Mormon Tabernacle Choir Plays Key Role in National Choral Conference

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer

  • 11 March 2015

Conductor Mack Wilberg is surrounded by a sea of singers as the ACDA honor choirs join with the Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra at Temple Square, Sylvia McNair, Santino Fontana, and the U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants for a final selection at the ACDA conference, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.”   Photo by Debra Gehris.

Article Highlights

  • The national conference brought together more than 5,000 choral musicians in Salt Lake City February 25–28 and included a concert titled “From the Treasury of American Song.”
  • The Mormon Tabernacle Choir was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame before one of its performances, February 26.
  • Santino Fontana, Broadway singer, and Sylvia McNair, two-time Grammy Award winner, both joined the choir in singing.

“Tonight’s concert is eclectic, historic, and large in its own way because it is the first time in recent history that our conference attendees as well as members of the honor choirs have been able to gather together in a hall large enough to accommodate all of us.” —Tim Sharp, executive director of the American Choral Directors Association 

Even as it was helping to host the 2015 National Conference of the American Choral Directors Association, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir received a surprise honor: induction into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame.

The conference convened February 25–28 in Salt Lake City and brought together more than 5,000 choral musicians. The choir and its sister organization, the Orchestra at Temple Square, played an integral part in the conference by presenting concerts for the entertainment of conference attendees.

It was prior to one of these concerts, held February 26, that the surprise announcement was made of the choir’s hall of fame induction. It was made by Tim Sharp, executive director of the association, at the request of the hall of fame board of directors.

According to a choir news release, the induction honors the choir for more than 140 years of dedication to the choral arts and for its significant presence in the world of classical music.

“This remarkable ensemble of 360 volunteers has inspired generations of choral conductors such as you and me through concerts, recordings, broadcasts, tours, and prestigious appearances at World’s Fairs and U.S. presidential inaugurations,” Mr. Sharp told the assembled conference attendees. “Together with the Orchestra at Temple Square, they continue to inspire us with their work.”

Choir president Ron Jarrett expressed pleasure at receiving the hall of fame medallion before a distinguished group of musical peers and choral music enthusiasts.

“It is so humbling to be given this honor,” he said. “We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, dedicating their lives to music because of its power to unite [and] give comfort, peace, and joy. We will continue to pursue excellence in song for generations to come.”

Guest artist Santino Fontana performs with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at the final concert for the American Choral Directors Association’s national conference in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Sylvia McNair performs with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at the final concert for the American Choral Directors Association’s national conference in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Members of the United States Air Force Singing Sergeants perform at the final concert for the American Choral Directors Association’s national conference in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City. Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Sylvia McNair, left, and Santino Fontana are on stage with members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and ACDA honor choirs at the final concert of the association’s national conference in Salt Lake City. Photo by Debra Gehris.

Prior hall of fame inductees include John Williams, Frederica von Stade, Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, John Philip Sousa, Beverly Sills, Itzak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Scott Joplin, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Leonard Bernstein, Robert Shaw, Chanticleer, Dale Warland, and Weston Noble.

In connection with the induction, a newly engraved pavement stone bearing the name of the choir will be installed on the American Classical Walk of Fame in Washington Park in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The closing event for the choral directors’ conference was a concert of the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, which was open to the public as well as the conference attendees.

Among guest artists was Santino Fontana, Broadway singer and actor making his third appearance with the choir, preceded by his performances at the choir’s 2014 Pioneer Day and Christmas concerts.

Also appearing was Sylvia McNair, two-time Grammy Award winner and regional Emmy Award winner whose three-decade career includes opera, oratorio, cabaret, and musical theater.

The United States Air Force Singing Sergeants were also part of the concert, one of six musical ensembles that comprise the Air Force Band. The male and female vocal ensemble comprise 23 active airmen musicians.

“From the Treasury of American Song” was the theme of the concert.

“Tonight’s concert is eclectic, historic, and large in its own way because it is the first time in recent history that our conference attendees as well as members of the honor choirs have been able to gather together in a hall large enough to accommodate all of us,” Mr. Sharp said as he greeted the near-capacity audience in the Conference Center.

“There’s probably not a larger or more talented or more illustrious group of choral musicians anywhere,” Mr. Fontana said at the outset. “I think I speak for both of us in saying how honored we are to be with you.”

It began with “Call of the Champions,” the piece written by John Williams expressly for the choir’s performance at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. It progressed with a succession of American folk songs and spirituals and Broadway show tunes.

A highlight was Tabernacle organist Richard Elliott and the Orchestra at Temple Square performing “Jazz Concerto for Organ and Orchestra/The St. Andrew’s Wesley Concerto, Movement IV ‘Hot Pipes.’” A reprise of a previous Pioneer Day concert performance, it was a whimsical amalgamation of ragtime and Dixieland tunes served up with generous portions of keyboard virtuosity and punctuated with occasional sound effects.

The audience rewarded the performance of the organ piece with a standing ovation.

Mr. Fontana performed “Happy Medley,” which was a crowd pleaser at last year’s Pioneer Day event.

Ms. McNair sang the George Gershwin piece “The Man I Love,” from Strike Up the Band.

The Singing Sergeants performed “Freedom Song,” an original a cappella arrangement of familiar patriotic melodies, and then sang the well-known hymn “Amazing Grace,” inviting the audience to join in on verses 3 and 4.

The high point of the concert came at the end, when the association’s honor choirs combined with the Tabernacle Choir, orchestra, and musical guests singing “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.” The assemblage was so immense that it occupied the entire stage and the first several audience rows at the front of the Conference Center auditorium. Tabernacle Choir music director Mack Wilberg was surrounded by a sea of singers as he conducted the piece.