“Music: It Runs in the Family” was the concert theme, and music definitely does run through five generations of the Hammerstein family of Broadway fame as well as members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The choir and Orchestra at Temple Square presented a special concert Feb. 9 for the RootsTech 2017 conference convening in Salt Lake City, hosted by Oscar “Andy” Hammerstein III, grandson of Oscar Hammerstein II, lyricist of the illustrious Rodgers and Hammerstein songwriting team.
Broadway star and Church member Dallyn Vail Bayles was guest soloist for a program consisting entirely of Rodgers and Hammerstein show tunes representing their career from the 1940s hit “Oklahoma!” to the 1960s classic “Sound of Music.”
“Without the Hammerstein family there would be no Broadway musical as we know it,” declared Steve Rockwood, president and CEO of FamilySearch International, as he introduced the program. “Mr. Hammerstein’s great-great-grandfather, Oscar Hammerstein I, established the New York theater district in the area around Times Square and Broadway. And Mr. Hammerstein’s grandfather, Oscar Hammerstein II collaborated with composer Richard Rodgers to create the first American musical, ‘Oklahoma!,’ and the rest is history.”
Andy Hammerstein thanked the choir and orchestra “for giving me the rare honor to share some of my family history with you here tonight.”
He recounted his grandfather’s earlier partnerships with Jerome Kern (“Showboat”) but said that by 1940 “the phone had stopped ringing.”
It was then that Richard Rodgers contacted him proposing that they collaborate on a “cowboy musical” based on a book called Green Grow the Lilacs. It became “Oklahoma!”
“Each had something the other one needed, because Oscar was whole inside; he knew who he was,” Andy Hammerstein said. “Richard Rodgers had been an outstanding success for 15 years, but his relationship with his own collaborator was imploding. And they decided to get together and work on this. It was like alchemy.”
The choir and orchestra performed two selections from the musical, “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” and, with Brother Bayles, “Oklahoma!”
“I recently learned that my grandfather’s words set to music by Richard Rodgers in so many memorable numbers have been sung by this magnificent choir over the last 40 years,” Mr. Hammerstein said, introducing recorded reminiscences from current musical director Mack Wilberg and the two immediate past directors, Craig Jessop and Jerold Ottley.
“The songbook of Rodgers and Hammerstein I believe stands the test of time, and it speaks to everyone,” Brother Wilberg said.
“I always turned to Rodgers and Hammerstein when I felt the program needed relief, needed a lifting point,” Brother Ottley said. Brother Jessop recalled an occasion after the choir’s Sunday morning broadcast. An usher introduced him to a couple. The husband obviously had been crying and couldn’t speak.
As quoted by Brother Jessop, the wife said, “We just had to thank you for the miracle that happened this morning in the Tabernacle. My husband hasn’t been to church for five years. He’s been angry at God. He hasn’t cried; he hasn’t grieved. Our son committed suicide five years ago. I had to drag him here this morning. I had to say, ‘It’s not a church, it’s a tabernacle.”
The choir that day had sung the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from “Carousel,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”
“That released his soul,” Brother Jessop said. “He could breathe, he could cry. He could even talk to God again.”
The choir, orchestra and soloist then performed two songs from the musical “Carousel”: “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “If I Loved You.”
Near the end of the program, Mr. Hammerstein said, “You see how music runs through five generations of my family. But let’s see how music runs through generations of families in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Several choir members were featured in a video who had prior generations in their families who had also been choir members.
For example, Scott Miller, a tenor, said, “It’s been a fun thing to think that my great-grandmother sang solos in the Tabernacle and my mother sang solos in the same place that I have.”
Melinda Baros and Carolyn Tolman, sisters whose parents sang in the choir, said they grew up singing together.
“An amazing opportunity to be able to sing [in the choir] with my sister is such a joy,” Sister Baros said, growing emotional as her sister placed her arm around her.