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Mormonism in Pictures: Mormon Tabernacle Choir Expands Outreach

Musical volunteers serve as international ambassadors for Church

Every week, members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square can be found on Temple Square practicing for their next performance, which could be their weekly broadcast, a session of the Church's semiannual general conference, or a special concert or tour. The Utah-based singers and musicians, all volunteers, have been called “America’s Choir” by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan. They also travel the world as ambassadors for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sharing their inspirational messages and touching the hearts of fans young and old.

(Above) The choir practices for the Pioneer Day concert.

The home of the choir and orchestra is the historic Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, but they perform in the 21,000-seat Conference Center to accommodate a larger audience during general conference in the spring and fall and during the summer months and the Christmas season when more tourists from around the world visit the headquarters of the Church.

(Above) Broadway star Laura Osnes sings with the choir and orchestra in July.

Guest artists join the choir and orchestra for evening performances during the Pioneer Day concert in July and the Christmas concert in December. This summer, Broadway star Laura Osnes took the stage July July 17–18 with the choir and orchestra to pay tribute to the Mormon pioneers and Broadway.

(Above) Guest artist Laura Osnes and her husband, Nate, visit with President Henry B. Eyring, first counselor in the Church’s First Presidency.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is conducted by Mack Wilberg, the choir’s music director, and Ryan Murphy, associate music director. They shared responsibilities for directing this year’s Pioneer Day concert. 

(Above) Mack Wilberg, the choir’s music director, conducted the annual Pioneer Day concert.

(Above) Mack Wilberg leads the choir at the annual Pioneer Day concert in the Conference Center.

(Above) Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy on stage with Laura Osnes at the end of the Pioneer Day concert.

As director, Wilberg manages all musical and creative aspects of the choir, the Orchestra at Temple Square, the Temple Square Chorale and the Bells on Temple Square. He is works with Ryan Murphy, associate music director, to select and train new choir members.

(Above) Principal organist Richard Elliott plays a solo during the Pioneer Day concert on Temple Square.

(Above) Principal organist Richard Elliott stands after playing a solo during the Pioneer Day concert on Temple Square.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir would not be complete without its staff of organists, including three full-time and two part-time organists. Richard Elliott has been the principal organist for the choir since 2007. Elliott’s featured organ solos during concerts will often bring the audience to their feet in applause due to his amazing agility on the keyboard and pedals. He and the other organists share responsibilities for the performances and daily recitals in the Tabernacle.

(Above) The choir and orchestra perform for a Pioneer Day concert in the Conference Center.

The choir itself pioneered music in Utah. When the Latter-day Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, a small choir was formed. The choir first sang at a Church conference on August 22 of that year, just 29 days after the first pioneers arrived. Today, the choir consists of 360 men and women who audition for their volunteer assignments. They are often accompanied by the 200-member orchestra.

(Above) The choir and members of the orchestra as well as the U.S. Miltary Academy Band perform at West Point in New York on the Fourth of July. Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Mikki Skinner, West Point.

The choir and orchestra recently returned from an Atlantic Coast tour with performances in Bethesda, Maryland; Bethel Woods, Saratoga Springs and New York City, New York; and Boston, Massachusetts. 

(Above) West Point was a surprise stop on the choir’s Atlantic Coast tour in July. Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Mikki Skinner, West Point.

The choir sang patriotic music in Yankee Stadium and appeared in a surprise Fourth of July performance at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with the U.S. Military Academy Band. Thousands of spectators were on hand as 1,300 new cadets arrived in military formation on Trophy Point, which overlooks the Hudson River. The performance was recorded and will air next year as a "Music and the Spoken Word" special. 

(Above) The all-volunteer choir is made up of 360 men and women.

The choir and orchestra can be heard weekly as part of the “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast, which began as a radio program. This 30-minute program is the world’s longest continuing network radio broadcast and currently airs on over 2,000 radio, TV, cable and satellite stations worldwide. Earlier this year, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame. The choir and orchestra are active recording artists with their own recording label.

(Above) The orchestra practices in the Conference Center for the annual Pioneer Day concert.

Church President Thomas S. Monson said the goal of the choir and orchestra is “to be a shining example of the musical arts to all the world.” The choir has announced it will be taking its music to eight cities in Europe next summer, including venues in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands and France. This will be the choir’s first international tour in nearly two decades and the first time the orchestra will accompany the choir abroad. The 20-day tour will run from June 27 through July 16, 2016.

The choir and orchestra learn about the upcoming European tour during their weekly practice.

Choir members have toured extensively across the United States and overseas since their first tour outside of Utah in 1893. Their travels have taken them to Europe five times and to Israel, Russia, Japan and Australia. They have also performed at the inaugurations of six U.S. presidents.

For more information on the choir and orchestra, please visit the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s website

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