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Gospel Ideals

I Write for GospelIdeals.org

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Thanks to Deseret Book, I was able to see "Singing With Angels" at the premiere at the Megaplex Theater in Sandy, Utah.  My wife and I attended the showing with a much of the cast, leadership of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and even an apostle from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This project has been one I've been anticipating for a long time. I'm a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which is featured prominently in the movie.  I took part in several filming sessions that were intended for use in the final film. All of the filming with the choir was done on location. One night with the choir in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City, we had to have three or four different changes of clothing for switching between shoots.  They even took some footage from an actual concert that occurred during last year's east coast tour. 

Though I had taken part in a few different scenes, I still had no idea bout the larger plot of the movie and was anxious to see how things all came together.  Overall, I had a wonderful time enjoying the story, the actors, and the beautiful music of the choir.  

The story was one that hit close to home for me as a choir member--balancing the demanding schedule of the choir with the difficulties of family life.  The filmmakers asked choir members to submit experiences from their own lives so that they could base the movie on actual events and experiences. For example, there is a scene where the choir sings to a chronically ill child in a hotel lobby, which actually happened on a previous choir tour.

I felt like the actors all gave strong, emotional performances without going over the top, which can sometimes be a concern in faith-based films. Stand outs were Sarah Kent as Aubrey Larson, who showed great emotional depth, and Scott Christopher, who plays her supportive husband, Jason. One interesting thing about the casting is that, while they used the actual choir, they cast actors to play the choir's director and the choir's president, instead of using Mack Wilberg and Ron Jarrett.  When I interviewed the stand in choir director after the showing, it turns out that he does have a background in music and drama, which helped him more convincingly direct the choir.

I loved how the filmmakers let you heard entire songs and snippets of songs done by the choir in an organic way that moved the story along. Particularly, a performance of "A Child's Prayer" proved particularly effective and touching.

The only part of the movie that I found confusing was the timeline of events. The movie jumps back and forth in time repeatedly, which can be a bit hard to keep track of. Most of the time, this works well, but occasionally I had to try to remember where we were.

After the premiere, I had the chance to chat with actor Scott Christopher and the director Brian Brough. Here's what Scott said. (Warning: The interview contains mild spoilers.) 

Interview with Scott

What did you learn about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir that you didn’t know before by doing this movie?

That’s a tough one, because I’ve know people who have been in the choir. Just a little of the process. It was fun to see some of the actual testing. A girl in my ward just got into the choir about a year ago and I got to see a copy of the letter right before we were going to shoot this, so there weren’t any real revelations.

What was the most emotional scene for you doing the movie?

For me personally, probably the scene where I have to tell Aubrey that I’ve officially lost my job, break the news that I can’t go on tour. She had all the big emotional stuff, and I was just kind of the supportive husband.

What is one thing that people are going to walk away with after seeing this movie?

If they walk away without feeling some of the spirit of the choir and of the music and the dedication that goes into it. For many people, it is a lifelong dream. I just think they’ll feel inspired if nothing else to chase a dream and if necessary to set it aside for something that may be of more eternal importance. 

Of all of the music used by the choir, which song was most impactful for you?

I think that “A Child’s Prayer” was my favorite in the movie. My personal all-time favorite is “Redeemer of Israel”, that latest arrangement with the brass. I wish that had been in the movie.  I did it in the MTC back in 1986 when that arrangement was fairly new with the BYU symphony with the brass and I was standing right behind them and I flat out bawled and I had to sit down because it was distracting and I stood up and tried to continue singing but I couldn’t. So to this day, that’s my choir song.


Director Interview 

 How did you choose which songs would be included?

We actually had our wishlish. We knew we needed “I Am a Child of God”. But “A Child’s Prayer” was actually a really hard one to get, but we knew we had to get it because it fit the scene so well. We had a few things that we had to have, but there are several songs that are just fillers, which was more “what’s not too hard to license?”

They went on tour last summer and we didn’t shoot some scenes until after the tour because we had to find out what they were singing and what we could actually get the license to. Scott Barrick gave us a copy of the program from tour and so we were able to see what songs we had to chose from. We did a lot of stuff that was in the public domain or that the church has the rights to. But we still did have to work with Oxford Press to get the rights to some of it.  The music process was a long, huge endeavor. 

What was it like working the choir leadership?

Great! President Jarrett and Scott were so nice to us, helpful really. From the beginning, it was one of those things that “we want to be able to do this” and they said “you know what? We love the idea. Let’s go see about.” So they went and talked to President Monson and he approved it. Along the way, there was a lot happening behind the scenes, a lot of coordination: wardrobes, seating charts, access to Temple Square, filming by the Christus Statue, in the Tabernacle, and on the grounds. Now we’re working to get the word out with Scott, who does the social media. They were helpful every step of the way.

Were there any instances during the film where you felt the hand of divine providence?

My life is always so chaotic during the filming so that I never get to stop and rest. One thing that I really loved though—we were actually filming the closeups of “A Child’s Prayer” and one of our camera assistants is a member of the church, but is not active. It was interesting, she made the comment after she did a take of that “I keep crying every take. I know it’s going to happen. I’ve learned more about the church in the past two weeks working on this movie than I have the rest of my life.”


It was nice to see that spirit resonating, even in a work environment on Temple Square. She always came to me during the filming and asked questions.

Closing Thoughts

I highly recommend this movie as a perfect complement to your Easter season.  I left feeling both uplifted and inspired and feeling grateful that I got to be a small part of this wonderful production.

"Singing with Angels" comes to theaters in Utah and Idaho March 11th, 2016. Click here to request a showing in your area.

Here are the trailers:




And here's a commercial I got to take part in:


Follow the latest news about the movie on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/singingwithangelsmovie/



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