The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, sometimes colloquially referred to as MoTab, is a Grammy and Emmy Award winning, 360-member, all-volunteer choir. The choir is part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the LDS Church). However, the choir is completely self-funded, traveling and producing albums to support the organization. The choir's current music director is Mack Wilberg.
Called "America's Choir" by U.S. President Ronald Reagan, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is made up of 360 men and women; all are members of the LDS Church in good standing. Although many choir members live within close proximity of the famous Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah, some members commute long distances for practice and the Choir's weekly television and radio broadcast. Choir members are not paid for their participation, travel expenses or performances. There are many husband-wife combinations and some families have participated in the choir for generations.
The choir was founded in August 1847, one month after the Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley. Since July 15, 1929, the choir has performed a weekly radio broadcast called Music and the Spoken Word, which is one of the longest-running continuous radio network broadcasts in the world. At the end of the choir's 4165th live broadcast on July 12, 2009, the show's host, Lloyd D. Newell, announced another milestone that the show had just hit: the completion of its 80th year in existence. The show has been televised since the early 1960s and is now broadcast worldwide through some 1,500 radio and television stations.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir's sound is often said to be world-famous, and instantly recognizable. When recording, the choir is usually accompanied by the Orchestra at Temple Square, the Tabernacle's famous pipe organ, or both. With the completion of the Conference Center, a larger auditorium directly adjacent to Temple Square, the choir now has two halls available for performance.
The minimum age for participation in the choir has recently been reduced from 30 to 25. Choir members are currently limited to twenty years of participation, or until the member reaches the age of 60, allowing new members to join the choir on a regular basis. New choir members participate in The Temple Square Chorale training choir, a combination music theory/performance school.
History of the Choir
The LDS Church has considered music a vital part of worship from the beginning of its history. Early headquarters of the Church in Kirtland, Ohio and in Nauvoo, Illinois both had standing choirs. It was no surprise then that a choir was formed and ready for the first conference held in the Salt Lake Valley less than a month after the Latter-day Saint pioneers' arrival.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (affectionately referred to as the MoTab by church members) is named after the Salt Lake Tabernacle where it has performed for over a hundred years. The Tabernacle itself was finished in 1867 and the Choir held its first concert there on July 4, 1873. The Tabernacle also houses a very impressive organ consisting of 11,623 pipes, making it one of the largest and most elaborate organs in the world. The organ has long been associated with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's "signature sound," though the Choir does sing a capella or to orchestral accompaniment as well.
The Choir started out fairly small and rather undisciplined. But in 1869, George Careless was appointed as the Choir's conductor and the Tabernacle Choir began to musically improve. Under Careless, the first large choir was assembled by adding smaller choral groups to the main Salt Lake Choir. This larger choir, just over 300, sang at the October 1873 General Conference. It was at this point that the Choir began to match the size of the spacious Tabernacle. On September 1, 1910, the choir sang the song, "Let the Mountains shout for Joy", as their first ever recording. 300 of the then 600 members showed up for the recording.
Later directors brought more solid vocal training and worked to raise the standards of the Choir. The Choir also began improving as an ensemble and increased its repertoire from around one hundred songs to nearly a thousand. In July 1929, the Choir performed its first radio broadcast, known as Music and the Spoken Word. By 1950 the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed numerous concerts each year and had released its first long-playing recording. During the 1950s, the Choir made its first tour of Europe and earned a Grammy for its recording of "Battle Hymn of the Republic". Later directors of the Choir continued to hone and refine the Choir's sound.
Since its establishment more than 150 years ago, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has performed and recorded extensively, not only in the United States but around the world. During that time, the Choir has received much praise and recognition. The following are some of its milestones:
- The Choir has visited 28 countries outside the United States.
- The Choir has performed at 13 World s Fairs and Expositions.
- The Choir has released more than 130 musical compilations and several films and videotapes.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has sung for every president of the United States beginning with President William Howard Taft. The choir has also performed at the inaugurations of United States Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson (1965), Richard M. Nixon (1969), Ronald Reagan (1981), George Bush (1989) and George W. Bush (2001).
Other notable events the Choir has performed at include the following:
It has also participated in several significant events, including:
- National broadcasts honoring the passing of U.S. Presidents:
From its first national tour in 1893, under the direction of Evan Stephens, to the Chicago World's Fair, the choir has performed in locations around the world, including:
The Choir holds a yearly Christmas Concert in the Conference Center auditorium in Salt Lake City during the month of December. Typically, the concert consists of four shows: a Thursday dress rehearsal, Friday and Saturday show and a Sunday abbreviated concert after the morning Music and the Spoken Word program. The combined audience for the four days of concerts is approximately 84,000 audience members. Tickets to the concert are free, but are distributed randomly through an internet drawing.
Guest artists participate and sing with the choir most years. A guest narrator is also invited most years to read the Christmas story from the Book of Luke. Past guest artists include:
Leadership of the Choir
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has about 15 staff members including: the president, directors, organists, Music and the Spoken Word announcer, and two business related staff members.
Mack Wilberg is the current director, with assistant director Ryan Murphy.
Richard Elliott, Andrew Unsworth, and Clay Christiansen are the current organists.
Music and the Spoken Word announcers
Since its inception in 1929, the "spoken word" segment of the program has been voiced by four separate individuals. The original writer, producer, and announcer of the spoken portion of the broadcast was Edward (Ted) Kimball, who would stand at the top of a tall ladder and announce the name of each performance piece into the microphone suspended from the Tabernacle ceiling. Kimball remained at the post for only 11 months, when he was replaced by Richard L. Evans, who continued in that capacity until his death in 1971. J. Spencer Kinard took over as announcer in 1972 until he stepped down in 1990. Lloyd D. Newell has been the announcer since then.
Awards and Inductions
The choir has a list of prestigious awards, including the National Medal of Arts (2003).
In 1960 the Choir won the Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus at that year's awards ceremony with a recording of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" that replaced the line "let us die to make men free" with "let us live to make men free." The album the song came from was entitled Lord's Prayer. It was certified Gold by the RIAA in 1963. The album was released by Columbia Records.
The largest act to chart on the Hot 100 is the 320-person Mormon Tabernacle Choir, whose version of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" reached #13 according to the The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits in 1959.
|- | style="text-align:center;"| 1960 | "Battle Hymn of the Republic" from the album Lord's Prayer ||Best Pop Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus | |- | style="text-align:center;"| 1967 | "Bless This House" from the album Bless This House ||Best Classical Choral Performance | |- | style="text-align:center;" rowspan="2"| 2007 | Spirit of the Season (feat. Sissel) ||Best Classical Crossover Album | |- | Spirit of the Season (feat. Sissel) ||Best Engineered Album, Classical |
Peabody Award Music and the Spoken Word for Outstanding Entertainment in Music
National Medal of Arts
- International Radio and Television Society Foundation's Special Recognition Award
- Chorus America's Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence
Since its first recording in 1910, the choir has earned five gold albums (two in 1963-The Lord's Prayer and Handel's Messiah, one in 1979- The Joy of Christmas, and two in 1985- The Mormon Tabernacle Choir Sings Christmas Carols and Joy to the World) and two platinum albums (in 1991- Hallmark Christmas: Carols of Christmas and 1992- Hallmark Christmas: Celebrate Christmas!). The choir has made over 300 recordings and continues to produce albums. For some live performances and albums, the choir has collaborated with large orchestras such as the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra of London, the Boston Pops Orchestra, and the newly formed Orchestra at Temple Square.
Since the foundation of the choir's own record label, it has produced many recordings including:
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