PBS president Paula Kerger made an announcement at this past weekend’s Christmas concert by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir that comes as little surprise. She said the choir’s Christmas concert, now in its ninth season of broadcast, had become the No. 1-rated entertainment on PBS during the holidays with more than 4 million Americans watching it each year.
Why little surprise? Because America’s favorite choir at Christmas produces a program that is simply spectacular with guest artists like this year’s award-winning actress Jane Seymour, and baritone, Nathan Gunn added to the 360-voice choir, the 100-piece Orchestra at Temple Square, 32 bell ringers and 110 dancers—all focused on celebrating the coming of the Lord into the world.
This year the stage of the conference center was transformed into a medieval castle, with stone towers rising, snow-flocked Christmas trees, and stain-glass windows. Giant horns, as if trumpeting the good news, were hung from the gold organ pipes and draped from the ceiling. Sing for joy, the Lord is born.
Come with us on a photo essay as if you were there along with the 85,000 who came to the conference center to enjoy the delights.
The conference center is transformed each year for these Christmas spectaculars where the ambience matches the glorious singing.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, under the direction of Mack Wilberg, sang a range of songs from the playful ‘Twas the Night before Christmas” to classic Christmas choruses by Bach, Poulenc and Honegger.
Christmas trees, lit and edged with snow, took on different appearances as various colors of lights played across them. It took 110 microphones, 17 cameras and 125 volunteers behind the scene to stage this show, but what impressed baritone Nathan Gunn is that so many were volunteers. He said, “Everybody who’s here wants to be here. You don’t have people running away from rehearsal. They’re actually showing up early. Every single person I’ve spoken to, whether they’re working backstage or they’re in the choir or in the orchestra, have a smile on their face and really giving of themselves. That is palpable, and is something that, for me personally, helps lift up a performance to a higher level.”
Lords and ladies of the court, dressed in the colorful costumes of the medieval world danced down the aisles to “Sing Forth This Day,” a composition by the choir’s musical director Mack Wilberg who also arranged several of the songs for the evening. He has developed an international reputation for his moving arrangements.
The dancers wave their arms and send them skyward as if announcing the true King.
Their dances were a riot of color and joy as they turned and swirled before the singing choir.
In many songs, the length of the stage was used for the 110 dancers.
In his rich baritone, Nathan Gunn sang “In dulci jubilo” and “Sing Lullaby.” He told the audience that as a father of five he loves the entire season including putting a reindeer costume on his dog, Nacho.
Nathan Gunn also sang a wintry mix of “Winter Wonderland, White Christmas and Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
Jane Seymour told the story of King Wenceslas, about an ancient king who cared for the needs of a poor man on a dark and chill Christmas Eve. Seeing the man he asked his page, “Is he one of us? None of us would be out there what with the freezing cole and not knowing what creatures might be lurking.” She said that when you look around and see how deeply people have been challenged this year, you wonder how you can make a difference for them. There is no better time than now to open your heart and give to others.
She told the back story to the tale of King Wenceslas. Though we may know the first line of the carol, not many have listened to the entire story.
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel
“Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”
“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather
“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”
In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing
Following the choir’s singing “Silent Night”, Seymour also gave a moving rendition of Luke 2, the Christmas story, followed by Mack Willberg’s arrangement of “Angels, from the Realms of Glory.”
Angels danced on the stage, dressed in beautiful white.
The Salt Lake temple glows against the night time sky as more than 20,000 audience members leave the conference center. For them, it has been a feast of excellence with everything performed to its highest, most moving degree.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir calls this evening their gift to the community and tickets have to be requested several weeks in advance—and then are still difficult to obtain.
The lighting of Temple Square is a tradition that marks the season for so many. What would Christmas be without a visit to see the lights on Temple Square?
The Assembly Hall is adorned on every side with bright colors.
Families, even with small children, brave the cold for the treat of seeing the lights.
Enchantment lies around every corner. Could the Tree of Life have possibly been more beautiful?
The lights decorating the Nauvoo Bell are highlighted by a puff of warmer steam in the background.
Splashes of light adorn the temple in every direction.
These lanterns take us to another era when the lack of electricity did not allow for this full display of lights and color.
After the display of color surrounding the massive and beautiful buildings, the glory of the temple and the displays on every side of musical and cultural excellence, this was our last sight of the evening. It is a rude and small cabin from the pioneer era. Could these early Saints in their poverty, their hands shaking in the frozen air of winter, their cabins lit only by the stub of a candle, have dreamed what the Church would become?