Another General Conference Diary

One of the perks of being a Daily Universe editor is that you get lots of free stuff. For example, last week I got a fake hand in the mail from someone promoting a haunted house. The letter said, “We didn’t want you to hear about us second-hand.” I spent most of the afternoon laughing at THAT, let me tell you.

Another nice free thing I got recently was a chance to cover the Sunday morning session of general conference for The Daily Universe. I got a press pass, and a good seat in the southwest corner of the Tabernacle balcony (right next to the choir), and even a free lunch from the church’s public relations department. It was a really nice experience, even better than getting a severed hand in the mail.

Since you probably weren’t there, I’ve compiled a minute-by-minute journal of what happened in the Tabernacle before and during the Sunday morning session.

8:40 a.m. — After driving for a very, very long time on what’s left of I-15, as well as numerous vaguely marked detour routes, I arrive at the tabernacle. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is rehearsing for the “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast that will begin at 9:30. The Tabernacle is beginning to fill up, but is still rather empty. There are several Men in Suits milling around, doing pre-conference stuff.

8:42 — A lady in a bright-colored dress fills several plastic cups with water and puts them on a shelf under the podium.

8:50 — A Man in a Suit down on the floor speaks into his pen. I cannot determine whether this is an official Man in a Suit or just a man in a suit, nor can I ascertain why he is speaking into his pen. Whatever the reason, it looks odd.

8:55 — A KBYU video person videotapes another fellow’s back. I assume this was to check light levels or something like that, but perhaps it was related to the pen incident.

8:57 — A Man in a Suit uses a ruler to ensure the microphone is exactly the right height above the podium. It is. The Man is pleased.

9:01 — Mormon Tabernacle Choir conductor Jerald Ottley has the choir practice a song they’ll be singing in the afternoon session. He wants them to do a “modulation after verse two,” which turns out to mean that they change keys. They make it sound beautiful.

9:04 — Craig Jessop, the other conductor, becomes engaged in a deep discussion with the choir concerning an A-vs.-A-flat issue in “Press Forward, Saints.” A-flat turns out to be right, and they make it sound beautiful.

9:16 — Well, well, well, who should arrive in the balcony directly across from me but the extremely eligible bachelor and football player Steve Young. He is with a friend, or perhaps a brother; at any rate, it’s not a girlfriend.

9:17 — Elders Neal A. Maxwell and M. Russell Ballard walk up the steps past the choir seats so they can talk to Steve Young and his friend. Elder Maxwell hugs Steve Young. Following that, Steve Young goes back to his seat and graciously signs a couple of autographs.

9:26 — The lights come up and a hush falls on the now-packed Tabernacle as the First Presidency walks in. They shake hands with the Apostles, and President Hinckley motions for the audience to sit down.

9:28 — Lloyd Newell, the famous voice of “Music and the Spoken Word” and general conference, goes to the podium to explain to the audience that the broadcast is about to begin. He mentions that this is the 3,555th consecutive weekly broadcast of the show.

9:30 — A hand from down below the conductor’s stand gives a “5-4-3-2-1” count, and right on cue, the choir starts singing. It’s EXACTLY 9:30, not a second before or after.

9:59 — The broadcast goes over flawlessly, as far as I can tell. When it ends, everyone — including the general authorities — stands up to stretch their legs for one minute.

10:00 — At exactly 10:00 general conference starts. We try to follow the example of the brethren in so many other ways; why, oh why can’t we start meetings on time like they do?

10:10 — I notice the aforementioned Steve Young looks cramped. He’s a broad-shouldered fellow, you know, and they pack ’em in pretty tight on those benches.

10:45 — Steve Young listens attentively.

10:53 — As the choir finishes singing the third verse of a hymn, President Hinckley, prepares to stand up. When the choir goes on with a fourth verse, he smiles sheepishly and laughs about it with Presidents Monson and Faust. When the song really does end, he looks at his counselors mischievously for a moment before standing up and going to the podium. It is one of the funny, human moments that makes President Hinckley so well-loved.

10:54 — The choir and congregation stand and sing “Redeemer of Israel.” Steve Young stands straight with excellent posture, his suit coat buttoned and his hands behind his back. He doesn’t know all the words to all the verses, but neither does anyone else.

11:00 — While Elder Harold G. Hillam of the Seventy is speaking, the plastic-protected documents he is displaying reflect the spotlights in a strange way. A 30-foot patch of reflected light can now be seen on the ceiling, and it moves every time Elder Hillam moves the plastic. I am mesmerized by the light.

11:46 — While discussing the Sabbath, President Hinckley mentions that it has unfortunately become “a day of … football on television.” Steve Young does not flinch.

11:57 — Conference ends — three minutes early. (Why, oh why can’t we be like the brethren?) The general authorities greet their wives, who are seated in a special section immediately to the general authorities’ left. They also shake hands and say hello to a lot of strangers who have come up to them. Steve Young does the same thing as he leaves.

This conference diary lacks the wonderment and fascination that the first one had, since I had already been to the Tabernacle (obviously) when I wrote the second one. So I had to look for new things to be fascinated by. Fortunately, Steve Young showed up.

This article almost didn't get published. I wrote it on Sunday and had it slated for Monday's paper, the same day as all the other conference coverage. Sunday night, however, one of the Universe faculty advisers saw the article on NewsNet, which is the on-line version of The Daily Universe (basically). By an unfortunate coincidence, this article was the most recent one added to NewsNet, which means when he clicked on "Extensive LDS Conference Coverage," this article was the first one to pop up. Naturally, it was a bit jarring. He expected to see summaries of the talks and instead saw this thing, which begins with a discussion of a fake severed hand. He called the editor and had him pull the column from Monday's paper.

When I discovered Monday that the column had not been published, I was naturally a bit peeved. I talked to the adviser, though, and realized the problem. We decided that in the paper, with my mugshot next to it, with a clear indication that it's a column and not serious news coverage, no one would get the wrong idea. So it ran on Tuesday.

Good thing, too. It turned out to be one of the most popular things I'd written to that point. Many, many people sent e-mails, notes, and verbal kudos about it. I was surprised, in fact, at how much people liked it -- this, despite two inches of it being cut out due to space limitations (the version above is complete).

Someone pointed out a joke that I didn't even intend, but that is very funny. At the end of the 11:00 entry, I mention that I'm "mesmerized" by the light. The next entry isn't until 11:46 -- thus implying that I sat there, staring at the light, for 46 minutes. That's not how it happened, but it certainly is funny to think about.