Before I can even step out of my car, the truly heart-lifting atmosphere of the Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert is already there to greet me: At the same moment I begin to prop open the door to exit my car, the passenger door of the car next to me also opens. The person in that car and I make eye contact—both of us at an impasse as there is only room between the parking stalls for one of us to exit our car at a time. Before I can even do anything, this fellow concert-goer gives me a broad smile, closes his door, and motions for me to exit my car. I do so, and then he follows.
“Sorry, about that, miss!” he says merrily. “Didn’t see you there. Aren’t we lucky to be here? Have a wonderful time at the concert!”
I smile at his enthusiasm, wish him a merry Christmas, and begin walking toward the conference center with a little more pep in my step than I had before.
The cheery crowds are well managed, and it only takes me a few minutes to enter the beautiful conference center—a spectacular building that hasn’t been able to host the Christmas concert live for the past two years due to the pandemic. But now we are back, and the excitement is tangible. People smile and laugh as they make their way through security. People are gracious to each other in the hustle to get to their seats. I make a quick stop at the ladies’ room, and as I open the door to walk back out to the hallway, I nearly run into Sister Tracy Y. Browning, Second Counselor in the Primary General Presidency. To my delight, she is wearing her iconic cheetah-print glasses—an accessory of hers that I admired from afar when she wore them while speaking in general conference. She flashes me a quick smile, but we hurry along so as to not block the all-too-important entrance to the women’s restroom.
Then I enter the main auditorium, and I am hit with a full blast of Christmas cheer. The scene is spectacular. The Choir’s many seats glow like rubies under the lights. Bright green garlands adorn the sides of the stage. Everything was warm and bright and exactly what I’d hoped it would be. I take my seat and watch as young and old stop to take selfies with the beautiful stage behind them, their smiles genuine and nearly as bright as the lights.
The anticipation among the roughly 15,000 people in attendance is electric. When the concert beings promptly at 8 p.m., a few stragglers scurry to their seats, but everyone else’s attention is riveted to the stage. I smile to see Sister Browning once again as she takes to the stage (still in her wonderful glasses) to offer a prayer. Her words are beautiful and calming, praying that we might more fully seek the gifts offered by Jesus. Then, violin bows are raised, lights are brightened, and the audience is swept away in the opening number.
Now, this article would become far too long if I were to detail all of my favorite moments from the concert, so I’ve done the difficult work of narrowing it down to my top three.
1. Payapang Daigdig
Now, I don’t know a word of the Filipino language Tagalog, but that didn’t stop me from understanding the tenderness of this song as it was sung by guest artist Lea Salonga. Before she began singing, Lea (who is the singing voice of not one but two Disney princesses) explained that this song comes from her homeland of the Philippines. Legend has it that in 1945, a young boy climbed atop a roof in the capital city of Manila and looked out over the destruction brought to his beloved city by World War II. With that sobering sight in view, he penned a beautiful song longing for peace on earth for all mankind. The song has been called the Philippine equivalent of “Silent Night” and has been a source of inspiration for people for decades.
Despite my inability to understand the lyrics, it somehow became a source of inspiration for me too. Lea sang it with not only technical expertise but with great emotion. Her heartfelt voice totally captivated an audience of what I assume was mostly English speakers, a testament to me that every human heart longs for the same things, whether they are from Salt Lake City or Manila. And in a beautiful way, that unites us all.
2. Richard Elliot: A Rockstar
Richard Elliott is an organist with the Orchestra at Temple Square. Now, if you thought only electric guitars and drum sets could bring the house down, you are sorely mistaken. Richard played a traditional English carol that required both his hands and feet to fly across the keys and pedals at a speed I didn’t realize was possible. When the song ended, the audience not only erupted into cheers but jumped to their feet in excitement. And we weren’t the only ones impressed—Lea walked back out on stage and proclaimed, “Richard Elliot is a rockstar.” The audience clapped their agreement and then Lea said, “I’m just stating the obvious.”
I am by inspired and grateful for musicians like Richard who dedicate so much time and exercise so much discipline so that they are able to offer us the gift of beautiful music.
3. The Conference Center Turns into a Stadium
The final moment I’d like to share with you came near the end of the concert. Actor Sir David Suchet took to the stage and filled the enormous conference center with his warm, wonderfully British voice. He melted all of our hearts by saying that somewhere in the audience was his “dearest, darling wife, Sheila” and that this year marked five decades since they’d met and fallen in love. A love that, at least for him, began at first sight.
He then told a tragic, yet heartwarming story of an English man who had coordinated efforts to rescue refugee children before the onset of World War II. The story was inspiring and sweet, but it was a moment at the end that brought tears to my eyes. Reminding the audience that “the spark of our tiny effort can fill this world with light” Suchet invited the audience to turn on their phone flashlights and hold them high. In seconds, the massive auditorium lit up with thousands and thousands of phone lights.
I have been to many other pop music concerts, usually in stadiums, where people hold up their phone lights, but never before had it been symbolic of the good each of us can give to the world. That many phone flashlights wasn’t a sight I ever expected to see in the conference center, but it was moving and glorious. The scene was also surprisingly uniting. I’m sure that everyone in that audience has problems to manage, flaws to overcome, and disappointments to carry. But we also all have a light, and a Savior who, if we let Him, will help that light grow “brighter and brighter until the perfect day” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:24).
▶ You may also like: ‘A gift to the Master’: 20 years of Tabernacle Choir Christmas magic