We were up showered and at the campground office by 08:00. The free shuttle service had the task of getting 41 of us down to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert. The city centre is about 2 miles from the campground. On the way down in the minibus we were told that the performance was not to be held in the Tabernacle but the Conference Centre. It seems that for the summer months there are far more guests wishing to be present for the ‘Music and the Spoken Word’ than the Tabernacle can seat and so they move the whole operation down the road to the much larger Conference Centre which becomes a recording studio.
There are just two opportunities to see the Tabernacle Choir www.mormontabernaclechoir.org in action. Thursday evenings for rehearsals and Sunday morning for the live ‘Music and the Spoken Word’ broadcast. Some radio stations take it live, most take it recorded a few hours later. It is also recorded for television and the tape is sent far and wide for weekly broadcast. Make no mistake this is religion meets show business.
We were there early enough to watch the choir rehearse prior to the performance which was to begin at 09:30 sharp. The large audience had a welcome from ‘Mr Smarm’ together with some ‘do’s and don’ts like no photography, coughing or dying during the performance. He picked on some individuals and groups for special mention, who were then invited to stand up and be introduced to the audience. As it was Memorial Weekend there was a special mention of Veterans, and members of the audience who had served their country were invited to stand. An elderly Japanese gentleman stood up wearing a bright yellow ‘T’ shirt with ‘Remember Pearl Harbour’ written boldly across it, but after a few dirty looks sat down again (just kidding).
These shows have been recorded every Sunday for 69 years, the longest show in radio history. There were two huge TV screens, one on either side of the stage on which the audience could view the final edit of the live performance combining the choir with flag waving and goo carefully edited in for maximum ‘sell’. Both Rosina and I thoroughly enjoyed the concert by the 240 strong Tabernacle Choir and orchestra. The acoustics are great and the songs & hymns beautifully performed. To think that if we had arrived tomorrow which was our planned arrival day we would have missed the choir altogether and would have felt thoroughly miffed. After the performance we made our way outside for a look around the ‘Mormon Complex’ including the Tabernacle building, Temple Square and Visitors Centres.
After we left the Conference Centre there was a choir singing and a group of young people from around the world welcoming guests and offering them tours of the complex in their native tongue. We ducked the offer and browsed around the North Visitors Centre. I quickly formed the opinion that this whole operation was very stage managed and controlled. We were continually approached by pairs of these guides/hosts (they call them Missionaries I’d call them sales reps) who were mainly young females offering tours and trying to get us in to conversation. Eventually we tagged on to the back of a tour which had an English Missionary (they wear a national flag badge on their clothing) and an American colleague. "Those missionaries look tasty" said the black guy next to me on holiday here from darkest Africa.
The tour was due to last 30 minutes and we hid down the back of the group but disappeared after about 5 minutes when we realised more ‘selling’ awaited us at the end of it. In those 5 short minutes we were being invited to fill in a card at the end of the tour should we wish to know more about the church or want a visit from missionaries to our home, and get this – if you didn’t want any of this for yourself then you can put the contact details of somebody else you think may want to know more. So if you ever plan to visit the Temple Square complex make sure you know not only the names, but the addresses of those you dislike, and then get filling those cards in. Before you know it they’ll be getting a knock on their front door from two smartly dressed young people.
The Tabernacle was very nice inside, with seating for the choir and congregation, as was the exterior of their Temple but there’s no way you can get in there for a look round.
In the end we were pleased to be leaving the complex. The people we met there were very pleasant indeed, too nice, uncomfortably so, it was a slick selling operation with groups of young missionaries working the guests under the watchful eyes of Elders. And what will it cost if you decide to buy? I believe just 10% of your income each and every month. I’ve nothing against Mormons, I believe in religious freedom, but religion is a very personal thing and not something that can be sold on the doorstep like a set of encyclopaedias’, especially to those who may be vulnerable to persuasion at the time of a visit.
We then took a look around Salt Lake City itself. Most of it was as quiet as the grave, Sunday as it used to be in England many years ago. Clearly the Mormons call the shots in this town. The only sign of life was in a shopping complex hidden behind what used to be the railway station. It still says ‘Union Pacific’ above it but I’ve no idea when the last train came through as there aren’t any railway tracks left and the area has been redeveloped. This apparently is the railway station Walt Disney Inc modelled their ‘Main Street Station’ on at their Disneyland’s. Within the shopping complex ‘ordinary’ people were going about their business Sunday or not, but the complex was designed in such a way that such normal activity couldn’t be seen from MormonWorld down the road.
Lunch was a shared ‘Panda Express’ Chinese meal before another look around town trying to find some reason to come back again tomorrow, but we could find none. The city centre is really quite small. The roads are very wide and the reason is historical. In the founding days they had to be wide enough to make a ‘U’ turn with a wagon and horses.
This evening we had bangers and mash for our Sunday dinner. We made the sausages yesterday and they tasted ok. The rest of them will be barbecued when we arrive at Jackson Hole Tuesday.
Tomorrow we’ll have a lie in, because there’s no real reason to get up, then take the shuttle back down town and try to find something of interest. The Chef would like to visit the local Salt Lake and I’d like to visit Bonneville Flats where the world land speed records were run, but I guess, due to us not having secondary transport we’ll both end up disappointed.
LOCATION TONIGHT: Salt Lake City KOA, 1400 West North Temple, Salt Lake City.