For Mary Beth Wagstaff, the holiday calendar was rapidly filling up – and it was only October.
Adding another task to the schedule – specifically, joining a volunteer choir that would sing at a high-profile concert on Thanksgiving weekend – seemed unlikely at first. Renowned LDS musician Michael McLean was headed to Spokane and would stage the musical play, “The Forgotten Carols” on Nov. 26 at the INB Performing Arts Center. As part of the production, a choral group of 40 to 50 was being compiled from representatives of local Church stakes.
Wagstaff, a member of the Belle Terre Ward in the Spokane East Stake, dropped by a choir practice in Post Falls on Oct. 26. It didn’t take long before she had an answer to her prayers.
“It was obvious by the end of the first rehearsal that this is something I should be doing,” she said.
The mission for Wagstaff and her fellow vocalists was not a simple one. The group would be required to memorize five songs in a little over a month and be prepared to step on stage in front of thousands of people with a composer known for his work on holiday classics like “Mr. Kruger’s Christmas” and “Nora’s Gift.”
Tamra Dale of Post Falls worked with representatives of Deseret Book to coordinate the logistics of the choir. By the day of the concert, the group was 41 singers strong.
Shelley Crump was familiar with the music and story of “The Forgotten Carols.” The heartwarming account of the true meaning of Christmas had been part of her family’s seasonal tradition for years with her kids learning to play songs from the CD on the piano.
Michael McLean brought the story of “The Forgotten Carols” to Spokane’s INB Performing Arts Center on Nov. 26. Photo courtesy of Deseret Book.
Crump, who resides in the Liberty Lake Ward of the Spokane Valley Stake with her husband David, signed up for the choir along with her children, Brayden, McKayla and Brielle.
“We bought “The Forgotten Carols” and our family listens to it,” Shelley said. “I’d also seen the play in Utah.”
Crump was assigned to lead an ensemble of half-a-dozen singers who would perform a selection called “Homeless.”
“In Spokane and North Idaho, we don’t really get a lot of opportunities to hear LDS musicians,” she said. “So to have Michael McLean appear at the area’s signature opera house is a pretty big deal.”
A dress rehearsal took place at INB mere hours before the 7 p.m. show. Crump described how McLean reminded the choir to focus on the meaning of the play symbolized in lyrics such as, “Lord help us find our way back home.”
“He said it wasn’t about the vocals, the audience or the lights – it was about the message,” she said.
Crump described a story McLean related after the show about a woman who attended the Spokane concert reluctantly with a friend. She had been impacted by an accident on Christmas Day four years ago and viewed the holiday with a different perspective ever since.
Shelley Crump of Liberty Lake and her daughters, McKayla and Brielle, were part of a choir comprised of members of local LDS stakes that took part in “The Forgotten Carols” in Spokane on Nov. 26. Contributed Photo.
“She told Michael McLean that the story and his music helped her feel the spirit of Christmas again,” Crump said.
Wagstaff, who directed the choir, said the opportunity to be part of the concert went beyond memorizing notes on a page.
“Learning songs that testify of the Savior is amazing,” she said. “I think the choir was there to add not only our voices, but our spirit and testimony.”
While the background vocal arrangements added a local flavor to the show, another aspect of the concert had its origins in the Inland Northwest.
Craig Mecham was a student at Brigham Young University in the mid-1970s when he heard about a band in the Salt Lake area called “Light,” comprised of several returned missionaries. As part of the social program at BYU, Mecham booked the group for several events. One of the musicians included a University of Utah graduate named Michael McLean. The two have been friends ever since.
“Even back then, Michael was bringing positive messages to popular music,” said Mecham who lives in the Ponderosa Ward of the Spokane East Stake.
Despite over 20 albums and a vast acclaim, fame hasn’t changed McLean, Mecham said. The celebrated musician has made several trips to the Spokane area in recent years, donating his time and talents to a fundraiser in the East Stake for Habitat for Humanity and appearing at several stake and regional Relief Society events.
“He’s just very personable and gracious,” Mecham said.
Among other topics, McLean addresses audiences about his personal challenge with depression. A number of his songs focus on themes of hope and individual growth with a reliance on the Savior
Around 15 years ago, Craig’s wife, Tamara, created ornaments for the stage version of “The Forgotten Carols.” The same decorations were featured in Spokane as they have been at dozens of venues across the U.S.
Liz Thornton was among the thousands in the INB audience the day after Thanksgiving, launching the Christmas season with family and friends. Thornton, a member of the Painted Hills Ward in the Spokane East Stake, and four guests attended the show courtesy of the Latter-day Sentinel after she won last month’s subscription drive contest, referring eight new readers.
Liz Thornton (left) and four guests attended the concert courtesy of the Latter-day Sentinel after the Spokane Valley resident won last month’s subscription drive contest. Contributed Photo.
With relatives in Idaho and Utah – areas that have routinely hosted the stage version of “The Forgotten Carols” – Thornton had heard rave reviews of the show, but never seen it in person.
“I have the DVD so I knew some of the stories, but it’s much better in real life,” she said. “It was fabulous. It was just another reminder that Christ is the reason for this season.”