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Joseph Smith Commemorations
Rob Gardner has composed for film, television, studio recordings, and the concert stage. Among his works are three stage musicals: "Joan of Arc," "The Price of Freedom" (about the soldiers of World War II), and most recently, the ariZoni-Award-nominated "Twelve Princesses," based on the Grimm's Fairytale.
Among his other credits, Gardner composed the score for the Emmy-Award-winning documentary "Brides on the Homefront" and is the author of three sacred oratorios, "He is Jesus Christ," "Joseph Smith the Prophet" and "Saints and Pioneers." He is a two-time FCMA Pearl Award nominee and finalist and has been involved with numerous commercial recordings. He is also a member of and arranger for the bestselling 7-man a cappella group Two Five Nine. Gardner is a Mesa, AZ native and co-founder and president of Spire Music, a nonprofit organization dedicated to producing concerts and superior music recordings of a sacred and inspiring nature.
What intrigued me is that Rob has been busy preparing two exciting performances to commemorate the life and contributions of the Prophet Joseph Smith. They are:
UTAH: General Conference weekend, Thursday, Sep. 29th and Friday, Sep. 30th, 7:30 pm, at Abravanel Hall in downtown Salt Lake City. Whether you live in Utah or you’re deciding whether to visit, this is a unique opportunity to attend Conference and to see "Joseph Smith the Prophet" live with full orchestra, a marvelous 180-voice choir, and most of the soloists from the recording, including Greg Adams, Sharon Norris-Hopkins, Suzanne Sitthichai, Michael Sackett and Rob Gardner.
ARIZONA: Friday, Oct. 7 and Saturday, Oct. 8, 8:00 pm, at ASU's Gammage Auditorium. The 140-voice Arizona Mormon Choir will join their fabulous orchestra for a very special performance including soloists Linsey Maxson, Jenee Prince, Angela Brower, Aaron Ballard, Jere Van Patten, Nathan Whetten, Porter Shumway and Rob Gardner. This performance will also feature a special performance from the newest work by Gardner, "Saints and Pioneers."
Rob was kind enough to spend some time with me, in spite of this busy time. I greatly appreciated his thoughtfulness in answering a few of my questions.
C.S.: You are part of several exciting performances set during and near this coming General Conference weekend. What are the purposes of these performances?
ROB: We wanted to be able to do something very special for the 200th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith. These performances will be a wonderful way to share our testimony of his life and mission.
C.S.: What is your part in these events?
ROB: I will be conducting the performances.
C.S.: Spire Music will be hosting this. What is the history and purpose of Spire Music?
ROB: Spire Music is a nonprofit organization created to encourage the creation and production of new sacred LDS music. We do this through both live performances and professional recordings.
C.S.: How did you become involved, both with Spire Music and with these landmark performances?
ROB: I am president and one of the founding members of Spire Music.
C.S.: Tell us a little about some of the other individuals who will be participating with you.
ROB: We have assembled an amazing array of LDS talent for these performances. In Utah, most of the original cast of soloists will be performing with us, including Sharon Norris-Hopkins, Suzanne Sitthachai, Michael Sackett and Greg Adams. Our choir will be almost 200 voices strong with a first-class orchestra. That performance will also be co-conducted by Merrill Jenson, a very accomplished LDS composer ("Legacy", "The Testaments").
In Arizona, we will be featuring the fantastic 130-voice Arizona Mormon Choir and featuring many well-known local artists including Linsey Maxson, Jenee Prince and Aaron Ballard.
C.S.: What do you hope the audience gains by attending?
ROB: Our goal is that that everyone in attendance will leave with a burning desire to know more about Joseph Smith. I hope that each evening will be an extraordinary experience both spiritually and artistically.
C.S.: What is your perspective on Latter-day Saints and their work in the arts?
ROB: I believe the words of President Spencer W. Kimball who said that we as Latter-day Saints need to rise out of mediocrity in the arts and produce work that is worthy of the subject matter we're treating.
C.S.: For those who have never been a soloist, can you give us a bird's eye view of what rehearsals are like, from the first rehearsal to the last?
ROB: Our rehearsal process has become very efficient and stream-lined over the years. This will be something like my 15th performance of this particular work. The soloists I use are typically very familiar with the music before I ever hear them. We usually only have one rehearsal with the orchestra, soloists and choir all together, so the energy is very high. To be able to sing with that many voices and instruments together is quite an experience.
C.S.: What is your focus as performance time draws near? What are you doing the final 30 minutes before the curtain goes up?
ROB: I typically just let the group know how much I appreciate the sacrifices they've made to perform with us. I remind them why we're there and what our goals are. We then pray together to focus our minds and dedicate our performance.
C.S.: What are your personal feelings regarding the Prophet Joseph Smith? How do you handle those who might be disbelieving of his title "prophet"?
ROB: In my mind, there is no question that Joseph Smith was a prophet. He saw what he said he saw and that is affirmed to me very powerfully every time we perform this work. To the disbelievers, I say, come to our performance with an open mind and heart, and you will leave with the same witness.
C.S.: The scriptures remark on the "darkness" of our day, both in the amount of sin and in the amount of despair in people's hearts. What do you feel is the role of the arts in such a setting?
ROB: Music in particular has a very poignant ability to soften the heart and speak directly to the spirit. Worthy music, performed with purpose, can very literally change lives.
C.S.: I thank you for the time you've taken with us, during these busy final days before your performances. Any final comments?
ROB: I just hope that everyone will take this unique opportunity to share an evening with us to celebrate the life of Joseph Smith in this milestone year.
C.S.: Where can people go to purchase tickets to these two landmark performances?
ROB: For the Utah performance, tickets will be available at Abravanel Hall and Capitol Theatre Ticket Offices and at selected ArtTix Outlets or you can call (801) 355-ARTS (2787) or toll-free 1-888-451-ARTS (2787).
For the Arizona performance, tickets are available at Gammage Ticket Offices and at Ticketmaster locations (Fry's Marketplace, Wherehouse Music, Robinson's-May, Tower Records) or call (480) 965-3434.
C.S.: Thank you, Rob, for sharing with us. I hope you keep us posted of your future productions and performances!
FEEDBACK is already coming in on these performances! Here is what one individual shared:
"I will vouch for the Rob Gardner performances. I've had the opportunity to perform in his orchestra for some of his last Arizona events (I will be in the Oct 8 performance as well), and they have been some of the most exciting works I've had the opportunity to play in a long time. He is definitely a talented composer and the shows will be evenings not to miss." ~Rick Chappell, musician
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