“Church Joins Salt Lake City in Welcoming the World,” Ensign, Apr. 2002, 75–76
The eyes of the world were on Utah in February as Salt Lake City hosted the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Much attention was focused on the Church as its leaders and members joined with the Salt Lake community in welcoming the world. “It goes clear back to the book of Isaiah, which says that Zion would be established at the tops of the mountains and that the nations of the world would come there,” said Elder Henry B. Eyring of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in a Los Angeles Times article. “In a sense we expected it. Only, the prophecies didn’t say anything about downhill skiing.”
Meeting Global Leaders
On 8 February, the First Presidency greeted United States President George W. Bush and first lady Laura Bush in the Church Administration Building, where they gave the president and his wife each a personal copy of their family history. Following the meeting, President and Mrs. Bush attended a private reception at the Utah State Capitol. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir opened the reception by singing “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
The following morning, the First Presidency also met briefly with United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Secretary-General Annan and the First Presidency discussed peace initiatives, humanitarian aid efforts, and how such efforts are working to relieve human suffering.
Following the meeting, Primary general president Coleen K. Menlove joined Secretary-General Annan and other global leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge in a panel discussion on helping disadvantaged children. The discussion, held in the Church’s Conference Center, was sponsored by Olympic Aid, the official charity of the Olympic Games, which seeks to use sports to rehabilitate children in war-torn countries.
Dressing Up the City
Downtown Salt Lake City provided a breathtaking backdrop for the games, and the Church played a big part in helping the area shine. Hundreds of thousands of lights on Temple Square, normally displayed only during the Christmas season, were lit up again for Olympic visitors.
Two of the 12 giant banners of winter athletes that graced the west sides of some of Salt Lake’s buildings were hung at Church Headquarters—a 289-by-133-foot banner of a figure skater on the Church Office Building and a 46-by-108-foot banner of a skeleton racer on the Church Museum of History and Art. A huge image of the Olympic rings was projected onto the west side of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building each night of the Olympics. At the request of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the Olympic Winter Games (SLOC), the Church donated the use of one of its downtown parking lots, where SLOC built the Olympic Medals Plaza. “The Church was so wonderful, so helpful in making all this happen,” said Kathy Hunter, cityscape manager for SLOC.
When Emmy Award–winning producer Don Mischer and his colleagues were hired to stage the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics in Salt Lake City, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was the first performance group they thought of including. Indeed, from the first moments to the grand finale of the opening ceremonies, the music of the choir was a prominent feature in the two-and-a-half-hour spectacular, seen by a TV audience of an estimated three billion. “What a tremendous honor it was for the choir to be asked to represent the Church, the state of Utah, the United States, and even the power of humanity and what it can do,” said choir director Craig Jessop.
As the U.S. flag found in the rubble of the World Trade Center was carried into the Olympic Stadium, the choir sang “The Star Spangled Banner.” Many of the 52,000 spectators present were visibly moved. Accompanied by the Utah Symphony Orchestra, the choir also sang “Call of the Champions,” this year’s Olympic theme composed especially for the choir by five-time Oscar-winning composer John Williams; Spiro Samara’s “Olympic Hymn,” traditionally performed during Olympic ceremonies; Mikis Theodorakis’s “Ode to Zeus,” performed as the torch came into the stadium and the Olympic caldron was lit; and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” performed during the fireworks of the grand finale. The choir provided backup to other numbers performed during the ceremonies.
The story of the Mormon pioneers was presented as the ceremonies turned to telling the history of Utah. Horses, wagons, and handcarts rolled into the stadium while performers dressed like pioneers danced to Western music.
Thousands of the volunteer performers in the ceremonies were members of the Church.
At the request of SLOC, the Tabernacle Choir offered four free Saturday-night concerts in the Salt Lake Tabernacle as part of the Cultural Olympiad that runs concurrent with the games.
Accompanied by the Orchestra at Temple Square, the choir kicked off the Olympiad concert series on 9 February with a musical tribute to the Olympic Games. Musical guests included mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, John Williams, the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, and Salt Lake’s International Children’s Choir. A highlight of the program occurred when Mr. Williams conducted a set of his own compositions, including this year’s Olympic theme, “Call of the Champions.”
“This is by far the best thing I’ve seen since I got here,” remarked an Olympic visitor from Maine.
Clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, a cappella ensemble king’singers, and percussionist Evelyn Glennie were featured guest artists at the other Cultural Olympiad concerts with the choir. On the Sunday morning following each of the concerts, guest artists joined the choir for its weekly broadcast Music and the Spoken Word.
Light of the World
The Church put on its own cultural offering for visitors to Salt Lake City during the games. Light of the World: A Celebration of Life, the first theatrical spectacular held in the Conference Center, ran for 14 performances from 5 February to 2 March, before a total audience of more than 290,000. The Tabernacle Choir and a cast of 1,500 volunteer musicians, dancers, and actors, accompanied by the Orchestra at Temple Square, performed on a domed stage designed to represent the earth.
Written by Latter-day Saint composers and writers, the production told the story of the Creation and the purpose of life. Interwoven throughout the spectacular were inspirational stories of Olympic athletes and a brief history of the Church, including the stories of the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Brigham Young, and the Mormon pioneers. The production ended with a video clip of President Hinckley bearing testimony of Jesus Christ as the Light of the World.