The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has a unique, recognizable, powerful sound. Perhaps that is why the choir is an attraction wherever it performs and draws diverse crowds of visitors from all over the world. Indeed, it is popularly known as "America's Choir," a worthy title earned by more than a century and a half of singing the sacred hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the great choral works of the masters to the enjoyable of all kinds of audiences.
As its name implies, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir makes its home in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. Visitors can hear the choir at free performances inside the Tabernacle twice a week. The performance each Thursday from 8:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. is a rehearsal, but is open to the public. On Sunday, the Tabernacle doors open at 8:15 a.m. for the weekly live broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word. The program begins at 9:30 a.m., but the audience must be seated by 9:15 a.m. to avoid interrupting the broadcast.
History of the Choir
In 1846, the Mormons were searching for a place where they could freely worship God. On their westward trek across the vast American continent, the pioneers often broke the prairie's stillness with the sound of their voices. Singing hymns around the campfire became a nightly custom.
One of these hymns, its words written as the pioneers made their westward journey, was "Come, Come, Ye Saints" by William Clayton. It retains today an exalted place in the repertoire of the Tabernacle Choir:
We'll find the place
Which God for us prepared,
Far away, in the West.
There none shall come to hurt nor make afraid;
There the Saints will be blessed...
And should we die before
Our journey's through,
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow, too;
With the just we shall dwell!
On July 24, 1847, when the first group of Mormon pioneers had crossed the rugged Wasatch Mountains into the wide valley of the Great Salt Lake, their leader, Brigham Young, looked long and earnestly at what he saw. Then he said, "It is enough. This is the right place." It was here, a month later, that the Tabernacle Choir had it beginnings.
A choir was officially formed in August 1847, one month after the pioneers entered the valley. The choir has since grown to be one of the world's most respected musical organizations. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has garnered numerous awards including a Grammy for its rendition of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," five gold records and one platinum record.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has appeared at five presidential inaugurations, in several films and performed with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra and the Utah Symphony.
The choir made its first phonograph record in 1910. Since then, the choir has produced more than 150 recordings, and now records on its own label. The choir's first network radio program (with organ, choir, and announcer sharing a single microphone) was transmitted on July 15, 1929. Today, after more than 75 years and 3,900 broadcasts, "Music and the Spoken Word" is the oldest continuous nationwide network broadcast in America. The "Spoken Word" has also been televised since the early 1960s. The show is now released worldwide every week through some 1,500 radio, television, and cable stations.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is comprised of 325 men and women, and is led currently by Craig Jessop and assistant director Mack Wilberg. For many, choir membership is a family tradition. There are husband-wife combinations and many families boast two or more generations of choir membership. Choir members do not receive any monetary compensation for their performances.
Members of the Tabernacle Choir are selected on the basis of character and musical competence. A large cross section of occupations is represented. In the choir's ranks are representatives of nearly every trade and profession, including contractors, secretaries, physicians, homemakers, school teachers, nurses, salesmen, and accountants.
Choir members sing because they love to share truth and the beauty of music with people everywhere. Some of them commute as far as 164 miles round-trip two or more times weekly, not only for the regular network broadcasts, but for rehearsals, conferences, and other events. All contribute their talents and time without compensation, except for the joy they receive in service.
Information courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.