Sharing the gift of Christmas music

Singing Christmas carols is more than holiday festivity for Neil Wilkinson and his eight brothers and sisters — it is a family tradition.

"Music has always brought a lot of joy to our hearts, it has always kept us together through hard times," said Brother Wilkinson, of the Bountiful 45th ward, Bountiful Utah East Stake. "Everything seems right with the world when we sing."

That is why when Brother Wilkinson heard a radio announcement calling for singing groups to entertain holiday crowds on the Church plaza located east of Temple Square he instantly began organizing his family.

For them, the performance meant not only an opportunity to share and spread the Christmas spirit, but also a chance to remember their mother and grandmother.

Lorraine Wilkinson, author of more than 250 musical compositions, died June 28, 1997. Her children, who performed together frequently before her death, have not performed publicly since.

"Mom loved Christmas," said Brother Wilkinson. "We need to do this [to rekindle] the legacy of music she left."

The Wilkinsons are one of more than 50 professional-sounding singing groups that will be performing on the Church plaza this Christmas season — where the Church is expanding its traditional yuletide festivities in downtown Salt Lake City.

More than 1,200 luminaries, 600 lanterns and 1,000 floating ornaments will complement the Christmas lights on the plaza — located between the Church Office Building and the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. (Please see Nov. 7 Church News.)

In addition to more than 200 musical performances on Temple Square, large singing groups of approximately 100 will perform Tuesday through Saturday between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. on the plaza next to the Church Office Building. Smaller groups will sing in four other locations on the plaza, rotating from location to location as they carol.

"For many years we have had people calling us wanting to know if they can go to Temple Square and carol," said Carroll Smith, who coordinates musical performances on Temple Square and the Church plaza. "Now this a way to accommodate them."

She believes the carolers will be a welcome addition to the Church's Christmas festivities in downtown Salt Lake City. "I don't know anyone who doesn't like Christmas music, especially when it is accompanied by beautiful Christmas decorations."

Neil Wilkinson, who has lived outside of Utah for the past 17 years but moved to Bountiful, Utah, recently, can't wait to see Temple Square and the Church plaza with his family this Christmas season.

His extended family, including six of his brothers and sisters and several of their children, also can't wait to be a part of the Church's Christmas festivities.

His sister, Karen John, will travel from Rexburg, Idaho, to perform. Other family members look forward for the opportunity to sing publicly with their children. Brother Wilkinson anticipates the joy of singing some of his mother's original Christmas music, including "I Love the Feeling at Christmas Time."

"Music lifts all of our spirits," he said. "I consider every Christmas song that is uplifting a prayer of thanks for what we have been given — the Savior.

"Songs about the holy night, about the three wise men, about glory to God in the highest, help explain the great gift of Christmas to all of us."

Music, he continued, brings "life and light and happiness" to the Christmas season. "I know that Mother felt that way," he said.

Like the Wilkinsons, Diane Smith of the North Canyon 3rd Ward in Bountiful, Utah, hopes to instill in her children a love of music and a desire to share it with others — especially as a gift during the Christmas season.

She has always visited Temple Square during the holidays and is excited to expand the tradition this year, as her six oldest children will perform on the plaza amid the new festivities.

Sister Smith, who carols in her neighborhood with her children each December, added that Christmas music is one of the best ways she knows to share the Christmas spirit.

"I have always loved music," she said. "I think it is a great tool for lifting your spirits and lifting other peoples' spirits and conveying messages that can really touch peoples' hearts in ways that can't be done otherwise."

For John Soules and other members of the North Canyon 6th Ward choir in Bountiful, singing on the plaza just sounded like a fun thing to do.

Brother Soules said participation in the ward choir increases every Christmas season because people relate Christmas celebrations with music.

"They love the Christmas music," he said. "They love the Christmas story. They want to share that story. After all, when the shepherds were in the fields, they heard angels singing. Christmas music is, for many, a chance to participate in the Christmas story."

Carroll Smith said that there is still space for additional professional-sounding singing groups to perform on the Church plaza. Groups interested in performing may call her at 240-3736 for more information or to schedule a performance time.

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