The Mormon Tabernacle Choir augmented its celebration of Veterans Day this year with observance of a landmark commemoration in the United States, the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address given Nov. 19, 1863.
Joined by its sister organizations, the Orchestra at Temple Square and the Bells on Temple Square, the choir on Nov. 10 presented “Birth of Freedom,” a Veterans Day special performance of its weekly “Music and the Spoken Word” radio and television broadcast.
“We revere today those who have served and sacrificed to uphold the cause of liberty in our land,” program announcer Lloyd D. Newell said following the opening performances of “O Beautiful for Spacious Skies” and the National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“These military men and women, heroes proved in liberating strife have labored with honor for their country, helping to establish and protect the freedoms that we enjoy today,” Brother Newell said. “Through music, song and word we offer our gratitude, our admiration and commitment to sustain the principles of peace, friendship and liberty that have inspired our veterans in this noble cause.”
Conducted by musical director Mack Wilberg, the choir and orchestra then performed “Our God Is Marching On,” a medley of official hymns of the United States armed forces arranged by Michael Davis.
Tabernacle organist Richard Elliott then performed a fittingly rousing rendition of “The Liberty Bell March,” one of the well-known John Philip Sousa compositions. The arrangement was by John Linger.
The legendary Irving Berlin composition, “God Bless America,” arguably the unofficial national anthem of the United States, was then presented by the choir and orchestra with Roy Ringwald’s arrangement.
Conducted by LeAnna Willmore, the Bells on Temple Square then performed Chris Peck’s arrangement of Morton “American Salute,” by Chris Peck, a variation on the traditional melody to which “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” was set during the Civil War era.
In his “Spoken Word” sermonette, Brother Newell spoke of President Lincoln’s address, “only a two-minute speech, given 150 years ago, but as long as freedom is prized and those who fight for it are honored, it will never be forgotten.”
He recounted that President Lincoln had traveled by train to help dedicate the Soldier’s National Cemetery before a crowd of 15,000 people.
“First on the program was the famous orator Edward Everett. … To thunderous applause, he spoke with a strong and authoritative voice for two hours.
“Then, in sharp contrast, Lincoln raised what one reporter called his ‘sharp, unmusical treble voice. … In fewer than 300 words, he exhorted all to remember those who ‘gave the last full measure of devotion’ for the nation; he spoke of a new birth of freedom, under God, that would bring true equality; and he said that ‘government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.’?”
The response at the time was muted, but “the timeless truths Lincoln spoke that day persist in our memory and our way of life,” Brother Newell said.
Consistent with the message, the choir closed the broadcast with Brother Wilberg’s arrangement of the well-known hymn “God of Our Fathers Whose Almighty Hand.”