Out to dinner with a friend last night, we got to talking about the LDS General Conference just concluded. (Sorry, folks, this post is going to be really Mormon-y). We basically agreed on which talks really moved us (both of President Uchtdorf’s, Elder Holland’s), which ones we could have lived without (that one by that one guy), and so on. And, of course, we talked about the Historic Moment, the first woman to say a prayer in General Conference. Which, we agreed, was something both remarkable and unremarkable, both simultaneously.
And then my friend made what struck me as a most interesting suggestion. We were talking about the Tabernacle Choir, and that one, uh, interesting ensemble the gals wore, the Pepto-Bismal pink outfits, with the identical costume jewelry. And my friend said, “what if, instead of a visual backdrop of a choir, wearing identical (unattractive) outfits, we saw empty choir chairs.”
Here’s his thinking: the music in Conference is always, always provided by choirs from Utah. An MTC choir, a BYU choir, a multi-stake choir; the Tab does most of the music, supplemented by other choirs from Utah. And usually, the ‘other choirs’ are always much more interesting visually, because they don’t worry about the dresses all being the same. I mean, I get TV producers wanting that uniformity; all that pink behind the GA seats. But it’s kind of dull, and the message it sends is maybe a bit unfortunate. Here’s President Uchtdorf:
Sometimes we confuse differences in personality with sin. We can even make the mistake of thinking that because someone is different from us, it must mean they are not pleasing to God. This line of thinking leads some to believe that the Church wants to create every member from a single mold—that each one should look, feel, think, and behave like every other. This would contradict the genius of God, who created every man different from his brother, every son different from his father. Even identical twins are not identical in their personalities and spiritual identities.
To paraphrase: diversity rules.
And diversity rules even more now, as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints becomes increasingly international.
I remember a Daily Show some years ago, during the Olympics, when Jon Stewart did a ‘this is Utah’ bit. We saw a visual of the Tabernacle Choir singing at General Conference, all those white faces and then one lonely black guy, as a voice-over intoned ‘Utah is a state of great diversity.’ It got a big laugh, as it should have done. To be sure, the Choir has gotten more diverse, at least ethnically/visually, in recent years, but uniformity remains the norm. But in fact, I live in Utah, I live in PROVO, and in my neighborhood and my ward, I see a lot of diversity. I think it’s awesome, particularly since nobody makes any big deal of it.
But here’s my friend’s suggestion: why couldn’t one session of General Conference feature music by a choir from Brazil? Why couldn’t another session feature singers from Ghana? My friend has, as it happens, spent some time in Ghana, and he tells me that the music in their meetings is terrific–Ghanians are not afraid to really sing. (That could not really be said of my ward, unfortunately.) A choir from Ghana would be terrific.
Now, I can see how there might be some financial difficulties with flying 300 singers in from Ghana. But that doesn’t matter anymore, does it? The technology to broadcast a choir from Ghana isn’t even all that complicated. Folks in the Conference Center could certainly see that Ghanian choir on the CC video screens, and cutting to Ghana for the Church-wide broadcast would be child’s play. The only objection would be visual–the long shots would show empty choir seats. Big deal.
For the Saints in Ghana, or South Korea, or Japan, or Brazil, or Mexico, the opportunity to sing in a choir in General Conference would be an experience they would never forget. As for the image of the Church, it’s completely win-win. The reputation of the Church is ‘white-bread conservative Western-American church.’ Which just is flat-out not true anymore. More LDS people read the Book of Mormon in Spanish than read it in English–the future of the Church is international. Which is exactly as it should be. You know, ‘stone cut out of the mountain without hands’ and all.
It’s possible that the television producers involved with conference might object. The conference broadcast has a certain recognizable visual style, one that folks are used to. The very slow tracking shots sweeping across the faces of the altos fading to three-shots, cross-fading to medium shots, cross-fading to the long shot they use for establishing. The lighting glancing off the bald foreheads of the tenor section. There may be objections to shaking things up.
But the advantages of actually demonstrating diversity (which exists, which actually does describe where the Church really is these days) surely outweigh what amount to aesthetic objections. I’ll grant that it’s difficult to make Conference look like good television. Livening things up with a choir from Brazil could only help.