America's choir

BOSTON — The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's 2003 summer tour came about because of Boston; more precisely, the annual Fourth of July Celebration on the Esplanade.

Keith Lockhart, director of the Boston Pops as well as the Utah Symphony, commented a few years ago to Tabernacle Choir music director Craig Jessop that the two groups ought to perform together. The comment evolved into the choir performing at what was called America's premier Independence Day celebration.

And what a celebration it was. More than 600,000 people packed Boston's Esplanade by the Charles River. Every inch of ground, it seemed, was occupied. Waving flags, singing along with the choir and orchestra a medley of patriotic songs, clapping and cheering, the crowd conveyed a singular message of celebration.

"If the Boston Pops is America's symphony then the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is America's Choir," Mr. Lockhart said in his opening comment, to which the audience responded with cheers.

Conducted by Brother Jessop and Mack Wilberg, associate director, the choir performed some American favorites, including Brother Wilberg's arrangement of "Cindy." The choir also performed "America, the Dream Goes On," "America the Beautiful," and an all-time favorite, "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

With the choir and orchestra, people in the vast crowd joined in a patriotic sing-along. They stood when the choir began singing "America the Beautiful." They clapped their hands in time as they sang along to "Yankee Doodle," "The Yankee Doodle Boy," "This Land Is Your Land," and "You're a Grand Old Flag." Then with a fervency one wouldn't expect from such a large crowd, they sang "God Bless America." Some lips quivered and a few tears slid from eyes.

The program was hosted by Harry Smith and also featured performances by LeAnn Rimes.

A highlight of the program was the performance of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" — accented by the booming of four cannons.

New Tabernacle Choir CD features patriotic music.
New Tabernacle Choir CD features patriotic music.

Members of the choir's tour group speak of the "Boston 100," comprised of 100 singers who left New York City after performing in Avery Fisher Hall on July 2 and traveled through the remainder of the night and early morning hours to Boston. They spent the day rehearsing. At the dress rehearsal July 3 and during the celebration July 4, they were the "unseen heroes" of the celebration. While fellow choir members were visible on stage, they were behind stage singing into microphones to provide the sound that wasn't possible to produce from the Esplanade's Hatch Shell.

Much publicity was given to the fact that this was the first year the celebration—a tradition since 1973—would be televised nationally. However, while the event lasted more than two hours, less than an hour was shown on television, and only one selection by the choir was televised, that being "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Choir members didn't get to see the fireworks spectacular. A police escort cleared the way for their bus convoy to return to their hotel, where they changed into travel clothes, collected their carry-on bags and walked to the train station to board at 1 a.m. — a chartered train bound for their next concert at Washington, D.C.


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