Speaking with the same gravely voice and dogged enthusiasm that characterized his nightly news casts, Walter Cronkite said conducting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was "a thrill in a thrill-filled life."
"I had goose pimples," he said during a press conference on the morning following a dress rehearsal with the Choir Dec. 12.
Mr. Cronkite, highly renowned journalist and former anchorman for the CBS Evening News, was special guest of the Tabernacle Choir for its annual Christmas Concert held Dec. 13-14. His participation included leading the choir and Orchestra at Temple Square in one musical selection, and narrating a stirring story from the Christmas of 1914.
He charmed the capacity audiences in the Conference Center with the same affable style that earned him distinction as "America's most trusted man," an honor, he said, that was bestowed by pollsters who had not surveyed his wife.
He began his press conference in the reception room of the Relief Society Building by mimicking the many U.S. presidents he'd covered for decades.
"I have no announcement to make. Let's go to questions," he said jokingly.
"Though I do have an announcement," he said, quickly correcting himself. "Last night I had opportunity to appear with the Tabernacle Choir."
In a storied career that placed him at the front lines of the major events of the world in the last half century, he described his experience with the choir as a highlight in a career of highlights.
He told how his long acquaintance with the choir began while a boy in Kansas City, Mo. "My parents had one of the early radios," he said. "A favorite program was the weekly broadcast of the Tabernacle Choir. I could understand why.
"Now, to be in the presence of great talents buoyed me beyond anything I could have imagined," he said.
Mr. Cronkite's participation with the annual concert included conducting the choir and orchestra in the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah, and narrating an account of World War I describing how soldiers from both sides of the conflict put down their weapons of war and crossed lines in a celebration of Christmas.
The narration "brought a tear to my eye when I first read it," Mr. Cronkite said. "It says a lot about human beings." (An excerpt of the narration is on this page.)
He spoke of current world affairs and the prospects of war and said he didn't know if the message was intended for today's challenges, but it was "timely."
Mr. Cronkite told how he played saxophone, clarinet and sousaphone as a youth and that he now considers himself something of a hobby conductor. When possible, he seeks opportunity to lead military bands.
"It's much more difficult to lead a chorale than a military band," he said. In a chorale, "you don't see players raising instruments to their lips, which is a pretty good clue," they are about to play.
Now 86, Mr. Cronkite said he is still very busy, "busier than I'd like to be."
Still, when his chief of staff called to say he'd been invited as special guest of the choir, he cleared his schedule "pretty darn quickly" by "cancelling everything to be here."
The Tabernacle Choir is "the leading choir in the country," he said after the press conference. The choir brings great music to America, "uplifting the faith of all denominations."
Mr. Cronkite retired in 1981 from a journalistic career that started as a reporter at age 17. Since then, he has lectured internationally, produced documentaries and provides the voice of Benjamin Franklin on the PBS series, Liberty's Kids.
From his short time in Utah, he said Salt Lake City lived up to its hospitable reputation.
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