Mack Wilberg and Minnesota Mormon Chorale Perform in Christmas Concert

Contributed By Angela Hallstrom, Church News contributor

  • 11 December 2017

Mack Wilberg and the Minnesota Mormon Chorale rehearse at the St. Paul Stake Center in New Brighton, Minnesota.  Photo by Josh Yorgasen.

“We feel the Lord’s hand guiding us and opening many doors to allow us to build bridges with others and help the Church come out of obscurity in Minnesota. We have testified of Christ in powerful ways, helping others view us as Christians.” —Barbara Thibaudeau, executive director and assistant conductor of the chorale

Minnesota is often recognized as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” but for fans of choral music, it has long held a reputation as the “Land of 10,000 Choirs.”

For over a decade, members of the Minnesota Mormon Chorale have added their voices to the scores of exceptional collegiate, community, and faith-based choirs found across the state. On Saturday, November 18, the chorale joined with Mack Wilberg and five other critically acclaimed local choirs to perform a holiday concert, “A Christmas Portrait.”

Bruce Becker, executive director of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) of Minnesota, is a longtime admirer of Wilberg’s work as both a composer and the director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. After receiving Wilberg’s enthusiastic acceptance to appear as headliner and guest conductor of the 2017 Minnesota ACDA conference, Becker invited six local choirs to participate in a concert featuring Wilberg’s Christmas arrangements.

“One of my first thoughts was to invite the Minnesota Mormon Chorale,” Becker said. “Having heard numerous glowing reports of the outstanding reputation of the conductors and choir from trusted colleagues, I wanted them to be involved.”

The Minnesota Mormon Chorale’s 75-voice auditioned ensemble and the associated Minnesota Mormon Orchestra is comprised of musicians from the Twin Cities and surrounding areas. Although the choir started small, its appeal and reputation has continued to grow both among local Latter-day Saints and in the greater Twin Cities community. The choir has performed over 100 concerts and frequently fills stake centers and other venues to capacity, particularly when given the opportunity to share sacred music during the Christmas and Easter seasons.

Barbara Thibaudeau, executive director and assistant conductor of the chorale, feels the choir has a special mission to connect members of the LDS Church with their neighbors throughout Minnesota. “We have made great friendships and collaborated with many different groups,” she said. “We feel the Lord’s hand guiding us and opening many doors to allow us to build bridges with others and help the Church come out of obscurity in Minnesota. We have testified of Christ in powerful ways, helping others view us as Christians.”

The opportunity to collaborate with the excellent choirs showcased at the ACDA conference, under Mack Wilberg’s direction, has already proved to be one of the highlights of the chorale’s 13-year history.

According to Erin Gray, founder and artistic director of the Minnesota Mormon Chorale, “It was thrilling and inspiring to work with Mack Wilberg. Several conductors commented on how impressed they were by the humility and servant-leader example he showed, especially from someone of his caliber.” She also felt honored to collaborate with so many talented Twin Cities conductors and musicians. “They were all very welcoming, receptive, and encouraging to the Minnesota Mormon Chorale,” she said.

Judy Sagen, conductor of the Minnesota Valley Women’s Chorale, also appreciated the chance to participate in the concert. “The opportunity for our singers to work with Mack Wilberg this past weekend was the ultimate experience,” she said. “He is the consummate musician and conductor whose musical arrangements are both inspiring and magnificently creative. This was the experience of a lifetime!”

In addition to performing Wilberg’s work in collaboration with other choirs, the Minnesota Mormon Chorale also enjoyed the honor of debuting an exciting new composition. “Njooni Waaminifu,” a Swahili interpretation of “Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful,” was composed Christopher Tin, a Grammy Award-winning creator of choral and orchestral work, including the critically acclaimed “Baba Yetu,” a version of the Lord’s Prayer also sung in Swahili. The performance incorporated choreography and proved to be a particular favorite among many audience members, one of whom exclaimed, “Who knew Mormons could dance?”

According to Bruce Becker, executive director of ACDA of Minnesota, “Dr. Wilberg and the six community choirs comprising over 475 singers provided one of the most satisfying and successful festival concert experiences our professional organization has ever produced.” He felt the support of the Minnesota Mormon community played a key role in the concert’s success. “A capacity audience of 1,200 people enjoyed a performance that will live in the hearts and minds of concert patrons for years,” he said.

Mack Wilberg also expressed his pleasure in being involved in the conference and concert experience. “It was wonderful to be a part of this great event sponsored by the American Choral Directors Association of Minnesota where the members of the Minnesota Mormon Chorale represented themselves and the Church so splendidly,” he said.

The Minnesota Mormon Chorale and Orchestra will perform its repertoire of holiday music one more time this season at its Christmas concert on December 16, “Come, Let Us Adore Him.” The concert also serves as a benefit for homeless Twin Cities youth, through a partnership between the chorale, Lutheran Social Service’s StreetWorks initiative, and the Church’s LightTheWorld campaign.

Tickets are free, but seating is limited. Visit https://mn-mormon-chorale.ticketleap.com/come-let-us-adore-him/ for more information.

Erin Gray, founder and artistic director of the Minnesota Mormon Chorale, poses with composer and director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Mack Wilberg. Photo by Josh Yorgasen.

The Minnesota Mormon Chorale and five other critically acclaimed local choirs perform a Christmas concert November 18. Composer and director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Mack Wilberg was the headliner and guest conductor of the 2017 Minnesota ACDA conference. Photo by Josh Yorgasen.