Bluegrass Mass Premieres in Utah

A capacity crowd filled the Libby Gardner Hall Saturday evening, 25 February, to hear the Salt Lake Choral Artists’ concert, “’Cross the Wide Missouri: Music from Appalachia.” The audience was not disappointed.

It was an evening of lively tunes combined with shimmering, sometimes plaintive melodies of Appalachia – almost a surfeit of musical delights.

As choir members took their places, a bluegrass band performed a lively prelude. Then a hauntingly beautiful rendition of James Erb’s arrangement of “Shenandoah,” rippled across the hall, sung by the combined choirs – 250 voices strong.

“The heartbreakingly beautiful rendition of ‘Shenandoah’ absolutely took my breath away!” said audience member, Tana Allred.

The featured piece on the two-hour program was the Utah premier of Carol Barnett’s “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass,” conducted by Dr. Brady Allred.

An unlikely blend of the traditional mass form and bluegrass music – sung in both English and Latin, the piece is accessible and simply stunning from the soloed ballads, to the beautiful harmonies, and syncopated rhythms.

“Very well put together,” was audience member, Martha Lauritzen’s take. “I loved it.”

Intertwined with the expected “Kyrie,” “Gloria,” “Credo,” “Sanctus,” “Agnus Dei,” and “Benedication,” are “ballads” describing the creation of the world in very simple terms.

“They say God loved the world so dear, he set aside his crown and cast himself in human shape… .” These words sung by soprano soloist, Mary Webster-Walsh began the Bluegrass Mass.

Tenor soloist, Chris LeCluyse, introduced the Credo: “I do believe a place awaits so far across the Jordan … when we reach those mossy banks we’ll set aside our oars …” But until then, “…row on … no one rows alone.”

In response, Webster-Walsh began the Credo’s second refrain: “High above the mountain, when we reach the highest peak, we’ll spread our wings and soar … row on, we’re climbing Jacob’s ladder … no one rows alone.”

The piece ends as simply as it beings with the soprano soloist singing, “…blessing be upon you, upon my people.”

An award-winning group of bluegrass musicians: Mary Danzig, fiddle; Peter Danzig, mandolin; Nathan Keller, banjo; Rich Dixon, guitar; and Jim Thompson, bass, accompanied the choir.

In addition to this featured number, the evening showcased all of the Salt Lake Choral Artists ensembles: Women’s Choir, directed by Dr. Jane R. Fjeldsted; Young Choral Artists, directed by Joan Brinton and John Walker, Chamber Choir and Salt Lake Vocal Artists Touring Choir – both conducted by Allred.

Another of the evening’s many memorable moments was the Touring Choir’s rendition of “My Song in the Night,” arranged by Paul Christiansen, conducted by Allred. The group sang in perfect harmony, offering warm, rich, reassuring and tender worship of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

A trio of tunes concluded the program: “Saints’ Train,” “The Water is Wide,” and “Skip to My Lou” – well sung, but almost an anti-climactic ending to an evening of glorious music.

To learn more about the Salt Lake Choral Artists visit their website:

This story was written for the Deseret News, 27 February 2012.


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