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Mormon Tabernacle Choir Resonates With World Audience

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one of the oldest, largest and most famous choirs in the world. It has sold millions of recordings and enthralled audiences in more than 28 countries.

As dusk approaches on Temple Square in the heart of Salt Lake City, singing emanates from the majestic Salt Lake Tabernacle.

This is where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearses.

Scott Barrick, manager of the choir, said, "The choir traces its roots back to 1847, when the first Mormon pioneer came to the Salt Lake valley. There was a conference of the church three weeks after the first band arrived. And there was a choir. And they sang at that meeting. And ever since, there has been a standing choir at the church headquarters here in Salt Lake City."

The choir has 360 members, every one of them belongs to the Mormon Church. Every one of them is also a volunteer. The prestige of being part of the one of the best known choirs in the world means there is never a shortage of applicants.

Michelle Scott, first soprano of the choir, said, "You create a CD and you send that in, and if they like what they hear, you will take a test on theory, and ear training, about a three-hour test. Quite involved, quite intense. And then if you pass that test, there is an in-person audition with both of the directors."

Donald Gunnell is an assistant to the choir president. "It is a rigorous commitment. For example, last year we were at the tabernacle and conference center, probably 178 days out of the year for recordings, concerts and rehearsals. A lot of people travel [more than a hundred kilometers] each way to be here," he said.

The choir will occasionally invite special guests to give the audience a taste of something new and different. Jazz singer Natalie Cole, Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli and composer John Williams have all performed with the choir. And the choir features other stars as well- like one of the largest organs in the world.

Richard Elliott is the choir's principal organist. "There are pipes in this organ that date back all the way to the 1860's, around 1867, including the large gold pipe you see in the case. It has 11,623 pipes, making it the 12th largest pipe organ in the world. But what makes it truly great is this building itself. It has wonderful acoustics and shows the organ in its best light," he said.

The most popular program put on by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, is "Music and the Spoken Word." The weekly 30-minute program offers a mixture of inspiring music and comment, and is carried on more than 2,000 media outlets around the world. It started back in 1929 and is now the world's longest-running continuous network broadcast.
Trent Walker is the senior audio engineer for "Music and the Spoken Word."

"The show is a wonderful show to do. And because of that, we try to make it as high quality as we can for a live production. A show in the Tabernacle will have in excess of probably 74 microphones on the stage at once. We multi-track record all of those shows so we can produce the best sound quality as we can for the listening audiences," said senior audio engineer Trent Walker.

Over its many decades of performing, the choir has won many accolades in America and on the international stage, including several Emmys and a Grammy Award.

Mack Wilberg the current conductor and music director for the choir. "Not everyone likes everything. And so, we try to do a balance of not only the great music master composers, but also hymns - a staple of the repertoire of the choir. And folk music, African American spirituals, sometimes a little bit of inspirational show tunes, from Broadway or a movie of some kind," he said.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has for years appealed to millions of people of all faiths, in all corners of the world, and it is likely it will do so for many years to come.