The Newsroom Blog

Mormon Tabernacle Choir 2011 Tour: Behind the Scenes

The Stories Behind the Music
28 June 2011

When you watch the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square perform, you see hundreds of people who are wearing matching outfits and hitting the same notes. But each of those individuals has a unique story to tell about how they joined the choir or orchestra and what they do when they are not singing or playing.

In addition, there are hundreds of behind-the-scenes volunteers who assist the choir by doing everything from selling CDs to driving trucks. The best thing about traveling with this group was getting to know their stories. Here are just a few of them.

Rosemary Olsen

Rosemary Olsen is one of the few people who actually moved to Salt Lake City in order to join the choir. She was living in Boston in 2003 when her husband encouraged her to send in her application and fly to Utah for the two auditions.

“When I got in, we moved to Utah,” Olsen said. “It was a bit of a concession for my husband, but it’s been worth it.”

Since moving to Utah in 2003, her husband has had the opportunity to serve as a Latter-day Saint bishop and she has cared for her aged parents, but Olsen says that singing in the choir has been the highlight.

“It’s absolutely been worth it, but I do miss the Red Sox!” she said. “Nothing feeds my spirit like the choir does. It has been the most amazing musical experience of my life.”

Dan and Marian Sellers

When they are not singing in the choir together, Dan and Marian Sellers volunteer for Operation Smile, a nonprofit organization that provides free surgeries to repair facial deformities for children. The first stop on the choir’s summer tour was Norfolk, Virginia, which is the headquarters of Operation Smile, and the Sellers invited President Bill McGee and his wife, Kathy, to attend the concert.

As a surgeon, Dan Sellers has been involved with Operation Smile since 1987 and has been on 25 volunteer missions around the world.

“Once you do it, it becomes a calling,” he said. “I would feel remiss in not going out, using the talent that has been given me. It brings great personal satisfaction to see lives change in such a dramatic fashion.”

Marian Sellers has accompanied her husband on seven Operation Smile missions. She has the busy job of keeping track of all the medical charts and keeping a daily log of the work that is done. Marian says the most rewarding thing is changing the lives of people who would otherwise be ostracized from society because of their deformities.

“It’s a wonderful chance to serve,” she said. “There are lots of ways to serve, but this is truly a way to change someone’s life. It’s like the analogy of throwing the starfish back into the ocean; you can’t save all of them, but you can save one.”

The Sellers say there are similarities in volunteering for both the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Operation Smile.

“I get great personal satisfaction from both of them,” Dan Sellers said. “This personal fulfillment is maximized by serving without any expectation of return. We are just doing it for the joy that someone else can have.” 

Mormon Tabernacle Choir stage and property manager Alex Morris takes a rare break during the 2011 summer tour

Alex Morris

You will never see Alex Morris on stage with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but volunteers like him are essential to the organization. With only 12 paid employees, the choir depends on its hundreds of volunteers to set up the stage, drive the trucks with the equipment, manage the sheet music, sew and repair the wardrobe, and much more.

As the stage and property manager since 2001, Morris does everything from supervising the crew that sets up the stage to making sure that the guest conductors get backstage. He has a crew of 15 volunteers.

“We are so tuned in to the sense of service that we are providing,” he said. “My group is very dedicated, very loyal to this calling. We very rarely have personality conflicts simply because of that sense of dedication and loyalty. We have a level of trust among us that is probably not comparable anywhere else in the world.”

Morris says his favorite thing about his position is working with the choir’s conductors.

“I have great respect for everyone I work with, but I love working with the conductors,” he said. “I take great personal satisfaction in being with them and rubbing shoulders with these incredibly talented people.”

Merle and Lorna Guffey

The choir tour requires eight semi-trucks full of equipment, wardrobe, luggage, risers and even the organ. Of course, that means that someone has to drive each of those trucks from Salt Lake City to each of the stops on the tour. Merle Guffey is one of those truck drivers, and his wife, Lorna, gets to ride along. The Guffeys have been volunteering since 2005 and get emotional when they talk about their love for the choir.

“To be part of this is great,” Merle Guffey said. “Sometimes I’ll go down to hear the broadcast on Sunday mornings just to get my fix. It’s just a feeling you don’t get anyplace else.”

Lorna Guffey said her favorite part of volunteering with the choir is the people.

“This is my opportunity to surround myself with 300 positive people, and that lifts me spiritually and emotionally,” she said.

