The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, affectionately designated “America’s Choir” by Ronald Reagan, was organized in the middle of the 19th century, making it one of the oldest choirs in the country. Even more remarkable, given their success, is that all 360 members of the choir are volunteers.
In 1929, their weekly broadcast began. Called Music and the Spoken Word, it is a combination of the powerful music for which the choir is known, and a brief inspirational, non-denominational message. They have two platinum recordings, five gold recordings, one Emmy, and one Grammy award. They’ve sung for ten presidents of the United States and they sang at the funerals of Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy.
Competition is fierce for new openings-generally a hundred or more people apply each year, and the process requires six months. The first step is to submit a recording without accompaniment of any kind, using a song selected by the choir director. They also must have a recommendation from their bishop (equivalent to a pastor) attesting they are members in good standing in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons. From these, a smaller number are invited to take a written test of their musical skills. Those who pass the written test audition in person before the director and associate director. Here they prove they can blend their voices, sight read, and have vocal range.
Those who are selected for the limited choir positions first spend three months in the Temple Square Choral. During this time, they attend intense training classes and also perform. Only if they finish this successfully are they finally graduated to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The Choir receives its name from the unofficial nickname of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members of this church are sometimes referred to as Mormons, a name given them by outsiders and not actually the proper name when used in formal contexts. The Tabernacle is the building in which they perform. It is located in Salt Lake City, Utah near the famous Salt Lake temple. The legend is that Brigham Young himself thought of the Tabernacle’s unique design after staring at an eggshell that had been cracked length-wise. The tabernacle has extraordinary acoustics and has been designated an historical landmark and a national civil engineering landmark.
The Choir’s performances are also noteworthy for the impressive organ that accompanies them. Currently, the organ has 11,623 pipes organized into 147 voices and 206 ranks and is made of wood, zinc, and various alloys of tin and lead. However, the original organ was much smaller. It was built by Joseph Ridges and some of his original workmanship still exists in the organ, which has been enlarged and modernized many times.
While the choir was created to provide music to the Mormons, it is now loved by people throughout the world. People of all faiths love the highly skilled choir music and the hymns they perform, some of which are unique to Mormon culture, but others which are loved by people of many faiths. Their music is drawn from many cultures and faiths and crosses spiritual and cultural boundaries.
Listen to the choir: