Sometime last week, a friend in the ward mentioned on Facebook that he is a member of the Millennium Concert Choir and that they were participating in a performance of Lex de Azevedo's "Gloria: The Life of Christ, Part I - The Nativity." The production was scheduled to take place Friday and Saturday in the historic Provo Tabernacle in Provo, Utah. K-BYU was filming this free concert for a special television program.
We had been unable to get tickets for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert performing at the same time in Salt Lake City, so I was thrilled at the idea of attending "Gloria" and listening to music bearing witness of the Savior's birth. Not only was the performance free, but Lex de Azevedo was playing the piano, and George Dyer and Gregory Pearson were among the featured soloists. I love listening to those men sing! Lex de Azevedo has been one of my favorite composers for many years. Besides that, I wanted to support Randy and all the hard work the choirs had put into preparing the music.
I am told that by Thursday evening everything was ready at the Provo Tabernacle. K-BYU had stage settings in place for the soloists. The intricate stained-glass windows were back lit, and plants and flowers, sound equipment, and cameras all stood in place for the big event. The million-dollar organ and a brand new grand piano were tuned with the woodwinds, harp, and tympani.
About 3:00am Friday, December 17, 2010, disaster struck. A call to the Provo police and fire departments reported a fire burning in the tabernacle. By the time firemen arrived, the tabernacle roof was engulfed in flames. Firefighters battled the blaze inside the building as long as they could, but the heat soon became far too intense and they had to evacuate. A short time later, the architecturally distinct roof entirely collapsed. Everything was lost.
Choir members who heard the news early in the morning tried desperately to contact Brother de Azevedo. When they finally got in touch, like everyone else, Lex was devastated. He threw his hands in the air and declared a total loss. There would be no performance. This time, there would be no show to go on. The loss was too great, too insurmountable.
This wasn't the first time productions of "Gloria" faced challenges. Knowing this, Choir members refused to give up. Could there be any better time to share Christ's message of hope and peace and love? They broadcast frantic, hopeful phone calls, Facebook status's and text messages trying to find another venue where they could produce "Gloria." Lex remained unconvinced, but as he told the audience Friday night, his wife, Peggy asked him to consider that maybe Satan didn't want the show to go on. Maybe Lex just needed to fight a little harder. With a smile on her face, his daughter humored Lex by stating that she thought it was really all a conspiracy. When asked what she meant, she said,
"You know. It's a conspiracy by Kurt Bestor and Michael McLean!" The audience roared with laughter.
At the last moment, the Alpine Tabernacle was made available for the concert. More Facebook and text messages were sent. Street side banners went up. Television stations donated sound equipment and a harp and woodwind instruments were found. There was no time for decorations or special lighting. There would be no "Hollywood" magic. The concert would go on in its most pure and simple form.
Friday night, after a quick sound check, Lex de Azevedo stood at the podium and bore his testimony about the miracle of writing the music for "Gloria: The Life of Christ, Part I - The Nativity." After decades of writing music for the secular world, Lex determined that he wanted to set the story of the Savior's life, as written in the King James Bible, to music. He wanted to answer President Spencer W. Kimball's proclamation that the best music had yet to be written. He spent several months wrestling with his project. In trying to create a masterpiece, Lex described his efforts as turning out to sound like Mozart and Handel, but very bad Mozart and very bad Handel. Feeling his discouragement, Peggy lovingly told him he needed to stop competing with Handel and Mozart and just be the best Lex de Azevedo he could be. Lex described his epiphany as he recognized that while his gift differed from Handel and Mozart, he did have a gift. Then Lex said,
"When the competing ended, the music began to flow."
He taught us all that if we will be the best "us" we can be, angels will make up the difference. He also reminded us that all that was lost in the fire was bricks and mortar, temporal manifestations of something bigger that had first been created spiritually. Everything is created spiritually first. His music was created spiritually, before he put it on paper, and before the temporal representation in the performance. Unlike the loss of the temporal things, nothing can destroy the music. It will always be with us. It was when he realized these things, he agreed to do the performance in the Alpine Tabernacle.
I will never forget that night. The music in its pure and simple form did not need the glitz and glamour of special effects. As I sat in the Alpine Tabernacle with Doug and Levi, the Spirit witnessed to me the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ as the music carried the message of Christ's divinity deep into my heart.
For the first time, I stopped to seriously consider how the shepherds and prophets and wise men, and yes, Joseph and Mary felt as they witnessed prophecy being fulfilled. I remembered my personal experience when I first heard that the priesthood was finally being restored to all mankind, of every heritage. I don't know how to describe my feelings that day, except that I heard and felt the rushing wind as it carried the message around the world. I know exactly why the angels sang. I felt joy then -- and I felt it again Friday night as I witnessed God's word being spread, even through the challenge of loss and destruction. Nothing can destroy pure and simple truth.
[As a side note: An amazing story is now being circulated about a painting portraying the Second Coming surviving the fire. Initially, it survived undamaged, but the intense heat of the residual fire scorched all of the painting except for the Savior's portrait. Miracles never cease.]