Feeling the power of 350 voices, woven in harmony, inside one of the most acoustically perfect buildings in the world, is an experience not available to everyone.
To sing with those voices is even more rare.
Earlier this month, St. Helena High School choir director Craig Bond and his wife Carolyn Bond climbed the risers of the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake Center and sang with its world-famous choir.
In a word, it was “thrilling,” he said.
“Both my wife and I couldn’t even get through one song before we started to cry,” he said.
It all started a couple of months ago, when he received an e-mail from 1998 St. Helena High School graduate Jonathan Oliver.
Oliver, who was never a choir member, moved to Salt Lake City about 10 years ago. He attends the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and knows someone in the choir, Oliver said.
He was watching the choir’s Sunday broadcast, “Music and the Spoken Word,” last summer when Bond crossed his mind.
“I was thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if Craig Bond could sing or be involved?’” he said. At first he dismissed the thought.
Later, he pursued the idea. He discovered that the choir has a guest singer program to honor various choral directors and musicians from around the United States.
Oliver contacted Bond and asked him if he would be interested in singing with the choir.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one of the most famous choirs in the world. Elite singers audition, then go through two to three months of training before they can join, Bond said.
Those who audition must be between the ages of 22 and 55, and anyone over the age of 60 is no longer eligible to be a member. Members must also be Mormon.
The choir makes exceptions, however, for visiting choir teachers like Bond and his wife, who is the St. Helena primary school music specialist. Neither is Mormon and both are older than the limit, at 66 and 63 respectively.
At the choir’s expense, Craig and Carolyn Bond flew to Salt Lake City and stayed in a hotel.
At a rehearsal, the choir practiced for a performance in honor of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
A 35-piece orchestra started rehearsal at 7 p.m. Choir members began arriving at 8 p.m. By 8:10, they were doing warm-ups and began their first piece of music.
“It was an overwhelming experience to be involved in a group of 350 wonderful singers singing really great music with an orchestra,” Bond said.
The venue was also impressive, he said. The Mormon Tabernacle was designed with near-perfect acoustics so that its congregation could hear the sermons given.
Behind the steps where the choir sings, a monstrous organ splays against the wall.
“When someone sings in there or plays an instrument, it kind of soars through the building,” Bond said.
Bond has been a teacher since 1973. He led the choir at St. Helena High School and has continued to direct since he retired four years ago.
He also founded the St. Helena Choir Society, a nonprofit that includes the St. Helena Chamber Singers, a children’s choir, a teen choir and a group called Jazz at 7.
His experience with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir taught him that even a director of a world-famous choir deals with the same day-to-day issues he encounters.
“He was saying things to his choir that I say all the time, so it was refreshing to know that even the best choirs in the world have the same problems,” he said.
The tabernacle’s choir director had to remind members to keep their music up so they are not looking down and restricting their airway. He asked some of the singers to tone down their vibrato, and he had to tell them to quiet down.
“When there’s 350 people, there’s a little bit of crowd control going on,” Bond said.
Bond and his wife were grateful for the opportunity, Oliver said. Carolyn Bond conveyed her amazement after the rehearsal.
“This is a dream come true, but it’s beyond that for her because she didn’t even know this kind of dream was possible,” Oliver said.