Volunteer Harry Cross loves his work with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Harry Cross

Harry Cross is one of those unsung volunteers who just does whatever is needed. He sells CDs after the concerts, drives people in carts through the tunnels underneath the Tabernacle, and much more. Cross’s wife, Bonita, sings in the choir, and he said that his volunteer work has had a powerful impact in their home.

“When Bonita first got in and I started attending performances and rehearsals, she noticed that when I came home, I was a totally different person. I was calm, I was relaxed, I was easy to talk to. The pressures of the day would get to me, but when I came back from being in the room with the choir, I was much calmer and more spiritual,” he said.

Cross says his favorite thing about accompanying the choir on tour is meeting members of the audience.

“When you are in the Tabernacle, it sometimes becomes routine, but on tour you get to talk to these people of all faiths who have driven hundreds of miles to attend the concerts. It’s really wonderful,” he said. “Tour is not a vacation. It’s a brutal schedule, but you do it because you love it.”

Beginnings and Endings
26 June 2011

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s 2011 summer tour marks a beginning for new choir members and an ending for those who will soon be retiring.

Betsy Bailey of Provo, Utah, has been in the choir for one year. She joined with the encouragement of her sister, Bonnie Lee, who is also in the choir. Bailey says she is enjoying her first tour.

“This is a good chance to get to know the other members of the choir,” she said. “During rehearsal, there is not a lot of time to socialize, so sitting on buses and eating together during tour is a great chance to talk.”

Bailey moved to Utah from Maryland two years ago, so her favorite part of the tour has been to return to an area she loves.

“It’s been wonderful,” she said. “It feels like coming home.”

Betsy Bailey and Kristen Gerdy are among the 79 new members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on their first summer tour in 2011

Kristin Gerdy of Orem, Utah, has also been in the choir just over a year.  

“The tour has been great,” she said. “I did have some concerns coming into this, but so far it has exceeded my expectations and not lived up to my fears.”

Gerdy has been impressed by the logistics of pulling off such a large-scale tour.

“I am surprised by how fast they feed 600 people,” she said. “The efficiency and level of detail in the planning is amazing.”

New choir member Shipley Munson of Park City, Utah, agrees the organization of the tour is impressive.

“It’s pretty much run like clockwork,” he said. “It’s amazing when you think of the logistics of this.”

Munson said that despite feeling sleep deprived, he is enjoying his first tour.

“It’s wonderful to be with so many people who have a real purpose in what they are doing,” he said.

Those for whom this is their last tour say it is indeed the people they will miss the most.

“We are one big, happy family,” Dale Rasmussen of Taylorsville, Utah, said. Rasmussen has been in the choir since 1995 and “loved every minute of it.” However, he recently turned 60, which is the mandatory retirement age for choir members.

“I will miss the joy of the choir, sharing my testimony through music and the association with these good people,” he said. Rasmussen said he will not miss the long lines during tour or waking up early to get to the “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast.

Vivienne Sullivan of Sandy, Utah, has been involved in one way or another for two decades. Her husband was a member for 17 years, but she waited until her children were older to try out. She has now sung with the choir for seven years, overlapping with her husband for five of those years.

“My favorite thing about the choir is being part of something so much greater than anything you could do individually,” Sullivan said. “I love going on tour because it gives other people the chance to hear the choir in person.”

Sullivan has seen miracles happen in her life as a result of her service with the choir.

“What I will miss the most is the inspiration that comes from singing this glorious music, the feeling of peace that all is well with the world,” she said.


Choir and Orchestra Visit Palmyra
24 June 2011

There is not much free time during the choir's busy tour schedule, but the singers and musicians did take time to visit Palmyra, New York, on 24 June 2011. The area is significant to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because it was the early home of Church founder Joseph Smith and the site of major events in early Church history. Here are some photos and brief video from that visit:

Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir visit Palmyra, New York, during their 2011 summer tour


Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir visit the Smith farm in Palmyra, New York, during their 2011 summer tour


Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir visit the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York during their 2011 summer tour


Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir take pictures in Palmyra, New York, on 24 June 2011


Contest Winners Sing with Mormon Tabernacle Choir
22 June 2011

Many people dream of singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but few actually do. On 22 June 2011, four lucky contest winners got that opportunity during the sound check before the choir’s concert at Wolftrap National Park for the Performing Arts in Vienna, Virginia.

The contest was sponsored by local radio station WTOP. The winners were selected based on video submissions of them singing.

