The Tabernacle Choir Blog

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Recording for 107 Years!

There aren’t many musical groups who can say that they have been recording for 107 years—and have performed in some of the first historic recordings along the way.

According to the Deseret Evening News, an “epoch in musical history” began when the Columbia Phonograph Company first captured the majestic sound of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Tabernacle organ in September 1910. It was in the early days of sound recording; microphones had been invented but they weren’t refined enough for  reproducing music. Instead, large flared horns that focused sound into an acoustic recording device were used. The Choir was the first large choral group to be successfully recorded for an acoustic phonographic reproduction.

Another historic event in sound recording occurred in 1940. The Choir was approached by Utah-born Dr. Harvey Fletcher with Bell Telephone Laboratories to record music with a new type of sound reproduction—it was stereophonic or multiple-track recording, which was demonstrated later in Carnegie Hall. Three microphones were used, each feeding into a separate sound track. Also recorded for this demonstration event were conductor Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. After the Carnegie Hall demonstration, the newspaper headline of the New York Times the next day was “Sound Waves ‘Rock’ Carnegie Hall” The age of stereo sound had begun—and the Choir was part of that first recording and demonstration!

That same legacy continues today with more than 200 different recordings since 1910. During 10 different sessions in May and September 2017, the Choir and Orchestra laid down the tracks for a new album of Mack Wilberg compositions for release in the spring of 2018.

In the music world, Mack Wilberg, music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, is known as one of the preeminent composers and arrangers of choral works. Two of  his new longer-length compositions have had public performances on Temple Square as the Temple Square Chorale and Orchestra at Temple Square gave the Utah premiere of The Prodigal, based on the scriptural account of Christ’s parable, and the Choir and Orchestra premiered A Cloud of Witnessesinspired by accounts of witnesses to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ—at Easter in 2017. Both of these pieces will be included on the new album, along with additional Wilberg compositions never previously recorded.

Some may wonder where the Choir and Orchestra record their music when there are over 450 musicians who perform. The goal in recording is to capture the sound so that the beautiful richness and balance of all the instruments and vocal parts in the Choir and Orchestra can be heard. So, it may come as a surprise to some that the Tabernacle on Temple Square, built in the 1860s before there were microphones or amplifiers, is the recording studio for the Choir. The amazing pioneer-built acoustics combined with today’s advanced computer technology and the team of extremely talented sound engineers who work with the Choir and Orchestra make the Tabernacle an excellent location for beautiful recordings!

Watch our new time-lapse video filmed during the May 2017 recording sessions. If you want to know why quilts and blankets are placed on the benches during the recording sessions, here is the story. And look for the new CD of Mack Wilberg compositions and arrangements in May 2018!