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Arts and Culture

It's A Railroad Celebration: The American Festival Chorus Performs A Train-Centered Concert

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Known as one of America’s greatest achievements, the Transcontinental Railroad revolutionized the way America functioned, back in 1869. It paved the way, literally, to a new economy, and connected the West to the East making transporting passengers and goods less expensive and more efficient. 2019 is the 150th anniversary of the event, which calls for a celebration. 

The governor of the state of Utah, Governor Gary Herbert, founded the Spike 150 Commission, a team of Utahns dedicated to educate and inspire fellow Utahns about the Golden Spike, through events and celebrations happening throughout the year. Included on that commission is Dr. Craig Jessop.

“I am Craig Jessop, I’m dean of the Caine College of the Arts and the music director of the American Festival Chorus and Orchestra.”

Dr. Jessop is helping to organize these events throughout the year, including a concert on February 9 hosted by the American Festival Chorus in Logan.

“The American Festival Chorus is a town and gown choir, meaning that it is affiliated with Utah State University department of music. An outstanding organization and this is our 11th year. Hard to believe.”

Dr. Jessop founded the American Festival Chorus in 2008, which has now grown to about 220 singers.

“Every year we give a family pops concert. Normally it’s for children 8 and older, but we lower the age down to 5. And we encourage families to come. We’ve always had a theme. We’ve had a pirate theme, we’ve had a country western theme. This year, we’re celebrating the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, of which Utah plays a prominent part. Because the final spike, the Golden Spike, was driven into the ground on the 10th of May, 1869 at Promontory Summit, Utah. So we’re celebrating this truly unique American achievement that culminated in the great state of Utah.”

The concert will present many American folk tunes, including two arrangements by well-known keyboardist and composer, Kurt Bestor, She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain and Bound For Glory.

“Which is a medley of favorite train songs, This Train is Bound for Glory, Take the A-Train, Chattanooga Choo Choo, I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad - all the railroad songs people grow up learning and singing. It’s a lot of fun.”

The concert will also feature a few special guests including USU’s Chamber Singers - directed by Dr. Cory Evans, the Cache Children’s Choir, and a male vocal quartet called Spike 150, created from the Spike 150 initiative.

The Spike 150 initiative will also hold a program at Promontory Point on May 10, retelling the story of the building of the transcontinental railroad through the eyes of the various outcasts that built it.

“This transcontinental railroad united a nation. And it was united by some of the most abandoned people in America. The Irish, the Chinese, the freed slaves, and the Mormons. And it’s a wonderful tale that’s often not told,” Jessop said. 

The concert will be held on February 9 at the Daines Concert Hall at Utah State University. Before and after the concert, there will also be model trains on display in the lobby provided by the Wasatch N-Scale Train Club.