SALT LAKE CITY — The life and times of President Thomas S. Monson, 16th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were celebrated in song and story Friday night at the church's downtown Conference Center during a special 85th birthday gala featuring the music of his life.
In front of a near-capacity crowd that included President Monson and his family on the first row, "Golden Days: A Celebration of Life" featured Broadway show tunes, popular songs and religious music that are either meaningful to President Monson or representative of special times in his life.
From the buoyant opening notes of "I Think the World is Glorious" to the powerful concluding tones of "If the Way be Full of Trial, Weary Not," the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square anchored the concert, filling the massive hall with their unique sound and characteristic musical excellence as they performed their own songs or as background to guest soloists Stanford Olsen, Rebecca Luker and Dallyn Vail Bayles.
Along with video images and narration, hosts Jane Clayson Johnson and Steve Young took the audience on a musical tour of President Monson's life, providing background and stories for all of the songs performed. For example, Clayson's explanation of how President Monson's service in the U.S. Navy during World War II "refined President Monson's character, but it also deepened his love for Frances" served as a segue to Luker's beautiful performance of "All I Ask of You" from "Phantom of the Opera." Young's discussion of President Monson's ministerial passion for "looking out for the lost and the lonely" led into Bayles' stirring rendition of "Bring Him Home" from "Les Miserables" — a performance that received the evening's first standing ovation.
In addition to the musical performances and story-telling narration, the gala featured brief birthday greetings from a variety of church leaders and associates, including President Monson's counselors in the LDS Church First Presidency. President Henry B. Eyring said "the church has been changed for generations to come" as a result of President Monson's ministerial example. And President Dieter F. Uchtdorf referred to President Monson as "a friend who brings light to the dark" and as a prophet of God who has "touched hearts, come to the rescue and gone about doing good."
In a pre-recorded message, President Monson expressed his thanks to all who participated in the concert and to concert-goers for their expressions of love. Inspired by a quote from Scottish author James Matthew Barrie, he said, "God gives us memory so that we might have June roses in the December of our lives."
"Tonight," President Monson said, "I have received an entire bouquet of roses."
At the conclusion of the concert, President Monson stood at his front-row seat (a church spokesman said that because the concert was a tribute to the church leader, he chose to watch it from the audience). He turned to face the audience and waved with both hands high over his head. The audience responded in a way they can never respond when they see him in this building during LDS General Conference: They applauded and cheered their prophet.
The concert program was recorded on video and will be shown at various LDS stake centers through the LDS Church satellite system on Saturday, with subsequent rebroadcasts to many areas of the world. The performance will also be broadcast on BYUtv Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 10 a.m. and Monday, Aug. 20, at 3 a.m. BYUtv International will broadcast the performance in Spanish and Portuguese Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. And KBYU Eleven will air the program on Sunday morning at 7 a.m. (all times listed are Mountain Daylight Time).