'I didn't realize that I was going to be hit by this extraordinary spirit'

Anticipation ran high when Angela Lansbury arrived in Salt Lake City to perform with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in its Christmas concert. That anticipation went both ways: choir officers and members looked forward to working with one of the world's most seasoned, professional and beloved entertainers, and she looked forward to performing with the renowned choir.

When director Craig Jessop told her that the choir was honored to have her participate on the program, "The Joy of Christmas," Miss Lansbury demurred, "I am the one who is honored."

Asked about the sensation of having the Tabernacle Choir as her "backup singers," she referred to two rehearsals prior to the concert. "I felt extremely nervous," she said of the first time she stepped on stage to sing with the choir.

Her nervousness seemed to have evaporated as she gave stunning performances at the dress rehearsal Dec. 6, as well as the concerts Dec. 7 and 8, and during the Sunday morning broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word and a mini-concert, which followed on Dec. 9. Combined audiences of more than 70,000 people attended.

She spoke of an element in performing with the choir that she hadn't experienced before: "The spirit of this place is so evident. It is all enveloping. It's all around me. I feel buoyed up by it. This has been one of the things I felt very strongly about being here. I didn't realize that I was going to be hit by this extraordinary spirit. I haven't experienced this before. It's quite unique, people doing something for the love of it, not for the almighty [dollar], but just for the love of doing it, of joining together, expressing their sense of feelings about life and all of the qualities that are inherent in the Mormon Church. This is something that is all totally new to me. I had never been exposed to it, and I didn't understand what it was about. But I am really fascinated by it."

She described the sensation of hearing the choir in person for the first time. "It's like a searing, wonderful sound that goes in your ear but it also goes in here," she said, placing her hand over her heart. "It's tremendously effective, a wonderful, uplifting sound. . . . Obviously, every one of them has a sense of personal responsibility to bring this tremendous force into play and they use their voices and their enthusiasm to do so, and this is evident in their singing."

Angela Landsbury acknowledges applause from audience and Craig Jessop, right, Ron Gunnell, center, and Todd Schroeder following her performance.
Angela Landsbury acknowledges applause from audience and Craig Jessop, right, Ron Gunnell, center, and Todd Schroeder following her performance. | Gerry Avant, Church News

After the Music and Spoken Word broadcast and mini-concert Sunday morning, Brother Jessop joined hands with Miss Lansbury and told her that the choir had something to sing for her. As she stood facing them, members of the Tabernacle Choir sang "God Be with You 'Till We Meet Again." Her eyes filled with tears. As she left the stage, she smiled, wiped tears from her eyes and gave a hearty wave good-bye. Afterward, she said that in all her years as a performer, she had never left a stage in tears. "Only last night," she said of the Saturday evening concert, "and this morning. I can't really talk about it."

Asked about her association with the choir, she said, "I feel like I'm empowered at this point. This whole experience has filled me with such a sense of doing something worthwhile and this holiday season takes on a whole new connotation for me. I'm so proud and thrilled to be able to share these times with everyone [associated with the choir]."

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She said she felt that she "belonged" to the choir. "They made me," she said of her performances during the concerts and broadcast. "I couldn't begin to take any credit for anything I've done because everything I did on the show I've done before, but I've never done it with the kind of support and wonderful vigor and excitement that is contained within these walls. This is a very special, hallowed place."

She described the concerts as spiritual experiences. "You're simply drenched in the power and the spirit and the warmth. This is unforgettable."

Brother Jessop described Miss Lansbury as a gracious artist whose fans range from toddlers to senior citizens. "She was exceptional," he said. "You could feel how she endeared herself to the hearts of the people at the concerts. I feel like it truly was a blessing." He said that she has "become a part of us," and that she was not the only one who wept as the choir sang "God Be with You 'Till We Meet Again." Many in the choir had tears in their eyes, he said, and added, "I could not sing. I felt a wave of emotion and when I looked at Angela; it was love. It was pure love, surrounded in love. I felt that we had gained a very dear friend for life."


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