The Tabernacle Choir Blog

The Tabernacle Choir’s Olympic Opening Ceremony Connection

Twenty years ago in 2002, the world came to Salt Lake City for the XIX Winter Olympic games. The music of The Tabernacle Choir was an integral part of the events of the weeks-long Olympic Games and for the Paralympics Games that followed. During those event-filled weeks, The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square participated in long-standing Olympic traditions performed for thousands of world-wide visitors that came to Utah.

The Opening Ceremony for the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games on February 8 was televised to an estimated audience of 3.5 billion and employed the Choir’s unique language abilities to sing in English, Greek, Latin, and German. As the U.S. flag found in the rubble of the World Trade Center was carried into the Olympic Stadium to a hushed crowd, the Choir sang a moving rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner” accompanied by the Utah Symphony. Later in the program the two ensembles performed “Call of the Champions,” the 2002 Olympic theme composed especially for Salt Lake Winter Olympics by five-time Oscar-winning composer John Williams. The theme was used repeatedly during coverage of the Olympics. Also included in the ceremony were the Choir’s performances of Spiro Samara’s “Olympic Hymn,” traditionally performed during Olympic ceremonies; Mikis Theodorakis’s “Ode to Zeus,” performed as the torch came into the stadium and the Olympic caldron was lit; and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” performed during the fireworks of the grand finale. The Choir also provided backup to Sting and Yo-Yo Ma’s beautiful duet of “Fragile.”

Following the Opening Ceremony and for the next several weeks, the Choir and Orchestra had performances almost every day. There were four free Cultural Olympiad Concerts on Saturday nights in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, one of which featured John Williams (see video below); 16 performances of “Light of the World” in the Conference Center; and each Sunday morning free public concerts following the weekly broadcasts of Music & the Spoken Word.

Watch John Williams conduct “Call of the Champions”

The night following the Opening Ceremony, composer John Williams personally directed The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square—with the International Children’s Choir—in a stunning musical tribute to the Olympic Games with a performance of “Call of the Champions” during the Choir’s first free Cultural Olympiad Concert on Temple Square. The choral music contains the words “Citius, Altius, Fortius!” from the traditional Olympic motto which are Latin for "Faster, Higher, Stronger!”

Watch the actual Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Opening Ceremony

Courtesy of the Olympic YouTube Channel, viewers can re-live the excitement and joy of the 2002 Opening Ceremony from start to finish!