At 13,000 feet, just a little lower than the Angels

Perhaps there are more wheelchairs at the airport which services Lourdes, but there, presumably, they are more useful in arrivals than in departures. At the Salt Lake City airport, TSA departure lines are clogged with wheelchairs and limping travelers wait to push their crutches through the x-ray machine. Dangerous stuff, snow.

For the last few days, the view from my hotel window has been snow, snow and more snow and my business in Utah meant I did not have any opportunity to see much beyond the confines of our conference room. Today, on the downhill drive back to Salt Lake City and the airport, I saw my surroundings for the first time.

The little boxes on the hillside in Park City UT don’t look just the same as each other, or the same as houses anywhere else, for they are all the bright greens, yellows, blues and reds of children’s building blocks to stand out against the snow.

I made the same downhill journey from Deer Valley on Thursday with Debi Brady of the  Utah Tour Guide Association. –be sure to hook up with her if you ever need to know the story of the Great Salt Lake and the history of the state. She’s a hoot.

It was evening when our tour bus made its way down from our hotel to the Mormon Tabernacle, a descent from 19,000 feet above sealevel to a mere 13,000 feet in Temple Square.

The darkness helped as Debi conjured tales of the railroad and the silver mines of the 1850s and the ghost towns of the 1920s, houses and shops abandoned after the silver mining communities collapsed. She told us about the heyday of these towns, and the characters that became part of local lore. There was the brothel madam with the wooden leg who used to chase men who turned the wrong way when they arrived in town and stepped off the train. There was the mine-owning millionaire, Susanna the Silver Queen who buried 3 husbands (cause of death mysteriously unknown) and herself died a pauper. There was of course Butch Cassidy, who still has lots of family in the area, and the Sundance kid, after whom Robert Redford named his film festival.

Debi’s family came from Italy and started a cattle ranch in UT in the middle of the last century.  They managed thousands of livestock, and lived in a town of 65 people. “I didn’t date anyone until I went to college” said Debi ” I was related to everyone I knew” Debi, raised Catholic, met her husband at Utah State University and became a Mormon. She is a mother of 6.

At the Mormon tabernacle, we were invited to sit in on the choir’s rehearsal. “Go upstairs” said the serene looking woman who welcomed us “the sound is better up there. You’re welcome to take pictures”

All through the rehearsal, people tramped in and out. Anyone is free to attend. There is no bag-check.

The Tabernacle has just undergone a seismic renovation designed to withstand the earthquakes that are an everyday occurence in Salt Lake City. As I understood the story told by Debi, the building can now move up to 24 inches in any direction thanks to a base of rubber that heats and cools as needed. The explanation I linked to above doesn’t seem to mention this though, so I may have that wrong. Perhaps the relationship between rubber and the earth moving was another one of the bordello stories…? It was hard to keep up.

The remodeled Tabernacle is very plain inside, in contrast to its ornate exterior.

There is nothing to suggest the Tabernacle is a place of worship, just plain white walls and pine pews treated to look like oak. The ceiling is filled with television and theater lighting and the centre of the seating space is filled by a huge audio mixing desk.

The organ in the Tabernacle has more than 11,000 pipes and only a handful of people really know how to play it. Those who audition to sing in the 360-strong choir must provide a recording of their voice and, if they pass this first hurdle, will be invited to come and sing sheet music, sight unseen. If they make the grade they are invited to join a small choral group, so they can learn to blend their voice with others. Then they must wait for a vacancy in their vocal range: singers age out of the choir after 20 years and so the wait list can be lenghty.

In rehearsal, ,the choir don’t wear their robes but come straight from their day jobs in a hotch potch of habits and hues. It is truly astonishing to hear angel sounds from a raggle taggle range of very ordinary looking people.

The choir master takes no prisoners “Tenors, take the edge off that G” he roared and the acoustics of the building allowed him to be heard from one end of the Tabernacle to the other without the aid of a microphone. ” All stand and open those vowels”

You can read more about the Mormon Tabernacle choir here and, as for the last 70 years, see them every Sunday morning on TV.

About Liz Barron

US Peace Corps Volunteer in Armenia. Permanent address in Washington DC. Deep roots in Northern Ireland and persistent Belfast accent. Blogger,cook, mother, grandma, Scrabble-player and enthusiastic world traveler.
This entry was posted in Crone in America, Culture with the Crone, The Traveling Crone, weather and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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