The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square’s Christmas concert was more than a night of music. It was also a night for stories — from finding hope in the Philippines to doing what was needed to help children as World War II was building in Europe and to that of a family with a baby.
In addition to singer and “Disney Legend” Lea Salonga and British actor Sir David Suchet joining the Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra and Bells at Temple Square and Gabriel’s Trumpets for this year’s Christmas concert on Thursday, Dec. 15, a surprise guest was invited to the stage in connection to the story Suchet shared.
Stories of hope and peace
The voice of Broadway singer and actor Salonga soared as she sang “The Most Wonderful Time of The Year,” and choir conductor Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of “Payapang Daigdid” — a Filipino song that translates to “Peaceful World” and can be considered a counterpart to “Silent Night.”
“In my home country, in the Philippines, Christmas begins in September,” she said before singing “Payapang Daigdid.” After Pearl Harbor was attacked during World War II, so was Manilla in the Philippines. It was three years later in 1946 when Felipe Padilla de Leon climbed some the ruins and was inspired by what he saw to write “Payapang Daigdid.”
“It has brought hope and peace to the Filipino people ever since,” Salonga said, wishing those in the audience hope and peace this Christmas.
She joined the choir for assistant conductor Ryan Murphy’s arrangement of “Christmas Together,” including renditions of “Sleigh Ride,” “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “O Holy Night.”
Prior to singing “The Story Goes On” from “Baby,” Salonga noted how the Nativity story means something special to women. “Mary is not just another character in the Bible. She’s a first-time mother with a unique role and responsibility,” Salonga said.
She added: “Christmas for us includes thinking about new life coming into the world, and nurturing the next generation. It’s a story we all share as women, a story that goes on.”
Salonga, who is the singing voice of Princess Jasmine from “Aladdin” and Fa Mulan for “Mulan” and “Mulan II,” and she won a Tony Award for her role in “Miss Saigon.” She has also won the Olivier, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World awards.
Story of ‘doing good where there was a need’
Suchet, who is best known for his television role as Agatha Christie’s famous Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot, shared “Endless Gifts, Endless Night: The Nicholas Winton Story” about Winton’s effort to organize the rescue of children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia prior to the war breaking out in 1939.
Winton, then 29 and working as a stockbroker in England, canceled a ski vacation in Switzerland to go with a friend to Prague. There in winter, he saw the Jewish camps and heard requests from parents to help them find a way to safeguard their children.
“He turned this problem over in his mind. ‘If it’s not impossible,’ he thought, ‘then there must be a way to do it,’” Suchet shared.
Winton found a solution to help the families — getting special waivers for the children to travel without their parents. It included raising 50 pounds per child, the equivalent of about $4,000 now, and finding host families for each, Suchet said. And when he returned to England with names of hundreds of children, he went to work raising money, finding host families and working with government officials. By the time the border closed nine months later, he had helped 669 children, Suchet said.
Then, the documents — including the identities of the children — were in a scrapbook that ended up in his attic for decades as he married, had children, worked and “went about doing good where there was a need,” Suchet said as he told the story from the stage designed to look like an attic and surrounded by giant books.
The story resurfaced when Winton’s wife found the scrapbook and they worked to have the history in the scrapbook preserved. He was invited to be on BBC’s “That’s Life” and many of those children, now parents and grandparents themselves, were there. In his later years, “he was surrounded by his honorary children and grandchildren,” Suchet said.
Holding up the lights on their cellphones, the audience was invited to sing a new verse of “Once in Royal David’s City,” with lyrics “Light of God grown bright within us,/Let Thy love in us increase,/Shine through us in all our service,/Lift us up in joy and peace./Lead us in Thy path we pray,/Make us one this holy day.”
As a surprise guest, Winton’s son Nick Winton was invited on the stage — and was welcomed with applause from the audience.
“For my father, he believed in what he called active goodness,” Nick Winton said. “That is to be a good person, you should actively do things to help others rather than be passive and simply avoid doing anything bad.
“And he spent most of his very long life helping to make the world a better place and love doing it and that to me is the essence of the Christmas spirit,” Winton said.
The choir sang “Rocking Carol,” a traditional Czech carol before Suchet also shared the Christmas story from Luke 2. He prefaced the scripture passage with an invitation: “I hope that this week, this Christmas will inspire us to regard one another as lovingly and tenderly as a newborn child. We are all God’s children.”
Stories through music
The concert opened with “I Saw Three Ships” with the bells ensemble and “When the Shepherds Saw the Light” featuring the Gabriel Trumpet Ensemble and dancers. “And Then Shall Your Light Break Forth” also featured the trumpets, and the orchestra played “Ding Dong! Merrily on High.”
Following “Christmas Together” with Salonga, the choir and orchestra performed Wilberg’s arrangements of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” and “Hosanna in excelsis (Based on Canon in D)” that left a reverential feeling in the Conference Center.
Dancers and the bells ensemble joined the choir and orchestra on the stage set with giant books for “Here We Come A-Caroling,” also Wilberg’s arrangement.
Organist Richard Elliott and the orchestra combined for a rousing “On Christmas Night (Sussex Carol)” that received appreciative applause from the audience.
Salonga joined the choir, orchestra, bells and trumpeters for the traditional finale “Angels From the Realms of Glory.”
The audience this year was limited to 15,000 in the 21,000-seat Conference Center due to the construction on and around Temple Square.
The concert continues Friday, Dec. 16, and Saturday, Dec. 17, and tickets have been distributed for those performances. Salonga and Suchet will be featured in this week’s “Music & the Spoken Word” on Sunday, Dec. 18, at 9:30 a.m., and tickets are not required.
This concert will be broadcast on PBS and BYUtv next Christmas season.
The 2021 concert, “O Holy Night,” premiered on PBS earlier this week and is showing this Sunday, Dec. 18, at 6 p.m. MST on BYUtv. It will air and stream on both channels through Christmas.