VANCOUVER, Wash. The American flag and the Pledge of Allegiance took on renewed significance at a powerful performance here, as nearly 700 youth from four Vancouver Washington stakes united in song to declare their loyalty to God and country in "Praise to the Lord A Choral Festival Extravaganza." Their three patriotic performances June 30 at a local high school gymnasium drew press coverage and nearly 6,000 enthusiastic spectators, who cheered, cried and gave standing ovations. Many people who are not members of the Church attended.
The music festival, which had been in rehearsal weekly since January, drew coverage from both local daily newspapers. The Columbian ran two pictures and an extensive article extolling the virtues of the young Church members in an article entitled, "Patriotic music remains in style for devoted youths."
The choir, accompanied by the Northwest LDS Symphony, an organ, two pianos, a harp and a hand-bell choir, began with a stirring rendition of "God Bless America," conducted by Alex Gilbert, 16, of the Vancouver East Stake. Sixty-four American flags were carried in and a 15-yard-by-30-yard flag was slowly unfurled down 14 stadium bleachers behind the choir by 12 young men. Members of the audience spontaneously came to their feet placing their hands on their hearts. It was followed by an a capella rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" sung by priests Dennis Gillespie, Jonah Barnes, Andrew Jensen and Grant Jackson. The audience was then invited to join with the choir in saying the Pledge of Allegiance.
The pledge was recited loudly and with great fervor, tears glistening in many eyes. Afterward, cries of "Bravo!" rang from some audience members.
"I ran out of tears," said one audience member, Rod Smith.
"I'm speechless," said Joel Karn, a local school music director of several award-winning choirs.
Reed Sampson, the public relations manager of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barber Shop Quartet Singing in America, was in town for a convention of his organization and attended the performance. "It was magnificent," he said afterward. "It was so heartening to see young people involved in this caliber of performance."
Speaking of the a cappella rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner," Dennis Hill, the festival director, said he felt inspired with the idea just three weeks before the performance. He asked 18-year-old Dennis Gillespie of the Vancouver stake to find three other people and be ready to sing the anthem a cappella.
"I thought that was impossible," the young man said. "I prayed all the time I would find guys and be ready in time.
"I couldn't have imagined it being better than it was," he said after the final show. "It was so invigorating to be part of the patriotism."
A Catholic music educator, Enrique Medina, attending the performance said of the festival: "It was so overwhelming to see all these children singing and the patience they had to do such a show. They worked so hard."
His wife, Mary Ellen Medina, added, "It made me cry, the focus on God and our country."
The dramatic opening was followed by nearly two hours of performance: a joyful medley from "The Music Man" by a special youth ensemble; pioneer songs; and a rousing barbershop quartet performance of "Dinah" and "I've been Working on the Railroad" by "Reprise," the 2001 international collegiate barbershop quartet champions from BYU. In addition, Blaine Garner, 14, of Vancouver stake, performed a piano solo of "A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief," and Sarah Jean Allred, 18, from Vancouver West stake was a youth guest conductor for "The King of Love."
During the performance, 200 deacons and Beehives cheering and carrying pompons enthusiastically performed "Basketball A Court Jest," a talking choir number. They also were the flag bearers for the American flags and carried nearly 50 international flags during the finale.
Randy Boothe, director of the BYU Young Ambassadors and chairman of choral performance at BYU, and his wife, Susan, arrived from Utah two days before the performance to assist in the final polishing of the choir. Later, they were guest conductors and speakers at a fireside.
"My favorite church song happens to be 'Praise to the Lord' and to hear it sung twice, first by the choir and then by Reprise, was super," said Doris Sanders, a Catholic woman who attended the concert. "I went to Saturday mass after the concert and to my delight the processional hymn was 'Praise to the Lord.' It's been a long time since I sang with so much enthusiasm and joy. It brought a smile to my heart."
Between dress rehearsals on Saturday the youth cleaned the school as a service project and listened to a talk, "Stand Ye in Holy Places" by J. Elliot Cameron, former commissioner of Church education, and his wife, Maxine.