The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square are concluding a six-day (June 13-19) visit to Mexico City where they formally kicked off their “Hope” world tour.
The tour marks a new approach in touring for the Choir, under its expanded mission to “reach people throughout the world” with humanitarian outreach, interfaith collaborations and cultural connections.
Choir President Michael O. Leavitt said the Choir’s goal is to travel twice a year over the next four years. The “Hope” tour has three main objectives: sharing a message of hope with the world, giving people a sense of belonging in particular for Latter-day Saints abroad, and building stronger ties with local faith and civic leaders.
“This is quite a different model of travel. First, we’re going more frequently and for shorter periods. Second, we’re not moving from venue to venue. We’re going to be in one major city where we can then use the power of technology to radiate our message,” said President Leavitt.
In Mexico City on Saturday and Sunday (June 17 and 18), hundreds waited for hours under the summer sun before the gates opened. Near-capacity audiences filled the 10,000-seat Auditorio Nacional (National Auditorium) for a colorful celebration of music, faith and culture.
Saturday’s concert was also live-streamed on the Choir’s English and Spanish YouTube channels, which have received a combined 162,000 views as of this publication.
“There are so many aspects of what we’ve been doing that I think really will reach so many more people than just those who are able to come and hear the live concert,” said Music Director Mack Wilberg.
Watch parties across Mexico were organized in homes and Latter-day Saint meetinghouses for those unable to attend the concert in person.
“I think it’s important not to just think about the National Auditorium. There were more than 250 locations throughout all of Mexico where people gathered to celebrate this program and to become better acquainted,” President Leavitt said.
“This truly was a national program, and we don’t yet know the breadth of how dispersed the message will be, but we think it’s big and we think it will have a profound impact on the mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mexico.”
Following a format similar to the Choir’s Christmas celebrations, the concerts featured guest artists and a narrator. The musical repertoire spanned 17 songs and three encores ranging from hymnals to contemporary Latin American favorites performed in multiple languages: Spanish, English, Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) and Yorùbá.
Gérald Caussé, presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ, attended Saturday evening’s concert.
“Music is really the best language. It is the only universal language [along] with the Spirit,” said Bishop Caussé after the concert. “When you have the music and the Spirit together, there are no barriers anymore, no cultural barriers.”
The audience responded enthusiastically to several songs, especially the encore of the beloved Mexican tune “Cielito Lindo.” Most of the nearly 10,000 voices in the audience joined in singing the chorus.
“I think when the Choir started singing in Spanish it was, it was so amazing,” said Abril Martin, who attended Sunday evening’s concert.
The audience grew still when one of the most influential voices in Mexico, the acclaimed radio host Mariano Osorio, took the stage with his own personal story.
“The message that was shared by our narrator, our premier guest artist Mariano Osorio, is a very tender story about his life and the loss of his wife to cancer and how he has been able to move forward with faith and with hope,” L. Whitney Clayton, first counselor in the Choir Presidency, said.
Artists Adassa, the voice of Disney’s “Encanto” character Dolores Madrigal, and Alex Melecio, who hosted the concerts, performed various Latin favorites. The Choir joined Adassa during “La vida es un carnaval” and “Dos oruguitas” from “Encanto.” Melecio’s interpretation of “Color Esperanza” underscored Osorio’s presentation.
“It’s like something special in our hearts for everyone. I think the feeling that we had was in all the Auditorio Nacional,” said Annette Haro Ortiz who attended Sunday’s performance.
Gary B. Porter, second counselor in the Choir Presidency, explained that one of the objectives of the Choir’s world tour is to give people a “gift of hope” and “faith.”
“We were hoping we would bring a spirit of love and inclusiveness,” President Porter said.
Early on, the Choir decided against charging admission in order to give more people the opportunity of experiencing the concerts. The Choir also considered distributing tickets in exchange for food donations to local charities but decided not to because they wanted attendees to “just come and enjoy this as a gift.”
Instead, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Choir’s sponsoring organization, made a food donation to Caritas Internationalis, the humanitarian arm of the Catholic Church, on Friday, June 16.
“These 15 tons of food, of beans and lentils and rice were given to a refugee group here… to feed people for a couple of months,” said President Porter. “They had a great need for that and they were thrilled to receive it and we were thrilled to give it.”
Elder Hugo Montoya, General Authority Seventy, coordinated and delivered the donation with President Porer to a shelter in Mexico City.
“I was born in a different country –– not my country –– and all the family, we were migrants. I remember so well the love of all the people around us. We were poor, really poor, but we didn’t know… because of the love of the people,” Elder Montoya said.
“Because of that, I really understand how the migrants feel during their travels in our country. So, we would like to help them in some way.”
Interfaith and Cultural Connections
The Choir’s first concert was on Thursday, June 15, at the famed Cathedral of Toluca, about 40 miles west of Mexico City.
The Most Reverend Raúl Gómez González, Archbishop of Toluca, made the Cathedral available to the Choir as a token of goodwill and interfaith unity.
The Cathedral also provided the backdrop for the Choir’s new music video. The video was previewed during the weekend concerts as a special tribute to Mexico and its culture. It features landmarks around Mexico City, such as the Monument to the Revolution, and Toluca’s Cosmovitral, a stained-glass mural and botanical garden.
Latter-day Saints who live in Toluca were also featured in the music video.
“We were embraced by Mexico and I believe Mexico felt embraced by us,” President Leavitt said.
“There are places in the world that need this message of hope and a testimony of Jesus Christ and where people are reaching out to embrace it.”