NEW YORK CITY
To start off an Independence Day weekend, there could scarcely be a better mix of Americana: baseball, patriotic show tunes and “America’s choir,” the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The 320 singers, who are on their two-week Atlantic Coast tour, appeared Friday, July 3, at Yankee Stadium. There, in front of 18,000 fans, they opened the game between the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays by performing "George M. Cohan’s Big Three,” a medley of show tunes featuring “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “You’re a Grand Old Flag.”
They topped it off with a rendition of the U.S. National Anthem, which is traditionally sung at the beginning of major league ball games.
The choir presented a resplendent appearance, with women dressed in royal blue dresses and men in navy blue blazers and gray slacks, contrasting with the velvety green of the turf on which they stood. Under the leadership of music director Mack Wilberg, the choir sang a cappella, their performance bringing exuberant cheers from the spectators.
The choir members then donned casual clothes and, with members of the Orchestra at Temple Square and others in the tour entourage, joined the crowd and enjoyed the spectacle, including a nail-biter finish in which the Yankees came from behind to drive the game into three extra innings. Ultimately, New York prevailed with a score of 7 to 5.
Appropriately enough, at one point prior to the choir's appearance, a group of LDS missionaries with their white shirts and nametags were shown on the giant television screens in the stadium. This brought a cheer from the spectators.
The backstory of the choir’s appearance at the game involves Tom Brokaw, anchor and managing editor of the “NBC Nightly News” from 1982 to 2004.
About six months ago, the choir’s administrative manager, Barry Anderson, approached Ronald C. Gunnell, assistant to the president for special projects.
“He’s a great baseball fan,” Brother Gunnell said of Brother Anderson. “He said to me, ‘Ron, what do the think the chances are of us getting into Yankee Stadium? Do you know anybody who could help us?’”
Brother Gunnell thought of Mr. Brokaw, a friend of the choir stemming from his past appearances as guest narrator with the choir and orchestra, including the Christmas concert in Salt Lake City in 2014.
He contacted Mr. Brokaw by cell phone and explained that the choir would be in New York on the weekend of the July 4 holiday. “I said, ‘I just can’t think of anything more exciting than having the choir sing the National Anthem at a Yankee game.’ I said, ‘Do you know anybody at Yankee Stadium who would help us do that?’”
Mr. Brokaw replied that he thought it a fantastic idea. A week or two later he put Brother Gunnell in touch with Deborah A. Tymon, Yankees senior vice president over marketing.
“I went through the idea with her,” he said. “I told her that Tom had performed with us a year before and was a great fan of the choir. She thought this was a great idea.”
He put her in contact with Brother Anderson, who worked out all the logistical details of having such a large group perform at the game, including microphone placement and scheduling of a sound check the day before, in which the singers got used to the challenge of coping with the echo typical of a large sports stadium.
Brother Gunnell said this is the first time he knows of that the choir has sung at a professional baseball game, although it has performed at a game of the Utah Jazz NBA basketball team in Salt Lake City.
“So a big thank you goes to Tom Brokaw for helping us open the door to the Yankees, and what a thrill and honor it is for us to be here,” Brother Gunnell said.