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The Mormon Tabernacle Choir

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: A Biography

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Mormon Tabernacle Choir
    Book Description:

    A first-of-its-kind history, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir tells the epic story of how an all-volunteer group founded by persecuted religious outcasts grew into a multimedia powerhouse synonymous with the mainstream and with Mormonism itself. Drawing on decades of work observing and researching the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Michael Hicks examines the personalities, decisions, and controversies that shaped "America's choir." Here is the miraculous story behind the Tabernacle's world-famous acoustics, the anti-Mormonism that greeted early tours, the clashes with Church leaders over repertoire and presentation, the radio-driven boom in popularity, the competing visions of rival conductors, and the Choir's aspiration to be accepted within classical music even as Mormons sought acceptance within American culture at large. Everything from Billboard hits to TV appearances to White House performances paved the way for Mormonism's crossover triumph. Yet, as Hicks shows, such success raised fundamental concerns regarding the Choir's mission, functions, and image.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09706-5
    Subjects: Music, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    AT BARACK OBAMA’S SECOND inauguration on 21 January 2013, Senator Charles Schumer announced that “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was about to be sung by the “award-winning Tabernacle Choir.” Then, with a playful smile, he added, “the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.” The audience laughed, because who could not be in on the joke?The MormonTabernacle Choir had been the only “tabernacle choir” to sing at a presidential inauguration before—six times, to be exact. Since Ronald Reagan dubbed them America’s Choir at his first inauguration, they had been known by that nickname. They had become the state choir of...

    (pp. 1-18)

    WHEN JOSEPH SMITH dictated those words into what became the Book of Mormon, he knew a bit about angels. For almost a decade this twentysomething upstate New Yorker had visits from spirits awash in heavenly light. One of those spirits, an angel named Moroni, had led him repeatedly to a local hillside where a stone box of gold plates lay buried. After Moroni finally let Joseph hoist the plates from their hole, the young prophet spent months “translating” them through visionary means, dictating the text in a broken King James English transcribed by friends—including his wife—who were convinced...

    (pp. 19-34)

    A TRUE TABERNACLE, of course, in its original sense, was a large tent, the type of portable covering Moses had used in the wilderness. But for decades, Protestant churches in the United States had transposed the term to denote any decent church. The new Mormon version, their first tabernacle, would be a slightly oblong boxy structure—64 feet by 126 feet—not unlike some of the old Nauvoo halls. At the 6 April 1852 General Conference—a putative gathering of all Church members to vote for and hear talks by General Authorities—the Church dedicated this Salt Lake Tabernacle. The...

    (pp. 35-61)

    IN 1890 MORMONS OUTGREW two fads, one doctrinal, the other musical. First was the idea that the world would end between December 1890 and December 1891. This commonplace belief, which helped nurture Mormon ferocity in the face of anti-polygamy legislation, derived from a statement Joseph Smith had made in 1835: “I was once praying very earnestly to know the time of the coming of the Son of Man, when I heard a voice repeat the following: Joseph, my son, if thou livest until thou art eighty-five years old, thou shalt see the face of the Son of Man; therefore let...

    (pp. 62-84)

    IN OCTOBER 1915, theSalt Lake Telegrambroke the story that Evan Stephens was being fired. A high Church committee, it said, had reported to the First Presidency that it was time for Stephens to go in favor of a younger and presumably more flexible, less autocratic man. “Many of the members and former members of the internationally famous choir had become wearied of the music they were presenting at the regular services and at special performances and had not been assigned enough new music to sustain their interest.”¹ Specifically, these singers had grown tired of having to sing so...

  8. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 85-109)

    AS WAS NOW THE CUSTOM, Spencer Cornwall began his conductorship by refashioning the Choir’s sound. He summoned each Choir member to his office at the McCune School of Music for them to reaudition. All Choir members (or new prospective members) had to sing scales and “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” or a similar song of his or her choosing. Beyond vocal ability, Cornwall also factored “character and personality” into the audition. He explained that “A person can’t sing well in a group unless he feels he is wanted there.” And he felt duty bound to uphold the moral...

    (pp. 110-135)

    ACCORDING TO RICHARD CONDIE, President McKay “never liked” Cornwall.¹ His aesthetically ambitious repertoire, his seeming self-containment—not answering to his overseers as much as they would like—and his subtle downplaying of the Choir’s proselyting role, all conspired to jeopardize Cornwall’s conductorship. On 20 August 1957, the First Presidency met to discuss who should replace him. They decided on Newell Weight, a popular choral conductor at BYU. Since Weight was on a two-year leave doing graduate work at the University of Southern California, Condie should be called for now, they decided, although with the understanding that the appointment was “limited.”²...

    (pp. 136-159)

    WHEN HAROLD LEE ASCENDED to the Mormon Presidency, he ramped up the Church’s musical forces, calling dozens of new personnel, most of them academics, to a new Church Music Department that replaced the old Church Music Committee. This department, which functioned under a new Music Committee of General Authorities, had its own committees and subcommittees, all charged with investigating and retooling every aspect of music in the Church, from hymnbooks to youth dances. Although the department did not directly oversee the Tabernacle Choir, it could not help but put the Choir under its aesthetic microscope. In so doing, it came...

    (pp. 160-174)

    SINCE 1982, Ottley had asked the First Presidency for the Choir to have its own orchestra. After they had lost Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra as partners in 1967, the Choir had returned to organ accompaniment or pick-up groups—mostly drawn from the Utah Symphony—for its recordings. And it had never had an orchestra for its broadcasts. The Choir obviously longed for its golden years, with a renowned orchestra acting as its accompanist. But the Church had relied on Columbia to fund that accompanist, with the Choir’s cut of the record profits having not to fund anything but the...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 175-200)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 201-210)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 211-220)