Mormon Tabernacle Choir retracing steps of early ancestors

Music • Choir in the midst of six-stop tour.
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Paul McGuire thought his fourth tour with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir would be similar to his previous trips.

That was before the 47-year-old Provo resident learned he would be returning to the place where a distant relative helped build an early settlement of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

During the choir's six-stop Upper Midwest tour, which started Wednesday in Columbus, Ohio, McGuire and 567 other members and staffers will stop in Black River Falls, Wisc., to recognize the loggers who helped build Nauvoo, Ill.

McGuire's great-grandfather was one of some 200 Mormons who worked in the mills floating wood down the Black River on rafts 400 miles to Nauvoo. The choir will dedicate a marker to the loggers on Wednesday, June 19, as well as perform for the community. Then the singers will board the 11-bus caravan and head to the tour's final stop in Minneapolis.

"A lot of church members don't know about this history," McGuire said. "For me, that connection to be able to go back to that area, that alone is really cool and is a neat experience."

Besides having historical significance, the stop in Black River Falls was added because it was a natural place for the singers to eat and stretch their legs during the four-hour drive between Madison and Minneapolis.

"I got a call from someone in Neillsville, Wisc., and all they wanted was a marker to recognize the loggers," Barry Anderson, administrative director for the choir, said. "The choir likes to be ambassadors."

For many members on the tour, this particular story about Nauvoo's history is generally unknown. Between 1839 and 1846, under the leadership of church President Joseph Smith, the humble town grew to a city of more than 2,500 homes and businesses with the logger's help.

Shipley Munson, 54, a former resident of Chicago, looks forward to learning more about the history of Mormon ancestors. "Any trip in the Upper Midwest is to some degree retracing the steps of ancestors," said Munson, of Sandy. "Many Latter-day Saints made the trip from Ohio to Illinois. It has meaning for people, and I think it will be a great blessing."

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's Upper Midwest tour includes a Saturday performance in Chicago, the first time it has been in the Windy City since 2007. The choir also made its first appearance in Indianapolis on Friday. Anderson said this tour was first mapped out by locating Chicago as a place the choir would like to return and then figuring out where it hadn't performed before.

"Any time we have the opportunity of sharing our music with a new audience, it's always exciting," choir president Ron Jarrett said. "We know they will walk away having experienced the feeling of our music. We hope they will become lifelong friends of the choir and listen to our broadcasts. We think it's an opportunity to gain exposure."

The tour also benefits choir members. McGuire and Munson, who is on his second tour, said what they enjoy most are the long bus rides to and from venues and the conversations they share with fellow members.

But the true joy is seeing their music light up the faces of their audiences.

"There's nothing like a live performance," Munson said. "It uplifts and inspires and takes you to another place." —

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