“Tabernacle Choir Performs Requiem in Washington, D.C., and New York,” Ensign, Oct. 1995, 76–77
In honor of the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir traveled in August to Washington, D.C., and New York City for four performances of An American Requiem, two in each city. All four performances of the requiem were considered commemorative community events of the U.S. Department of Defense.
The first two performances were held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts on Friday and Saturday, August 4 and 5. A recording of the Washington performances, attended by more than three thousand people, will be released later this year.
The New York performances were held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, on Tuesday and Wednesday, August 8 and 9. The August 8 performance was carried live on the Faith and Values cable television channel; an estimated 1,650 people attended those performances.
Representatives and ambassadors from more than thirty countries attended the four performances. In addition, a reception was held in each city for diplomats and religious, community, and government leaders. “The intent was to build bridges of friendship and solidify relationships. The concerts and receptions were marvelously successful in this respect,” said T. LaMar Sleight, director of public affairs for the North American Northeast Area of the Church.
“Given the fact that August is when those dealing with the business of Washington leave the city, we were especially heartened by the response of the diplomatic community, which was outstanding,” said Beverly Campbell, director of international affairs for the Church. “It seems that the diplomatic community has come to realize that when attending a Church-sponsored event in Washington, they are warmly received and uplifted by the experience.”
In addition to the government guests, representatives from local and national media attended the concerts. While in New York, a small group of choir members appeared on CBS This Morning and NBC’s Today. In both instances, they performed a song and choir conductors Jerold D. Ottley and Donald H. Ripplinger were interviewed. Local radio and network television stations also covered the choir’s visit to the East Coast, mentioning the concerts and the choir’s outstanding reputation.
Music and the Spoken Word was broadcast from the Kennedy Center on Sunday, August 6. After that broadcast, the choir presented a mini-concert to the packed house, receiving a standing ovation for “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Brother Jerold Ottley said the requiem was selected because of its important message. “The requiem attempts to cross the religious, ethnic, or cultural boundaries that normally separate people.” It contains material that represents various cultural groups “who have helped through the years to retain liberty by great sacrifice,” he added. The choir had worked on the fourteen different parts of the requiem since May and presented some of the parts during their weekly broadcasts.
Wendell Smoot, president of the choir, said the East Coast tour meant a great deal to the choir members. “This is something they have worked hard to achieve.”
The work, composed by Arizona State University music professor James DeMars, was described as “stirring” by a Washington Post critic. “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir was clean and professional, as always.”
In the New York Times, a reviewer wrote that “the choir was remarkable not only for its luxuriant sound but also for the clarity with which it managed to project the texts.”
The 320-voice choir was joined by soprano Audrey Luna, mezzo-soprano Linda Childs, tenor Robert Breault, and bass-baritone Simon Estes. Members of the Arlington Symphony Orchestra accompanied the choir and soloists for the concerts.
In addition to the time-honored structure and musical parts that compose a traditional requiem, the music contains the memorial prayer from the Jewish Liturgy (Prayer), a poem by Walt Whitman in memory of Abraham Lincoln (Dedication), and an opening dedicated to Native Americans (Canticle of the Sky). The traditional Sanctus has been stylized with a hint of gospel music and is dedicated to the civil rights movement echoing the statement by Martin Luther King, Jr., “I have a dream.”
Brother Ottley remarked that parts of the requiem most likely will be sung by the choir on many occasions, becoming a part of the choir’s repertoire.
Audiences at all performances were deeply moved by the music, and the requiem and choir received several standing ovations. “The woman I sat next to was in tears throughout the concert,” said Sharma Sleight, a concertgoer and member of the Oakton Virginia Stake. “I found myself not wanting the concert to end. It was wonderful.”