By ERIC D. SNIDER
One of the perks of being a Daily Universe editor is that you get lots of nice free stuff. For example, last week I got a fake hand in the mail from someone promoting an upcoming haunted house. The letter said, “We didn’t want you to hear about us second-hand.” I spent most of the afternoon laughing at THAT, let me tell you.
Another nice free thing I got recently was the chance to cover the Sunday morning session of general conference for The Daily Universe. I got a press pass, and a good seat in the southwest corner of the Tabernacle balcony (right next to the choir), and even a free lunch from the church’s public relations department. It was a really nice experience, even better than getting a severed hand in the mail.
Since you probably weren’t there, I’ve compiled a minute-by-minute journal of what happened in the Tabernacle before and during the Sunday morning session.
8:40 a.m. — After driving for a very, very long time on what’s left of I-15, as well as numerous vaguely marked detour routes, I arrive at the Tabernacle. John Longhurst is playing the organ, and the choir is singing “Israel, Israel, God is Calling.” It appears to be a run-through of the “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast that will begin at 9:30. The Tabernacle is beginning to fill up, but is still rather empty. There are several Men in Suits milling around, doing pre-conference stuff.
8:42 — While the choir is singing, a lady in a bright-colored dress fills several plastic cups with water and puts them on a shelf under the podium.
8:50 — A Man in a Suit down on the floor speaks into his pen. I cannot determine whether this is an official Man in a Suit or just a man in a suit, nor can I ascertain why he is speaking into his pen. Maybe it was a really thin microphone or tape recorder, and maybe he wasn’t really talking. Whatever the case, it looked odd.
8:53 — General authorities begin to trickle in. Elder Neal A. Maxwell, looking as healthy as ever, sits down next to a member of the Quorum of the Seventy to chat.
8:55 — A KBYU video person videotapes another fellow’s back. I assume this was to check light levels or something like that, but perhaps it was related to the pen incident.
8:57 — A Man in a Suit uses a ruler to ensure the microphone is exactly the right height above the podium. It is. The Man is pleased.
9:01 — Mormon Tabernacle Choir conductor Jerald Ottley has the choir practice a song they’ll be singing in the afternoon session. He wants them to do a “modulation after verse two,” which turns out to mean that they change keys. After a few stabs at it, they make it sound beautiful.
9:04 — Craig Jessop, the other conductor, engages in a deep discussion with the choir concerning an A-vs.-A-flat issue in “Press Forward, Saints.” A-flat turns out to be right, and after a few stabs at it, they make it sound beautiful.
9:16 — Well, well, well, who should arrive in the balcony directly across from me but extremely eligible bachelor and football player Steve Young. He is with a friend, or perhaps a brother; at any rate, it’s not a girlfriend.
9:17 — Elders Neal A. Maxwell and M. Russell Ballard walk up the steps past the choir seats so they can talk to Steve Young and his friend. Elder Maxwell hugs Steve Young. Following that, Steve Young goes back to his seat and graciously signs a couple autographs.
9:26 — The lights come up and a hush falls on the now-packed audience as the First Presidency walks in: Presidents Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson and James E. Faust. They shake hands with the Apostles, and President Hinckley motions for the audience to sit down.
9:28 — Lloyd Newell, the famous voice of “Music and the Spoken Word” and general conference, goes to the podium to explain to the audience that the broadcast is about to begin. He mentions that this is the 3,555th consecutive weekly broadcast of the show.
9:30 — A hand from down below the conductor’s stand gives Craig Jessop a “5-4-3-2-1” count, and right on cue, the choir starts singing. It’s EXACTLY 9:30, not a second before or after.
9:59 — The broadcast goes over flawlessly, as far as I can tell. I realize that I have never heard the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in person before, and they sound incredible. Most choirs sound good, but there’s something discernably better about this choir. When the broadcast ends everyone, including the general authorities, stands up to stretch their legs for one minute.
10:00 — At exactly 10:00, general conference starts. We try to follow the example of the brethren in so many other ways; why oh why can’t we start meetings on time like they do, too?
10:10 — While President Faust is speaking, I notice that the aforementioned Steve Young looks cramped. He’s a broad-shouldered fellow, you know, and they pack ’em in pretty tight on those benches. (Well, they don’t do that to the journalists, but that’s because no one wants to sit close to journalists. Not even other journalists.)
10:45 — Steve Young listens attentively.
10:53 — As the choir finishes singing the third verse of a hymn, President Hinckley, who is conducting this session, prepares to stand up. When the choir goes on with a fourth verse, he smiles sheepishly and laughs about it with Presidents Monson and Faust. When the song really does end, he looks at his counselors mischievously for a moment before standing up and going to the podium.
10:54-10:57 — The choir and congregation stand and sing “Redeemer of Israel.” Steve Young stands straight, with excellent posture, his suit coat buttoned and his hands behind his back. He doesn’t know all the words to all the verses, but neither does anyone else.
11:00 — While Elder Harold G. Hillam of the Seventy is speaking, the old plastic-protected documents he is displaying reflect the spotlights in a strange way. A 30-foot patch of reflected light can now be seen on the ceiling. Every time Elder Hillam moves the plastic, the light on the ceiling moves.
11:46 — While discussing the Sabbath, President Hinckley mentions that it has unfortunately become “a day of … football on television.” Steve Young does not flinch.
11:54 — As the choir finishes “I Know My Father Lives,” the general authority assigned to give the closing prayer walks up the steps. Elders Russell M. Nelson and Dallin H. Oaks scoot in opposite directions so the man can sit briefly between them on their chairs.
11:57 — The prayer is over, and conference has ended — three minutes early. (Why oh why can’t we be like the brethren?) The general authorities greet their wives, who are seated in a special section immediately to the general authorities’ right. They also shake hands with a lot of well-wishers and say hello to a lot of strangers who have come up to them. Steve Young does the same thing as he leaves.