Contest winners Amy Graves and Margaret Perkinson sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during the sound check before the concert at Wolftrap on 22 June 2011


“Awe inspiring” was the phrase that winner Amy Graves of La Plata, Maryland, used to describe the experience. “I am really excited. I have never sung with a group this large before,” she said.

Margaret Perkinson of Herndon, Virginia, admits she was a little nervous.

“I have heard about them; a lot of people have heard about them,” Perkinson said. “When you are that prestigious, there is always going to be a little nervousness, but that also makes you feel more honored that you are up there.”

Contest winner Dottie Schmidt (in black) sings with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on 22 June 2011 in Vienna, Virginia


Winner Dottie Schmidt actually lives in Modesto, California, but decided to enter because she already had plans to visit relatives in the area and attend the concert.

“When I went on stage, everyone was just so friendly and nice that I just felt very comfortable. It was a wonderful experience,” Schmidt said.

Kevin Riehle (in blue) won a contest to sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during the sound check before the 22 June 2011 concert at Wolftrap


Kevin Riehle of Alexandria, Virginia, has sung with many choirs and enjoyed seeing the behind-the-scenes work that goes into a Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearsal.

“The thing that was a little surprising was the amount of ‘woodshedding’ that was done even at this level,” he said. “The checking of pitches, the working in small sections, the perfecting of the songs. Even with the nearly perfect quality, it was good to see them working to perfect it even more.”


Mormon Tabernacle Choir Participates in Flash Mob
21 June 2011

Tourists at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia were surprised on 21 June 2011 when the people next to them burst into song; they were even more surprised when those singers turned out to be members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

(Download this video)

Mormon Tabernacle Choir members (in the back row center) covertly mingled among visitors in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia prior to their flash mob singing performance

The world-famous choir made a stop at the historic village during their summer tour of the Eastern United States and Canada. Officials at Colonial Williamsburg had arranged for the singers to start singing during a regularly scheduled show, but the crowd – about 4,000 strong – did not know about it. Members of the choir began with an old version of “God Save the King” and then the crowd joined in on “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” That’s when John Bacon, senior vice president of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, came out on stage and told the audience they had just sung with the Tabernacle Choir.

Around 4,000 visitors at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia were on hand to witness the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing in a flash mob

The tourists were delighted.

“It just a thrill!” Carol Neal from West Virginia said. “It was so exciting to think that we actually had the opportunity not just to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in person but to actually sing with them. I could have never have imagined to have an opportunity to do that. It was such a great idea!”

The crowd watches a parade at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia prior to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir flash mob singing performance

“The performance was wonderful and the idea was fantastic,” Carol’s husband, Neal, said.

“I think it is really cool that the whole crowd got to sing together and be with the choir. It was a really neat experience,” Sarah from Columbus, Ohio said.

The choir members also enjoyed their first flash mob experience.

Visitors at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia were unaware that the people singing next to them were members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

“It was a lot of fun and I think the crowd really responded well and they were really surprised,” singer Jennifer Van Dyke said.

The choir kicked off its 2011 tour in Norfolk, Virginia, on 20 June and will perform at Wolftrap in Washington, D.C. on 22 June before heading to Philadelphia, Chautauqua, New York and Toronto.

The First Day
20 June 2011

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir arrived in Norfolk, Virginia, on Monday, 20 June 2011, to kick off their 2011 summer tour. Here are a few glimpses behind the scenes during the first day.

Moving around 580 people is no small feat. Once the choir arrived at the Norfolk airport, they loaded onto 11 buses and traveled to Scope Arena.

Members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir load onto buses on 20 June 2011 as they begin their summer tour in Norfolk, Virginia

Once at the arena, it was time for lunch. Everyone knows they will spend a lot of time waiting in lines during the tour.

Waiting in lines is an inevitable part of traveling with 580 people on the Mormon Tabernacle Choir tour

Next up was the sound check, with both the singers and the orchestra getting the chance to hear how they sound in the concert venue.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearses for the first concert of their 2011 summer tour at Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia


Conductor Mack Wilberg works with the Orchestra at Temple Square during rehearsal on 20 June 2011

Newsroom will have a full report on the Norfolk concert tomorrow.

Browse the Blog

About: This blog is managed and written by staff of the Public Affairs Department of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to provide journalists, bloggers, and the public with additional context and information regarding public issues involving the Church. For official news releases and statements from the Church, please also visit the home page.

Style Guide Note: When reporting about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, please use the complete name of the Church in the first reference. For more information on the use of the name of the Church, go to our online Style Guide.