About Utah: Interfaith concert to honor Mom

Published: Sunday, Nov. 25 2012 11:50 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Ask Taryn Elkins how she managed to not only pull together all the many parts of her interfaith Christmas concert that began as nothing more than a dream and have it wind up, in its inaugural year no less, in the acoustically perfect Tabernacle, the Carnegie Hall of Salt Lake, and she'll give you a one-word answer:

Mom.

Press her for more of an explanation and she'll come up with another M word.

Miracle.

"To me, that's what it is, a miracle that this is happening," says Taryn, a musician who lives in Orem. "All the doors that have opened, it's all been so amazing."

The culmination will be a week from Saturday, Dec. 8, when the doors of the 145-year-old Tabernacle will swing open at 2 p.m. and again at 7:30 p..m. for "A Celebration of Christ," a concert featuring hundreds of performers from many faiths, all with one common purpose — to praise the birth and life of Jesus through music.

The performances are free to the public. Tickets may be obtained online at www.lds.org/church/events/temple-square-events.

The idea for the ecumenical event began nearly eight years ago, when Taryn lost her mother to cancer.

Rita Elkins was just 54 when she died, and this "caring, independent, passionate Italian woman," as Taryn describes her mom, left a legacy of appreciation for the finer things of life.

Born Rita Palmieri in Florence, Italy, and raised in Richmond, Va., after her doctor father immigrated to the United States to be with his extended family, she made her way to Utah when a BYU brochure fell into her hands and she was mesmerized by the mountains. A Catholic girl among all those Mormons, she met a Utah boy, Scott Elkins, joined the LDS Church, they married, and she never left.

At BYU Rita taught art history classes with a flourish only an Italian born in Florence could muster.

"She spread culture wherever she went," says Rita's sister, Bianca Palmieri Lisonbee, associate producer and creative consultant for "A Celebration of Christ."

"Mom adored two things," says Taryn, "One was Christmas. She shopped all year long. She had a closet with a sign that said 'Do Not Enter Or I Will Beat You.'

"The other was Christ."

Hence, the concert — it's a gift from Taryn to her mother.

"It's all dedicated to her," says Taryn. "To her legacy of inspiring people through the common ground of art and music."

"An interfaith gathering is exactly what she'd want," says Taryn. "To see us sitting there with our Christian neighbors. She knew the power of art and music to transcend any boundaries."

The concert will feature choirs from Episcopalian, Baptist, LDS, Methodist, Presbyterian and Catholic churches. They will perform compositions arranged by Taryn that blend classic Christmas songs with well-known hymns. "How Great Thou Art" with "O Holy Night." "Be Still My Soul" with "Silent Night." "Sleigh Ride" with "Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam." "Angels We Have Heard on High" with "Ave Maria." And many others.

Taryn began plotting in earnest to make this happen about two years ago. Looking back, she has a hard time believing how many people from so many different faiths embraced the concept and said "yes."

People like Mike Imperiale, the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Salt Lake City.

"I remember the first time we saw Pastor Mike, who has been so helpful," says Taryn. "The feeling was magical. Right from the start, we knew he felt our love and we felt his."

Others stepped in line. Vic Deauvono, the producer/director, made many important contacts in the music world, as did Ryan Eggett, who signed on as musical director.

The next thing Taryn knew, not only had they secured choirs and orchestras from a cross-section of Christian faiths, but the LDS Church said go ahead and use the Tabernacle, it's free that day.

For Taryn, it's a dream come true.

"I remember as a little girl watching 'Mr. Krueger's Christmas,' " she says, referring to the film where the actor Jimmy Stewart plays a janitor who dreams that he's in the Tabernacle, conducting the choir. "I decided I wanted to do that someday."

Someday will be a week from Saturday.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: benson@desnews.com

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