Salt Lake City. One group was satiating an eager crowd, the other was refining its offering for the next evening, and all was given freely, at a sacrifice of time, for the greater good. I didn’t know how much I’d need that boost of peace over the next several weeks of national and political conflict, but Someone did. He’s always two steps ahead.