THE MORMON TABERNACLE CHOIR: A Biography
University of Illinois Press: 248pp. H/B 978-0-252-03908-9 £20.99
The MTC is a major American musical institution, with an international reputation through its recordings and a world-wide following of millions. Mack Wilberg, its current musical director, has published many choral arrangements with the Oxford University Press that are being taken up by British choirs. Written by a professor of music at the Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City, this book is far from dry, and indeed surprisingly frank and provocative at times. The author, though not a member of the choir, describes himself as observer, researcher and note-taker of the choir since the 1980s and a friend and music teacher to many of the singers.
The MTC had its origins in the settlement of Mormons in Cleveland, Ohio, and then in the town of Nauvoo, Illinois, where the church fled from persecution in 1839. This early history of the choir in the context of the development of the Mormon Church is one of the most interesting sections. One curious fact is that the first five of the choir’s musical directors were British. Another lesser-known fact is that the MTC has always been a voluntary, though auditioned, choir.
In 1875 Salt Lake City received its first complete performance of Messiah (the famous Tabernacle had been completed in 1867). Choir activities from that time are covered: concerts, broadcasts, recordings and even a venture into Hollywood to provide the singers for the theme tune of the Star Trek movie. What shines from the pages is the dedication and pursuit of high standards by choir members and choir directors. Most of the personalities will be unknown names to UK readers, but this book is recommended to the many MTC fans and anyone interested in the history of the Mormon Church.