With the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America approaching, this year's Pioneer Day Commemoration Concert of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square took a patriotic bent.
Presented July 22 in the Conference Center, the concert had the theme "For Those Who Follow: a Tribute to Our Armed Forces." It featured guest artist Linda Eder, whose concerts and recordings include Broadway standards, pop, country and jazz, and the return of Brian Stokes Mitchell, a Broadway star who was featured in the choir's 2008 Christmas concert and the Tanner Gift of Music concert that year.
"As the Mormon pioneers undertook their trek to the Salt Lake Valley, they were driven by a desire to find the liberty and peace that are sometimes so elusive," said choir announcer Lloyd Newell in introductory narration. "Although initially isolated, these same brave men and women and then their children and grandchildren soon joined with fellow citizens throughout the United States in this country's efforts to fight for and preserve freedom. Their willingness to serve took them far from the safety of the Rocky Mountains to the Four Corners of the world as they served in the Civil War, in World War I, World War II, in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and in wars that continue in this present day."
The choir, orchestra and guests would be dedicating "both story and song to the pioneers of our armed forces past and present whose own lives and circumstances have led them to serve" in providing many the freedom to believe, choose and live together in peace, he said.
The concert had an intimate flavor, as concert performers or their family members were featured in recorded vignettes.
Dale A. Rasmussen, a choir member since 1995, spoke of how the patriotic selections performed by the choir have taken on greater meaning for him after he was called up at age 52 to serve with the Utah National Guard in Iraq.
Jill Stevens Shepherd, daughter of choir member Karen Stevens, spoke of her experience as a U.S. Army medic in caring for wounded soldiers and providing humanitarian service overseas. Leaving one village after months of providing service there, she and her compatriots on a military aircraft were moved to tears as they gazed back on the scene they were leaving: war-torn villagers waving American flags as they gave gestures of farewell and love to the U.S. service personnel who had helped them.
George T. Mitchell, 91, told of his experience as a member of the Army Air Corps teaching then-segregated black service personnel at Tuskeegee, Ala., always trying to instill in them the determination to do the best job they possibly could.
Brian Stokes Mitchell then took the stage and said, "Some of you may have perhaps noticed a bit of a coincidence that the last name of the gentleman you just saw and my last name are one and the same. Actually, it's not a coincidence: He's my dad."
Introducing his father in the audience, he said, "Dad, I love performing here, because this is a room full of friends, and now they are all your friends too."
Miss Eder performed "If I Had My Way," written just after the 9-11 attacks in 2001 and said that if she had her way, people would never be faced with war again but, in the meantime, she adds her gratitude to that of others for all who serve in the armed forces. Speaking of those who send a child, spouse or friend off to war or who have lost love ones in conflict, she gave a moving rendition of the Sammy Fain song made popular during World War II, "I'll Be Seeing You."
Richard Louis Elliott Jr. in a recorded segment told of being wounded at the Battle of the Bulge, recovering, then making his way back to be reunited with his unit across the Rhine River in Germany. In tribute to his father, Salt Lake Tabernacle Organist Richard Elliott then performed on the Conference Center organ the infectious "Liberty Bell March" by John Philip Sousa.
John Williams' "Hymn to the Fallen" and a finale of "Let There Be Peace on Earth" featuring all the concert performers capped this unusual Pioneer Day Commemoration Concert, in which the only traditional Pioneer Day offerings were the two introductory selections, "They, the Builders of the Nation" and "Come, Come, Ye Saints."