The following beautiful story, published this week, illustrates the power of music to touch and inspire a life forever. It also testifies of the great truth that you are never too old for change!
June 11, 2008 — News from the Church
When the full-time missionaries knocked on the door of the modest, well-kept house in Hesperia, California, USA, they likely weren’t expecting the 86-year-old man who opened the door to shout, “Where have you been?” But inspired by listening to and even interacting with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir over a period of more than 75 years, Charles Clarke had decided he was ready to do more than just listen.
In 1956, Charles was working in a pipe organ factory in Los Angeles, California, when the Church contacted him about the availability of a portable organ for a Tabernacle Choir broadcast outside Denver, Colorado. Charles flew to Denver to set the organ up. While there, he met Tabernacle organists Alexander Schreiner and Frank Asper, choirmaster J. Spencer Cornwall, and Elder Richard L. Evans, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the writer and announcer for Music and the Spoken Word.
“You can imagine my excitement in meeting all these people,” said Charles, “because I had heard the broadcast on the radio for many years.” The first nationwide radio broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word was on his ninth birthday, and though he’s not sure whether he heard that first broadcast, in his youth he regularly listened to the broadcasts with his neighbors.
Knowing Charles was an accomplished organist, Dr. Asper invited him to “sit down and warm them (the choir) up.”
“That put me in seventh heaven,” Charles said.
Shortly thereafter, Church leaders wanted to use the organ again—this time for the dedication of the Los Angeles California Temple. After delivering and assembling the organ, Charles was given a personal tour of the undedicated temple. “It was absolutely stunning,” he said.
Several weeks later Charles received a surprise phone call from Dr. Asper, inviting him to come to Salt Lake City and spend some time playing the Tabernacle organ.
“When I got to the Tabernacle, Dr. Asper was there to meet me,” he said. Charles spent about four hours playing the Tabernacle organ. “It was an unbelievable experience,” he said. “It meant a great deal to me, and I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful to belong to this group?’ “
But 50 years passed before Charles had close contact with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir again. Off and on during those years, he had listened to and been inspired by the choir broadcasts, and he and his good friend Frank Russell had listened to them regularly since 2000. In September of 2005 Charles and Frank decided to go to Salt Lake City to attend a choir rehearsal.
As the two friends returned to California afterward, they listened to CDs of the Tabernacle Choir. “We just drove quietly and listened to the music,” said Charles. “We felt the ambience so strong. Then I decided—’I’m going to look into this.’ “
One year later, Charles answered a knock on his door, and there stood the missionaries. On January 27, 2007, Charles was baptized.
“That was the ultimate of anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. When I came up out of the water I heard this voice saying, ‘Wonderful! Wonderful!’ I thought it was the Lord—but then I realized it was me,” he chuckled.
Since joining the Church, Charles has been called as ward organist, spoken at stake conference, received the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods, witnessed the baptism of his friend Frank in August of 2007, and been privileged to enter the Redlands California Temple.
“It’s a pleasure and a great privilege,” he said of joining the Church. “It was definitely the Tabernacle Choir, the organist, and the director that I heard for so many years that helped me decide that I must join this Church. I want to thank all the musicians there who have been doing this since my ninth birthday. It took me all these years to find the true gospel. It’s a wonderful feeling.”