SALT LAKE CITY — It was with a bit of unspoken irony that Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins began her opening set at the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Pioneer Day Concert Friday with the show tune "I Could Have Danced All Night."
Though she is famed around the world as a prolific classical crossover artist, American audiences seem to know her best for her appearances on the 14th season of "Dancing with the Stars," a fact she mentioned in her greeting to the capacity audience of 21,000 at the LDS Conference Center.
"It was something that took me so far away from my comfort zone," she said. "So after that wonderful opportunity, I'm just so thrilled to be with you here tonight, doing something that comes a lot more naturally to me."
But later in the program, the concert delivered on an earlier promise of a surprise. Jenkins announced that her "Dancing with the Stars" partner, Mark Ballas, had flown in just for the concert. The pair then danced the paso doble to the music of "Espana Cani" ("Spanish Gypsy Dance").
The concert, which also featured the Orchestra at Temple Square and was conducted by Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy, brought other unexpected treats as well.
The artistry of Tabernacle organist Richard Elliott was showcased on the choir selection "Sing!" with a David Willcocks arrangement based on the familiar toccata from Organ Symphony No. 5.
The concert theme, "The Joy of Song," was sustained with pre-recorded video vignettes of Jenkins, music director Wilberg and Grammy Award-winning composer David Foster expressing their feelings about music.
"All those melodies are just swirling around in the universe, and the best songs come through you and not from you," Foster remarked. "Our desire and need to sing — there's something that resonates in the body with that sound. It's supposedly healing. Music is so powerful that I believe it helped bring down the wall. The song comes when the feeling can't be said without it."
Speaking of his popular composition "The Prayer," Foster said he never gets tired of playing or hearing it. "And I never get tired of people telling me they enjoy it, and it seems to mean a lot. It means a lot of different things to a lot of people. So it's a powerful piece of music. Again, it came fast, it came through me, and I think Carole (Bayer Sager's) lyric is beautiful and it's very meaningful to me that when all is said and done, there's a piece of music like that that will undoubtedly help you and me. It was a moment; that song was a moment, for sure."
With that as an introduction, Jenkins, joined by the choir and orchestra, then gave her rendition of Foster's song.
In her recorded vignette, Jenkins said, "There's something about music, especially when it's, obviously, set with words, that can make you feel something so deeply that can move you to tears and wake you up."
She said she has always loved to sing for as long as she can remember, "whether it's being a small child and learning nursery rhymes to learning opera arias, it's something that's always made me really, really happy. And words alone may not do that, but music can touch me to my core and make me feel something very different."
Later in the program, speaking live, she talked of her Welsh heritage.
"I'm not sure what's in the water we drink in Wales, but it seems that everybody grows up singing," she said, "and if you can't carry a tune, well, you just sing anyway."
She said she had done some digging and found that the earliest members of the choir also came from Wales. She asked choir members who have Welsh ancestry to raise their hands.
"Wow!" she exclaimed. "Hello, cousins!"
Jenkins then performed the Welsh patriotic hymn "Cymru Fach" ("Dearest Wales").
The concert will be repeated again tonight at 8 p.m. Tickets have all been distributed, but a standby line forms at the North Gate on Temple Square.
The concert is being taped and edited for TV broadcast this Pioneer Day season. See the choir's website, www.mormontabernaclechoir.org, for air times on BYUtv and other outlets.