Famed British sextet highlights Pioneer Day concert of choir and orchestra

Credit: Courtesy Mormon Tabernacle Choir © 2016 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
Credit: Courtesy Mormon Tabernacle Choir © 2016 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.
Credit: Courtesy Mormon Tabernacle Choir © 2016 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved.

The world-acclaimed King’s Singers, longtime friends of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, highlighted this year’s Pioneer Day Commemoration Concert of the choir and Orchestra at Temple Square on July 22-23.

The British sextet, whose tight and complex harmonies have graced a variety of music over the years, took the Conference Center audiences on a musical tour of the British Isles with folksongs from England (“As I Walked through London City” and “Barbara Allen”), Scotland (“Loch Lomond”), Wales (“Migildi Magildi”) and Ireland (“Danny Boy”). They capped it with a rendition with the choir and orchestra of music director Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of the Welsh hymn “Guide Us, O Thou Great Jehovah,” an homage to the pioneer predecessors of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir who were Welsh converts to the Church and made the trek from their homeland to the Rocky Mountains.

But it was a medley of Primary hymns and songs by the King’s Singers that drew the greatest audience response.

“Earlier this year whilst at Brigham Young University we had the privilege of singing the premiere of a selection of children’s songs arranged for us by Ryan Murphy (the choir’s associate music director),” said countertenor Timothy Wayne-Wright. “This very special medley was commissioned by the arts manager at BYU, Jeffrey Martin, in honor of the passing of his young son Jack. Tonight we are especially delighted to share this medley with you. We hope that you enjoy hearing these familiar songs from your childhood.”

The medley included these songs: “Give, Said the Little Stream,” “If You Chance To Meet a Frown,” “Popcorn Popping on the Apricot Tree” (with tiny flashing lights in the choir loft that brought laughter from the audience), “My Heavenly Father Loves Me” and “He Sent His Son.”

At the Friday concert, respectful and prolonged applause for the medley slowly and gradually developed into a louder standing ovation, an indication of the affection many in the audience had for these well-remembered children’s songs.

The program ended with the King’s Singers joining with the choir and orchestra on three selections from a 1998 arrangement by Brother Wilberg of five songs for the British sextet entitled “An Atlantic Bridge.”

“The first two songs were from our side of the pond,” said tenor Julian Gregory. “The remaining three, which we’ll perform tonight, are all from yours.”

The songs were “A Dying Solider” from the American Civil War; “I’m Runnin’ On,” an African-American spiritual; and “Thou Gracious God, Whose Mercy Lends,” with a poem by Oliver Wendell Holmes set to an English folk tune.

“Tonight, we thank the choir and orchestra for this magnificent opportunity to join them in song,” said countertenor David Hurley. “We consider them and all of you to be our great friends.”

The occasion was bittersweet for members of the choir organization, as Mr. Hurley is retiring from the vocal ensemble. At Saturday’s performance, choir announcer Lloyd Newell in impromptu remarks made note of that fact and the friendship he had shown to the choir over the years.

The orchestra opened the concert with Aaron Copland’s “Hoe-down,” and the choir and orchestra set a pioneer tone with a Sam Cardon arrangement of “The Handcart Song,” and with Brother Wilberg’s arrangements of “Come, Come, Ye Saints” and “Saints Bound for Heaven.”

At midpoint in the concert, they performed the Shaker tune “Simple Gifts,” followed by two songs that delighted audiences during the recently concluded European tour, “Deep River” and “Cindy,” ending the segment with the hymn “Amazing Grace” accompanied by the Wasatch District bagpipe band.

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