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British actor John Rhys-Davies 'flies' during Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert

Published: Friday, Dec. 13 2013 4:35 p.m. MST

Hosts assured her that when the Conference Center is filled with people it feels more intimate, and that turned out to be the case, she said. Singing, dancing, the performance of the Bells on Temple Square all came together in a “miraculous way,” she added.

“I’m really feeling very, very blessed and lucky to be here, especially at this time of year and in this environment, and I’m so grateful that they invited me,” she said.

Rhys-Davies said, “It is a unique experience. … This community has a natural warmth and affection and outgoing kindness and consideration. It isn’t feigned, it isn’t put on, it isn’t designed specially for visitors. It’s rooted in that central thing of good manners and natural kindness.”

He said he sometimes speaks to young people about shyness, telling them it is quite natural. “But you have to understand, it is egotism.

“You walk into a room and suddenly there's all these people there. And you think, ‘Oh, they’re all judging me; they’re looking at me.’ Turn it the other way around and think, ‘I’m walking into a room full of very shy people, and my job is to make them feel at ease and comfortable in their situation.

“That is really the root of good manners: making the people around you feel comfortable. … You people have it in abundance. You have it naturally. It comes so easily for you.”

Rhys-Davies was asked about his reading of the familiar Nativity story from Luke 2, which is a customary element of the annual concert in which a guest artist invited in a given year reads the passage that year.

“What I was trying is not do a reading but tell a story,” he said. “And you run a risk: Was it over the top? Is it too close to being too theatrical? And yet how can you avoid a measure of theatricality when you’ve got 21,000 people in the house?

“You are clearly men and women of stronger faith than I have, but sometimes when you come to repeated passages you’ve heard many times in church, the freshness of it gets lost. What I was trying to do … was say, ‘Look! This is an extraordinary thing. Let me tell you what happened.’ … If you don’t understand this is the most extraordinary thing that has happened to any shepherd in history, then you miss the point of the story.”

A high point of the annual concert that audiences have come to anticipate is Salt Lake Tabernacle organist Richard Elliott’s solo, which always bears a unique flair. This year he melded the tune of “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen” with the rhythm and harmonic structure of “March of the Toys” from “Babes in Toyland.” At one point he played a passage from Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” entirely with his feet on the pedals of the organ console.

The delighted audience rewarded the organist with a standing ovation.

The final performance of the concert is Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets have all been distributed, but Ruth Todd of LDS Public Affairs said would-be attendees are encouraged to take their chances in a stand-by line that forms at the north gate of Temple Square prior to the concert.

And Sunday’s live “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast by the choir and orchestra at 9:30 a.m. will include a mini-concert following the broadcast with selections repeated from the Christmas concert.

The concert is customarily recorded and edited for presentation over PBS television stations and for distribution the following year on DVD and CD.

Email: rscott@deseretnews.com

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