The Tabernacle Choir Blog

Watch Former Choir Conductor J. Spencer Cornwall Conduct at Age 91

J. Spencer Cornwall (1888-1983) was the conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from 1935-1957. Under his leadership, the Choir traveled abroad to perform for the Swiss temple dedication in 1955. One of his early music instructors was George Careless, who was the sixth conductor of the Choir. Cornwall also composed the music for “Softly Beams the Sacred Dawning,” which is included in the current hymnbook of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In this gem of a video from 1979, Cornwall conducts the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in his arrangement of “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” In the clip, which was filmed at the reunion for the 50th Radio Broadcast Anniversary, Cornwall is introduced by former Music & the Spoken Word announcer J. Spencer Kinard saying, “The next song was arranged by a Choir conductor who was here for so many years—he is now 91 years young. He conducted the Choir from 1935, shortly after we began broadcasting, to 1957, so 22 years. We’re delighted to have, leading the Choir in that wonderful favorite, “Come, Come, Ye Saints,’ J. Spencer Cornwall.”

Cornwall, who appeared to be on the edge of his seat for most of his introduction, got up quickly for a man of 91 and walked toward the conductor’s stand. Cornwall shook hands with former conductor Jerold Ottley, who helped him take his final steps onto the stand. He then turned and bowed slightly to an applauding audience and without wasting any time he quickly turned to the Choir, gave them their cue to stand, then raised his baton and started the song. He conducted with the gusto of a man half his age.

When Cornwall and the Choir concluded, the audience erupted and rose to its feet. The applause and standing ovation lasted over a minute, allowing Cornwall to return to his seat, and stand once again to acknowledge the audience and Choir.

Enjoy this trip down memory lane…