Salt lake concert: 'A world-class moment'

"A world-class moment." That, according to U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Alan L. Bonner, is what you get when you put two world-class organizations together.

The organizations of which he spoke were the Tabernacle Choir and the musicians over whom he is commander and conductor, the United States Air Force Band and Singing Sergeants. The groups joined forces in the Tabernacle on Temple Square Saturday evening, Oct. 23, for a free public concert and again Sunday morning, Oct. 24, for the choir's weekly "Music and the Spoken Word" CBS Network program.The Air Force Band and Singing Sergeants, based in Washington, D.C., came to Salt Lake City at the end of a 20-city concert tour. Lt. Col. Bonner announced to the audience that the Saturday evening performance was "the twilight" of the tour. The final performance, he said, would be the "Music and the Spoken Word" broadcast with the choir Sunday morning. "We saved the best for last," he said.

The concert, sponsored by the Temple Square Concert Series and the Deseret News, was an eclectic program that featured something for everyone, from sacred music to military marches, and from popular show tunes to compositions that had a classical bent. Some 5,000 people attended.

The concert began with Lt. Col. Bonner directing the band, the Singing Sergeants and the choir in Norman Dello Joio's "A Jubilant Song," a standard for the choir in opening concerts on several of its tours. The band next performed "`Celebration," by Philip Sparke.

With Tabernacle Choir director Jerold Ottley conducting, the choir performed a cappella another of its standard numbers, Jean Berger's "The Eyes of All Wait Upon Thee," which is a moving piece about waiting upon the Lord.

Capt. A. Phillip Waite, conductor of The Singing Sergeants, then led the choir, the military singers and band in two pieces by Ralph Vaughan Williams, "Easter" and "Antiphon," from "Five Mystical Songs."

The Tabernacle practically vibrated as Lt. Col. Bonner returned to the conductor's podium and led the band in John Philip Sousa's "The Black Horse Troop." Next was a piece that few in the audience had heard before, and which was new to the choir, Ron Nelson's "Te Deum Laudamus," commissioned by the Air Force. Performed in Latin, the selection sings praises to God, acknowledges Christ as the King of Glory who overcame the sharpness of death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

After an intermission, the program took on a lighter musical flavor, with the band and Singing Sergeants performing a medley of songs from "Fiddler on the Roof." Although attired in formal military uniforms, the soloists performing the various songs conjured up for the audience images of the oppressed yet delightful people of rural Russia around whom revolves the story of the musical.

Donald Ripplinger, associate director of the Tabernacle Choir, then led the choir, band and the Singing Sergeants in his arrangement of "America, the Beautiful."

The audience joined in singing the next number on the program, Irving Berlin's "God Bless America."

Brother Ottley then returned to the podium to lead the band in Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever." Later, Brother Ottley told the Church News, "I'm an old military bandsman myself, so conducting the Air Force Band in that was just a kick. I had a professor years ago who advised me that whenever you have an opportunity to hear someone who is reputed to be the best in whatever they do, be sure to get there. That's the way I felt about this experience. This is reputed to be the finest military band in the country, so we just had to be there. Then to direct them, well, what can I say? I've probably played that march hundreds of time. It was a delight to be on the other end."

Patriotic fervor reigned in the closing moments of the concert. Lt. Col. Bonner asked all military veterans to stand. As he expressed the nation's thanks and the audience applauded, several of the veterans wiped tears from their eyes.

With the audience already revved up with patriotism, the program concluded with the band and Singing Sergeants performing the anthems of the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard and Air Force. Those in the audience who have family members in the military were asked to stand as the appropriate military branch's anthem was played.

The concert, especially the first half, might have been a surprise for many. Choir member Joyce Winters said: "As I looked at the audience, I thought that maybe they came expecting a Sousa-type program, with lots of military marches and patriotic music. They didn't get that kind of program, yet they were a very attentive and responsive audience. They were an enthusiastic audience with a higher level of music than they thought they were going to get."

After the concert, Lt. Col. Bonner told the Church News: "The only performance that I can think of that is in this league as far as the excitement and how much it means to me was when I took the Air Force Band and Singing Sergeants to my hometown, a little town in Oklahoma, and that meant an awful lot.

"This concert with the Tabernacle Choir was a treat, a real treat. I wish we could work a whole tour together. Performing with the choir makes you want to do more and more. The choir is so powerful and so musical. Its singers are just really nice people. You put all that together, and it's nothing but fun.

"The Tabernacle Choir is world class. I know of no choir that has the musical reputation that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has. It is such a powerful organization. When you put that many voices together, and you watch their faces as they're singing, you know they sing from the heart. It's pure joy."

Lt. Col. Bonner said he has been a fan of the choir all his life, but the first time he saw them in a live performance was when he directed them in the Tabernacle.

"I've watched them on television and listened to their recordings," he said, "but I had never seen the choir in person until we got to the rehearsal (a few hours before Saturday evening's concert). I told them I had a great seat from which to see them for the first time.

"When we began planning our tour to the western and northwestern United States, I wanted to collaborate with the Tabernacle Choir. I have anticipated this concert a long time. It was a wonderful experience."

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