A Light in Darkness; MCO in NYC

There have been so many thoughts swirling around my brain for the last week I hardly know where to begin.  Yesterday, I flew back to Dallas after spending three days in New York City. I could write for pages and pages about these experiences, but I really don’t want to make it a travel log.  My Lord wants me to write about Carnegie Hall and my choir, the Millennial Choirs and Orchestras.

This is Brett Stewart conducting the choir and orchestra.

I have written about our director and co-founder, Brett Stewart and how last spring I wrote him a thank you letter.  Well, he was there at Carnegie Hall along with almost all of my friends from the Dallas choir. It was so fun to see them again, even for just a short time.  As we packed ourselves onstage like sardines, I thought of how incredible this organization is. Our Friday concert was almost entirely composed of musicians from Idaho and Texas who had traveled to New York, arranged transportation and housing, and taken time out of their busy summer schedule to be here……and there were almost a thousand of us.  That represents incredible sacrifice and dedication! Part of it was due to the once in a lifetime opportunity to sing in Carnegie Hall, but it was also due to the understanding that we have something in MCO that is worth putting onstage in Carnegie Hall, and that we all have to give of ourselves to make it happen.

This is the Alto 2 section. I’m on the second row, second from the right.

So we put up with the heat, the crowded hallways, the lack of water, the standing for hours, the strain of singing and playing at the level MCO demands of us, and we did it.  We performed to a full house in Carnegie Hall. It was the most polished, professional, inspiring concert I have ever sung in. The soloist, Erin Morley, was world class, the violinist, Jenny Oaks Baker, was on fire.  One of the incredible things I saw was in the violin section. There is a fabulous violinist that has been performing with Dallas for six years. She usually gets the solos and she leads the orchestra in tuning and stuff.  I’m not an instrumentalist so I don’t know what she her title is, but she is incredibly talented. I saw that she had moved her chair over to the right to make room for the woman who took her place in the combined orchestra.  If it bothered her to be demoted, it didn’t show. Then that woman, who I had not seen before, but I assume was even more accomplished than the first, watched Jenny Oaks Baker take the stage to perform the solo pieces. Likewise, the soprano soloists that had performed in our Dallas and Idaho concerts gave up their solos for Erin Morley.    

Music and art can reek of ego and stuffiness.  Even the venues we perform at can be so stiflingly rigid with tradition and dogma.  There are so many rules and so much pressure when we bring a thousand people into a place like that.  In addition, many of them are children. The logistics are incredibly complex! The need for people to set aside their own desire for fame and special privileges is absolute in such a setting.  As we were able to do that, we had an incredible performance…..together. Working together. Sacrificing together. Maybe singing in MCO is the closest I’ll ever get to being on a sports team. If MCO is a sports team, we took the championship Friday night!

This is the full grand chorus, orchestra, and young singers chorus on stage in Carnegie. The other children were in box seating in the balcony or standing in the aisles. Joni Jensen is conducting.

So Saturday came and I vaguely wanted to go to Arizona’s concert in the afternoon, or the California/Utah concert Saturday night, but that would involve a lot of work to secure a ticket, and I would be going by myself.  I finally decided I would rather just hang out with the Eldreges, who had taken me in as an extra family member while I was in New York. As the sun went behind the buildings, I felt pretty drowsy. We walked into the lobby of our hotel, the Wellington, and we heard a “Pop!”  The lights went out. We learned that the entire block had lost power. It didn’t seem like that big of a deal to me. I figured the lights would come back on in an hour or so. We walked up the stairs to our room and I took a nap.

It wasn’t until later that I heard about the full importance of what happened that night.  First, it wasn’t just our city block that lost power. It was a major power outage that impacted all of Manhattan.  The subways were down, the street lights were out, half of Times Square was in darkness, Broadway shows were cancelled, people were shut out of their high rise apartments and hotels, and the streets were flooded with people.  Most significant to me, they had evacuated the California/Utah casts from Carnegie Hall and the choir had started singing in the street. I was told about the singing, but I was too drowsy to realize the significance of what was happening below me.  I could hear the beautiful sound of MCO singing from the street, but I fell back asleep.  

Over the last couple of days, the full significance of Saturday night has come to light.  Saturday night was the 42nd anniversary of the last major blackout in New York City. It was also, “Manhattanhenge” which meant that the sun would shine through the buildings, bathing the city in golden light.  This only happens four times a year. The impromptu street concert was performed at 8:30, just as the sun was setting, casting this golden glow onto the performers. People were streaming out of the dark subway tunnel and onto this scene. 

Keep in mind that these singers had traveled across the country at their family’s expense to sing in Carnegie Hall. They learned that their concert had been cancelled. Imagine their grief! Imagine their pain! And yet, they sang. And New York listened.  And then Twitter listened. And then Facebook listened. And YouTube. And before long, news programs were showing footage of the street concert. A video of the choir singing Mack Wilburg’s “I Believe in Christ” went viral accumulating millions of views.

My heart has broken for the cast members that had their Carnegie dream dashed, especially since I got mine on Friday night.  Some of them are still in shock and grieving that the trip they had been planning and looking forward to for a year was disrupted so badly.  Still, I see the hand of God in Saturday night. Their grief and their sacrifice was a part of the scene. It gave their music resonance and meaning.  Like the light that shown through the buildings, their music shown brighter through their grief; giving it a precious glow that would be absent otherwise.  There is no replacing the Carnegie singing experience. The involuntary sacrifice of the concert can and should be grieved. The street concert and the aftermath does not make up for the loss and those who are still sad should be allowed to feel their sadness as long as they need to.  Still, I marvel at the design of a wise and merciful God who takes the sadness, destruction, and disappointment in this world and turns it to good. He reaches out to his children wherever they are and touches them with beauty in unexpected places and ways. Like the sun during Manhattanhenge, it makes its way to them through the obstacles.

The light of our Savior, Jesus Christ, shines to a world in need.  None are outside of his love no matter their choices or life experiences.  He loves us! He reaches out to us in the darkness of our subway platforms when man’s genius fails and leaves us without a path.  He is there for us. He will find a way to bless us and bring his light to us when our lights are not enough.

God bless MCO and the singers from the California and Utah choirs for being his instrument in New York on Saturday!  I salute you and grieve with you. As the trials of life descend upon us individually and collectively, we can stand together, sing together, grieve together, and bring the whole world to the feet of Him who is Mighty to Save, even Jesus Christ.  Amen!!!

Our conductors were prompted to put this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saint hymn, “I Believe in Christ” in our Carnegie Concert. Video of this song went viral.