The Tabernacle Choir Blog

The American flag from the World Trade Center in front of The Tabernacle Choir during the 2002 Olympic Opening Ceremony, Friday, February 8, 2002. Photo by Jeffrey D. Allred: Deseret News

The Choir’s Emotional “Star-Spangled Banner” at 2002 Olympics

The Winter Olympics—no matter where they are held in the world in a given year—bring back memories to those who participated in the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City. The Tabernacle Choir was prominently featured in person with the Utah Symphony at the two-and-a-half-hour Opening Ceremony in the Rice-Eccles Stadium overlooking the Salt Lake Valley. The Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square also participated in other major musical presentations during the weeks of the Olympics.

But, when Choir members reminisce about 2002, they don’t speak of the sold-out crowd of 55,000 spectators, or the international television audience of 3.5 billion viewers. They don’t mention how cold it was in the stadium though they were dressed in specially designed thick, white coats with scarves at their necks. They don’t speak of the program that featured everything from Sting to covered wagons to native American rituals.

They do speak of singing a very memorable version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as an honor guard of athletes, New York firefighters, and police officers carried the American flag into the stadium. Torn and tattered, that particular flag had been rescued from the rubble of the World Trade Center attacked just months before on 9/11. “A hush fell over the crowd,” Mitt Romney, CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee has reflected, “at the sight of the fragile banner, a giant hole ripped through the red and white stripes.”

The Choir is not alone in appreciating that moment of the Olympic experience. At the close of the 2002 games, medalist Derek Parra was asked what had impressed him most about his Olympic experience. He didn’t speak of his medals, both gold and silver in speed skating, but of the honor of being one of the eight athletes who were asked to carry in the American flag from the World Trade Center into the Opening Ceremony. Most had expected that when it was announced that that flag was entering the stadium there would be cheers, but instead, it was met with total silence, complete reverence. As The Tabernacle Choir then sang the national anthem, it was hard, he said, for him to control his emotions.

The Choir has often sung in other settings when emotions have been high but singing when this flag entered the stadium was an experience all its own. Choir members still speak with reverence as they sang the familiar reprise, the last line of the anthem: “O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” They knew of what they sang. The attack on September 11 had deeply scarred the nation’s spirit. On the evening of the attack, The Tabernacle Choir had given a tribute concert to those who had lost their lives. Since that time the Choir has produced music specials to help bring peace, hope, and healing to a nation wounded by the terrorist attack. (See “9/11 | COMING TOGETHER” celebrating the compassion caring and unity the country felt 20 years after the tragedy)

WATCH THE VIDEO of the flag from the World Trade Center being carried into the completely full stadium in total silence and The Tabernacle Choir’s performance of  “The Star-Spangled Banner” with the Utah Symphony--courtesy of Team USA YouTube channel.

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The national anthem has a storied history of expressing pride in nation and the Choir is known for singing patriotic tunes. It is sung at ball games and inaugurals, at civic and school events. The poem was penned in 1814 by a 35-year-old lawyer Francis Scott Key as he witnessed the British bombarding Baltimore Harbor in the War of 1812. Not until 1931 was the “The Star Spangled Banner” and its four verses officially adopted as the national anthem.

Most Americans can recite the memorable words:

O say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?