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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Actress Roma Downey speaks during Concert of Praise for Gods Word at the Salt Lake Tabernacle, Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. Salt Lake City has been selected as National Bible City 2013.

SALT LAKE CITY — In an historic venue within which praises to God have routinely been sung, some 3,000 audience members in the venerable Salt Lake Tabernacle were treated Saturday night to an evening of specific musical praise during an interfaith “Concert of Praise for God’s Word.”

“This concert is an expression of thankfulness to God for his gift of the Bible,” said Richard Glickstein, president of the National Bible Association, which sponsored the event as part of the organization’s annual National Bible Week observance, during which Salt Lake City has been designated as National Bible City 2013.

Featuring popular actress Roma Downey (“Touched by an Angel” and “The Bible” miniseries) and her husband, producer Mark Burnett (“Survivor,” “The Apprentice,” “The Voice” and “The Bible” miniseries), each of whom presented several dramatic readings of Bible passages, the concert included musical praise and thanks to God from a Jewish cantor (Emanuel C. Perlman), a Christian choir from inner-city Baltimore (The Singing Sensations Youth Choir), an evangelical Christian choir from Salt Lake City (The Salt Lake City Mass Choir) and two choirs from local universities (The Salt Lake University LDS Institute Singers and the Brigham Young University Singers).

Even the prelude music had an eclectic feel to it, with the traditional Salt Lake Tabernacle organ prelude hymns interspersed with the ardent, joyful rhythms and sounds made by the drums, organ and guitar of the evangelical choir’s back-up band.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles welcomed the audience to the Tabernacle on behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“It’s an honor to host this concert of praise and celebration of God’s word,” Elder Christofferson said, adding that the Bible and its teachings are “too often ignored and judged to be impractical.”

“But God’s word out of the Holy Bible is very relevant to each one of us,” Elder Christofferson continued. “The teaching of this divinely inspired book will ultimately lead us to Christ and salvation. I believe that people of faith who read and ponder biblical teachings in their lives form the moral underpinning of society.”

Musical performances for the evening focused on musical settings of Bible verses and Bible teachings. The styles ranged from classical to gospel to pop to rhythm and blues, and included ancient Hebrew melodies sung by Cantor Perlman that, according to Glickstein, were likely heard by Jesus Christ in the synagogues in which he worshipped. For Perlman's part, however, he said the most exciting thing about his appearance in Salt Lake City was the chance to sing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during Thursday night's choir rehearsal. "I've wanted to do that since I was 5 years old," he told the Tabernacle audience.

During an interview last week Glickstein said he was especially excited to have Salt Lake City audiences hear the powerful, passionate singing of The Singing Sensations Youth Choir from Baltimore.

“One day I got a call from the director of the choir,and she said she felt like God had told her to take the choir to the Concert of Praise in Salt Lake City,” Glickstein said. “At first I said no. It just seemed like to much trouble and money to get them out here. But she said, ‘We want to do this.’ And I prayed about it, and the scripture came to mind: ‘Forbid not the little children to come to me for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ And I thought, if God says don’t forbid them, who I am to say no?”

The audience in the Salt Lake Tabernacle clearly was grateful he didn’t, responding with thunderous applause and cheers for all four of the choir’s songs, including a standing ovation at the conclusion of their set.

The most heartfelt ovation of the evening, however, was reserved for the final performance. Following a moving reading of Psalm 23 by Downey, the combined choirs from BYU and the University of Utah joined forces to sing an inspiring arrangement of “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” which included a solo by Cantor Perlman.

"I can't think of anything I would rather be doing," said Downey, capturing the feelings of many of those present, "than being here, involved in a book and a city that I love."

The National Bible Week observance in Salt Lake City, National Bible City 2013, will conclude Monday at noon in the State Capitol rotunda, with a public Bible reading featuring favorite verses from a number of prominent political, religious, civic and business leaders, including Gov. Gary R. Herbert, Elder S. Gifford Nielsen of the LDS Church's First Quorum of the Seventy, Utah Jazz President Randy Rigby, Pampered Chef founder Doris Christopher and the Rev. Gregory C.V. Johnson of the Standing Together ministry.