All About the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
The Mormon Tabernacle choir is a self-funded, Grammy and Emmy Award winning, all-volunteer choir, usually totalling 360-members. U.S. President Ronald Reagan has called it "America's Choir," and the title has stuck. The proceeds from the albums they record help to support this organization, which is an entity of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Some of you older folks will remember that a number one hit, "Battle Hymn" that came over our radios in the 60's, was one of the Choir's most popular numbers then.
The choir is named after the building they eventually used to perform in: the Salt Lake Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was completed in 1867, 20 years after the blue-print choir was formed. I say "blue-print," because the choir wasn't official until 1849 or '50, when John Parry Sr. became its first official conductor. But the seeds of the "MoTab" began with a conference of the Church on August 22, 1847, just 29 days after the first pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake valley. Brigham Young, the second president and prophet of the LDS Church, had sent a few musicians in the advance groups of saints as they migrated, probably with the intention of providing the opportunity for enhanced spirituality in their meetings through music. Two scriptures come to mind when music in the Church is referred to:
Doctrine and Covenants 25:12 says: "For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart; yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me, and it shall be answered with a blessing upon their heads." Also, Doctrine and Covenants 45:71 says, "And it shall come to pass that the righteous shall be gathered out from among all nations, and shall come to Zion, singing with songs of everlasting joy."
The Official Origin of the Tabernacle Choir
In 1849, John Parry Sr. sailed to the United States with other Welsh Mormons, and later journeyed to Utah Territory, arriving late in 1849. At the next general conference, he organized a choir made up of his Welsh friends. After the conference, Brigham asked Parry to organize a choir that could provide music for subsequent conferences. Thus, the choir was organized, and later became known as the "Tabernacle Choir" when it made the Salt Lake Tabernacle its home.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is inexorably connected to the 30-minute weekly program, "Music & The Spoken Word." This program first aired on the radio in 1929. It is now considered the world’s longest-running continuous network broadcast, carried by 2,000-plus radio and TV stations. Mostly, it is broadcast from the same Salt Lake Tabernacle, except when traveling, or during general conference broadcasts, which is when the new Conference Center is used.
The Salt Lake Tabernacle is known for its extraordinary acoustics, one fact that helped to give the Tabernacle Choir its typical sound. When people tour the Tabernacle, a man drops a pin at the pulpit (while the microphone is turned off), and the people at the back of the hall can hear the sound. He also whispers to the audience, but with his back turned. Everyone can hear him say, "Can you hear me whisper? Can you hear me now?" I must admit, though, he knows how to project his whispering voice. The organ there is one of the world's largest, containing 11,623 pipes. They are made mostly of wood, zinc, tin and lead. Originally, it had a "tracker action," powered by hand-pumped bellows. Later it was run by water from City Creek. Nowadays, of course, it is run by electricity.
All the videos in this article - except the Spoken Word clip - show the organ in the new Conference Center, completed in the year 2000 (the Conference Center is north of the Tabernacle, across the street). But the traditional organ for the Tabernacle Choir is the one in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, and is shown here, to the right.
The Choir rehearses on Thursday evenings from 7:30 to 9:30, and the public can usually listen in for free. They also rehearse Sunday mornings just before their "Spoken Word" broadcast. This broadcast is also usually free to the public.
The Tabernacle Choir is also an "international choir," appealing to and honoring millions through diversified genre and cultures, whether singing at home, or traveling the world. Even on Sunday morning broadcasts, you can hear them singing Negro Spirituals, Classical pieces, or music from famous movies. They even invite non-LDS people to participate. Here is a short list of some of those guests:
Alfie Boe (who sang "Bring Him Home"), James Taylor, Jane Seymour, James Stewart, Roma Downey, Angela Lansbury, Walter Cronkite (who directed the choir in the Hallelujah Chorus - seen here), Peter Graves, Renee Fleming, Claire Bloom, Natalie Cole, Tom Brokaw, and John Williams, composer of the Star Wars theme, and for other movies. Mr. Williams said, of the Tabernacle Choir, "[It] is a world-class artistic institution."
Walter Cronkite directs the Hallelujah Chorus
Below is a Nigerian carol. This is enjoyable in three ways: for the ears, the mind, and with visual rewards. There is much a cappella performance and general fun with this number.
Tabernacle Choir Hits
An Example of One Spoken Word Program
The following excerpt is from a Spoken Word broadcast, featuring the powerful "Call of the Champions," by John Williams, written for the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. This segment of the program honors the hard work and dedication of those who strive for excellence not only in sports, but in other areas where the lifting up of others from their darkest hours is sorely needed. The spoken word is narrated by Lloyd Newell, and Mack Wilberg directs this particular recording.
This program is accompanied by the Orchestra at Temple Square, a musical group that is quickly becoming more synonymous with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
An Excerpt from a Spoken Word program
Anyone who looks for musical and cultural traditions or a general spiritual uplift can enjoy the Tabernacle Choir. I hope I have peaked your interest in this very talented and wholesome institution.