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Kirby: Mormon choir music never cured this trouble-making kid

Published July 13, 2012 2:53 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is holding tryouts. You have until Aug. 15 to apply if you think you can sing. Rap doesn't count.

Wait a minute. Hearing the MoTabs attempt a cover of "What U Smokin On" by Ludacris might be interesting. They might handle the lyrics OK, but I can't see all 360 of them stanky legging and crip walking.

I thought about applying for the choir. I thought about it for a whole minute. I can sing. My voice is sort of an irate baritone with an occasional frightening alto reach, much like the musings of a gorilla trapped in a manhole.

But just because you can really sing, doesn't mean you can try out for an internationally recognized and award-winning choir. There are some serious restrictions.

1. You have to live within 100 miles of Temple Square. (Me.)

2. You have to be between 25 and 55 years old. (Not me.)

3. You have to be a Mormon in good standing. (Depends on whom you ask.)

Although Mormon, I've never been a huge follower of the MoTabs. This includes the glory days when they were making platinum albums such as "Battle Hymn of the Republic" (Celestial Jam Records, 1959).

My antipathy toward the choir had nothing to do with their music and everything to do with their being used as a form of restrictive discipline.

My mom listened to the choir when I was a kid. The rest of the week, Steppenwolf, Iron Butterfly and The Doors pushed the nails out of the drywall in my room. But on Sunday, the lineup was restricted to the Tabernacle Choir or, worse, Pat Boone singing gospel.

Back then Mom tuned in to "Music and the Spoken Word" broadcast from the "crossroads of the West," Salt Lake City. Thanks to the power of radio, there wasn't a place in the country you could get away from this.

Mom's idea was to promote an atmosphere in our home that was more conducive to the spirit. I never put much stock in this logic because it was widely understood that even Satan thought twice before infiltrating our home.

The restriction would have been OK had I been able to keep my mouth shut about it. Unfortunately, it was far more likely that I could breathe through my ears. When my protests got on Mom's nerves, I was referred to a higher power — her husband and my jailer.

The old man, who could (and once did) snap a stack of The Doors albums in half with his bare hands, would restrict the house to Mormon Tabernacle Choir or Tennessee Ernie Ford for an entire week.

I might have gotten over that had I not gone on a mission.

There were lots of rules in the mission field. Those regarding what music we could listen to on our preparation day were surprisingly flexible. We could play whatever was on our tape recorders provided that it helped us serve the Lord.

Things were fine until a district leader came into my room one P-Day and "commanded" me to stop listening to Eric Clapton singing about knocking on heaven's door because it was "sacrilegious."

That was the P-Day the Mono Gritando district listened to Uriah Heep's "Demons & Wizards" as loud as it would go for six straight hours.

Coincidentally, it was also the P-Day that resulted in new mission rules governing our music. After that, we were sentenced to either classical music or — you guessed it — the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

I'm slightly more mature now. I can listen to the Tabernacle Choir without feeling resentful. I even play its recordings on Christmas.

But there is no way I could ever try out. I'm too old and my standards are still too low. If hell has a choir, maybe I'll try out for that.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.