Friday, December 17, 2010

A Christmas season tragedy

The Provo Tabernacle burned down this morning. Shortly after 2am, a fire that appears to have begun in the attic structure that would wreck much havoc. The Provo Fire Department responded within a scant minute of the first call, a security guard noticing smoke sometime later, but it was already impossible to reach into the roof. Firefighters attempting to stem the tide from within the building were ultimately withdrawn for safety and the roof itself finally collapsed sometime a couple of hours later.

By the time I got there, shortly after 8am, the scene was reminiscent of something out of a period piece on the Great Fire of London. The walls stand precariously; the four towers still stand, but you can see through the windows and doors the detritus that is all that is left of the interior structure and its contents.

I just finished interviewing with Fox 13. They sent a reporter with camera all the way to my workplace to do this. Owning as I do, I've been getting e-mails and calls for information. I don't have a counter on my site, but I can tell by how hard it is to get into some of my other sites that my nephew Richard's network at home, where my web server took refuge against some ISP trouble I had earlier this year, that the Provo Tabernacle site is getting some serious traffic. Some of the pictures are huge once you reach them via the thumbnails. The prints thereof hung in the back passageways of the tabernacle and are now gone.

I'm glad I can play even a tiny part in the preservation of any of this via my website.

Of course, I'm nothing and nobody with respect to our Tabernacle, and have protested as much, but they seem to want my reaction. They say they want me to be on a television program Sunday morning. I can just see myself finally breaking down in tears...

...because it's been hard this morning. I walked around zombie-like watching them putting out the last tongues of flames when I got there. I took pictures of all that I could reach while respecting the police tape. I turned my head away from people as I crossed by them, but some had the same expression that must have been written upon my face. After getting the first e-mails at work, it really came home to roost when I began to think about all the wonderful things that have gone on in that grand old building including those small few over the last 20-30 years in which I've had my own part.

As I write this, I'm thinking of having sung so much great music there. Some of the greatest moments that come to mind are principally with the Utah Valley Choral Society and Lois Johnson. To name just a few (but the dearest to me)

- Mozart's and Rutter's requiem masses
- Rachmaninoff's Vespers (or All-Night Vigil, yes, in Russian)
- Handel's Messiah
- Rob Millet's and Doc Taylor's arrangements of traditional and folk hymns
- a gala night of opera choruses in German, Russian, Italian, French and English

On two Christmas Eves, I sang under the baton of Mack Wilberg with Doug Bush at the organ.

And now I'm thinking about how I conducted some one hundred men singing two Don Ripplinger arrangements and also my own very first choral arrangement in a stake conference when I was Lewis Billings' stake music chairman. I'm remembering now how directing the congregation there was a little disorienting to me because of the building's delayed acoustics. Imagine: to think I got to conduct choral music in that building! It seems almost a sacrilege.

Those days were wonderful and fulfilling for a young, pretty much talentless music aficionado. Working with others with talent to be a part of something so wonderful as the music we made is an indivisible association with the building in my mind.

I'm sure there was much I don't know or haven't thought about that we lost in this fire. Like an original, Minerva Teichert series painting, the one of the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood painted in 1934. This is a heart-breaking loss, significant well beyond the bourns of mere Provo and Utah Valley.

There's the time that Rachmaninoff himself performed. In the middle of his concert, a train on the old line that passed just behind the building rumbled by and the story goes that the great composer and performer showed no more perturbation than simply to suspend his hands above the piano and wait until the noise was finished before continuing his piece. (Okay, I'm an old guy now, but I wasn't around for that.)

Also perishing in the fire, Salt Lake Tabernacle organ pipes deemed surplus from that building's 1917 organ rebuild. Some of the pipes were wood and must certainly have perished; those of metal won't be of any more worth musically.

The stained glass windows might be said not to equal those in the great cathedrals of Europe. I've seen the latter, fair enough. But, I can say that no light was ever warmer and cozier than that pouring in through the beautiful windows of the Provo Tabernacle during a Sunday morning stake conference.

My favorite seat in the tabernacle was on the center aisle, just a few rows from the back, the one with a gallery support. These supports were steel and could be counted on for cooling one's hands or face when pressing up against it during a hot and stuffy meeting.

I remember being disappointed that my own last stake conference was not to be in that building a few months ago, but broadcast by sessions in our stake building. Alas, if I had known. That comfy old chair at grandmother's was always a great place for us children to sit. Then her house burned down and the chair's gone. I don't know who else was thinking about that chair over the years. I always was—hence my website. But I'll bet they're all thinking about now and they will for a long time to come.

I don't know what the best thing to do for the tabernacle is. I can only imagine what the most practical thing to do would be. But my heart is in the building and my voice is for its rebuilding.

1 comment:

  1. I am sad to have heard the news from grandma this morning. The Tabernacle was a very beautiful historical building and have great memories participating and watching the Christmas concerts. They were lively and intense. I will greatly miss this building!