Park City miner’s daughter at home in Tabernacle
November 29, 2006
In the long run, it doesn’t matter if one took voice lessons or not. If a singer can sing, she can sing.
At least that’s how it is for Barbara Tew, a descendant of Park City miners, who tried out for the Mormon Tabernacle 10 years ago.
"I look around sometimes and I say, ‘Oh my gosh.’ I’ve been in the choir for 10 years and I’m still just amazed," Tew said. "Someone with limited knowledge still has a shot."
Tew’s musical background consisted of singing with her family at home, around campfires and performing in high school choirs. Music was an integral part of growing up.
"I don’t have a lot of musical background," Tew said. "It came kind of natural. I got my voice from my father."
After high school, she started singing for a women’s double trio then thought she’d try out for the Tabernacle Choir, something Tew, 50, had admired since she was a young child.
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"When I was a child and watched the Tabernacle Choir I thought ‘wow.’ I remember thinking, ‘that’s pretty cool," Tew said. "I never thought I’d be good enough for this choir."
Tew said it took almost two years to get the nerve to try out. When she finally made a resolution to give it a shot, she went to a friend who helped her prepare for her audition three months in advance.
Singing was the easy part. But, there is more to making a world-renowned choir than merely a resonating, clear voice. She wasn’t educated on theory and it didn’t help that her father died just before she took the Mormon Tabernacle Choir music theory test.
"Before I took the test, I was sweating bullets," Tew said. "They must have seen a lot in my voice that made up for anything else."
Tew had to wait 10 months before she received the results from her audition and test score.
"As it went along, I got more nervous," Tew said. "When I got the letter that I made it, I was shocked. I cried. I was pretty excited."
Tew said 10 years of choir experience has changed her.
"I didn’t know music was going to be such an important thing in my life," Tew said.
Because of the choir, she has traveled across the United States. She has performed in Belgium, Rome, France, Italy and Madrid where she sang in front of the King of Spain. She has been part of programs that included Angela Landsbury and Audra McDonald who performs on Broadway. She has met "hundreds of celebrities" including Sir Anthony Hopkins.
"It was great," she said. "There have been so many high points that it’s hard to pick only a few."
Being part of the choir, however, requires a large time commitment without monetary compensation.
The choir practices every Thursday night for two hours. Some members, she said, travel 100 miles or more to rehearsal. On Sundays, choir members have to be at Temple Square from 7:15 to 11 a.m. for the "Spoken Word." Special programs often require members to meet more often.
"It can take anywhere from five hours to 25 hours in a week," Tew said.
The average age of the choir is 45, Tew said, and most of the members also work. But, many are able to find a balance between the choir, work and family.
"A lot of the men teach music in the schools so they have a pretty free summer," Tew said. "Anybody’s employer will usually let them go on tour."
Tew, who is embarking on her seventh season as a Park City Mountain Resort ski instructor, finds ample time for the choir since she only works a seasonal job.
The choir is a little bit lenient however. It only requires a 75 percent attendance among its 350 members. It’s something that helps members balance time with their families.
"Sometimes people have to take a leave of absence to support their families," Tew said. "My husband was really supportive and made it easy to leave. He’s come on some of the tours. When the choir goes on tour their spouses can travel with the choir."
Although the choir demands time from Tew, it is time worth spending.
"If we never sang any programs, I would just love rehearsal," Tew said. "The music is such a cooperative effort. Everyone does their part and it comes together in one great whole and it’s beautiful. We are there for a common goal. That’s really exciting for me and it hits a nerve."
She also has observed the power music can have over people’s lives.
"I love to see how it transforms people," Tew said. "You see people who, by the look on their face, don’t want to be here and you just watch them through the show and by the end, they are crying or laughing. I just love how music changes people."
Not only has she observed changes in other people, Tew has seen a change from within. Tew credits uplifting music and lyrics they perform in causing people to want to be better.
"As the holiday season isn’t the same without music, my life isn’t the same without music," Tew said. "It’s changed me. I’m a better person. When people know you are in the choir you have a reputation to uphold. You have a reputation and it makes you a better person."
The tenured limit of a Tabernacle Choir member is 20 years or 60-years-old. Tew has no other plans but to continue what she began 10 years ago.
"I feel like it’s only been about four years because it’s passed by so quickly," she said.
The Choir’s weekly live half-hour broadcast "Music and the Spoken Word" takes place every Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. Those wishing to attend should be in the Conference Center auditorium by 9:15 a.m. On Friday evening, Dec. 8, the Bells on Temple Square will present "Carols and Bells around the World." The 7:30 p.m. concert will be presented in the 21,000 seat Conference Center. KUED channel 7 will show "Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square featuring Renée Fleming and Claire Bloom" Dec. 10 at 7 p.m. The annual Christmas concerts featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square and Bells on Temple Square will be Thursday through Saturday, Dec. 14-16. For more information on Mormon Tabernacle Choir performances, go to the Web site http://www.mormontabernaclechoir.org.