It was a sisters’ week in Park City, Utah. Glorious, mostly sunny with hints of rain, food-filled and sight-seeing galore. We were glutted on it, which I will write about later. But the earth-moving, mind-arresting and spectacularly surprising day for me was the trip to Salt Lake City.
Now, the Mormons have a unique and checkered past filled with polygamy, treks west that were not for the faint of heart, and a sturdy trust in their belief system of prophets and clean-living. The city either directly or obliquely reflects this historical milieu. And while Utah is now only 49% Mormon, I suspect it’s higher in Salt Lake City itself.
CLEANLINESS NEXT TO GODLINESS
I was struck immediately by the astonishing cleanliness of Salt Lake City’s center. I’m guessing there was dirt and trash somewhere but I never saw any. The city had a near gleam to the place. Additionally, flowers were lathered everywhere — fragrant, colorful, well-appointed, full beds with no weeds that I could see. I mean, no weeds! It was a pleasure to just breathe the fragrant air. Sensual, actually!
Female mission representatives dotted the streets, ready with a smile and cheerfulness that was arresting and warm. You just couldn’t help but be startled and smile back. These unofficial goodwill ambassadors created a warmth and energy field one was helpless to ignore, pulling you in with their tractor beam. The funny thing is, you didn’t mind either.
We toured The Beehive House, which was “the official residence of three Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, Lorenzo Snow, and Joseph F. Smith.” We also saw “This Is The Place Heritage Park” overlooking the city, where the Mormon trek across the West is commemorated. We drove through parts of the University of Utah as well, where the first mechanical heart transplant occurred. On the other side of it were lush, tree-lined neighborhoods sporting multi-generational founding families’ homes.
Our little tour bus stopped at a magnificent structure — the Cathedral of the Madeleine — as we circled back to the center of town. While not in the same caliber as a cathedral in Europe, it was nonetheless impressive with massive stained glass windows, high ceilings and an intricately carved altar area. You could smell the wood. It was stunning.
BUT THE CHOIR!
The highlight of our touring was witnessing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra during a rehearsal. They were practicing in a large pavilion, I believe called the Tabernacle, very near the world famous Temple which was veiled in scaffolding for earthquake retrofitting and refurbishing. It was all but invisible.
But the choir! I can hardly put words to it. Over 350 voices rising skyward, rearranging the air we breathed as it floated down into our lungs! All volunteers — these singers, rehearsing a minimum of five hours a week! The orchestra, the same commitment with just over 100 musicians. It’s not possible for words to convey the feeling for me of listening to them all. It’s why we have music—when words are insufficient unto themselves. The word heavenly comes to mind yet still feels inadequate.
The totality of the singers’ voices dancing on the wings of strings, reed instruments, flutes, horns and tympanies is, well, a sight to see and feel. I was drunk on the majesty of it all. Helpless! The atoms rearranged themselves as a consequence! My internal organs moved, gently stimulated as if being massaged. Had there not been seventy-five or a hundred other people in the audience, I would have wept!
I’m sure I could have slept in a pew that night but alas we had to catch our tour bus, get our car and go back to Park City where we were staying. Oddly, it strikes me that Park City’s mountains are a physical, secular manifestation of the divine in their own right—music made of rock and earth. My God, no wonder Redford was moved. The area is magnetic.
IN THE END
I want to go back. I have not had enough of the energy and inspiration this geography provides. While it feels primal in some ways, it also reveals a sort of grooming possibility, ripe and rich with regeneration and potential, much like I think of birth.
And maybe even Heaven!