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 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 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 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. There is also a limitation of the distance a member may live from downtown Salt Lake City, in part to help ensure safety for the travel that would be required for weekly rehearsals and other performances. New choir members participate in the Temple Square Chorale training choir, a combination music theory/performance school.
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 that a choir was formed and ready for the first general conference held in the Salt Lake Valley less than a month after the Latter-day Saint pioneers arrived.The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (sometimes 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 an 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. 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 church's 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 the "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:
- Visited 28 countries outside the United States.
- Performed at 13 World’s Fairs and Expositions.
- Released more than 130 musical compilations and several films and videotapes.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has performed for ten presidents 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:
- Performed over 20 times at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, including at the Opening Ceremonies, where they sang the national anthem and the Olympic Hymn under the direction of John Williams.
- The American Bicentennial in Washington, D.C. (July 4, 1976)
- The Constitution's bicentennial celebration at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (1987)
It has also participated in several significant events, including:
- National broadcasts honoring the passing of U.S. Presidents:
- Franklin D. Roosevelt (April 12, 1945)
- John F. Kennedy (November 24, 1963)
- Peabody Award — Music and the Spoken Word for Outstanding Entertainment in Music
- Peabody Award — Music and the Spoken Word — "Let Freedom Ring"
- Freedoms Foundation's George Washington Award — Music and the Spoken Word — Fourth of July Broadcast
- Emmy Award — Christmas Sampler, a musical special with Shirley Verrett
- Freedoms Foundation's George Washington Award
- National Medal of Arts
- International Radio and Television Society Foundation's Special Recognition Award
- Chorus America's Margaret Hillis Award for Choral Excellence
- Library of Congress' National Recording Registry — Handel's Messiah (1959)
- National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame — Choir and Music and the Spoken Word
- National Radio Hall of Fame — Music and the Spoken Word
- Emmy Award — The Mormon Tabernacle Choir Presents the Joy of Song, a musical special featuring Katherine Jenkins
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 chart topping albums:
- Glad Christmas Tidings (2011) Billboard Classical Catalog No. 1
- This Is the Christ (2011) Billboard Christian No. 1, Billboard Classical No. 1
- Men of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (2010) Billboard Classical No. 1
- 100 Years: Celebrating a Century of Recording Excellence (2010) Billboard Classical No. 1
- Heavensong (2010) Billboard Classical No. 1
- Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing: American Folk Hymns & Spirituals (2009) Billboard Classical No. 1
- Spirit of the Season (2007) Billboard Classical No. 1