The Tabernacle Choir Blog

Saying Goodbye to the Best Job in the World

Check the credits at the end of Music & the Spoken Word and for nearly forty years you would see the name Edward Payne.  He isn’t a familiar sight on camera but behind the scenes as executive producer of the broadcast he pulls everything together. And he makes it look easy. 

He has been producing the weekly broadcast for nearly forty years. His work has taken him on tour with The Tabernacle Choir from Israel to Australia and across the United States. He has shot footage for overrolls; conceived changes for the opening and closing scenes; worked closely with music directors Jerold Ottley, Craig Jessop, and Mack Wilberg and Choir presidents Wendell Smoot, Mac Christensen, and Ron Jarrett; directed guest artists; and helped shape the technological growth of Church broadcasting from a small three-seater booth in the Tabernacle to a state of the art facility in the Conference Center.

He is a force of his own who can see far, think creatively, listen to input from others and act decisively. He has been the consummate producer with a line at the door of those hoping to work with him.  

But for Ed, the program has never been about him and the rudiments of producing a weekly live broadcast. He explains, “One of the unique things about Music & the Spoken Word is its connection to the listeners. Through tragic events, wars, pestilence, and great turmoil, it’s always been there with spiritual, uplifting, consoling music and a spoken word message that addresses how to help heal souls, find comfort, and peace.”

Ed first started working on the broadcast in 1981 and was named producer in 1983. At that time, he had a crew of ten and three outdated stationary cameras. Today the crew numbers about 25. That includes six to seven cameramen, four audio operators, teleprompter operators, lighting technicians, stage crew, and production assistants as well as those who stream the program on YouTube and Facebook. 

When Payne took over, he knew he needed to make changes to do justice to the highly acclaimed Sunday morning program. He found a way to get new cameras, replacing the stationary ones with others that could move so viewers could see the breadth and size of the Choir from different angles. He brought in dollies, a rail system, and handheld cameras creating dynamic shots to match the music. He had one director and quickly hired five more, allowing each director more time to think about their broadcast, listen to the music, and block the shots. Before that time shots weren’t planned in advance (“blocked”)—the director just looked for a camera he liked and the visual went on the air.

Other changes have continued over the years. Payne brought in a jib arm to better film the organ and moved announcer Lloyd Newell around to different locations in the hall. Today he stands at the back of the Tabernacle or Conference Center giving a wide sweep of the Choir and Orchestra over his shoulder. 

Payne introduced the use of “overrolls”—on-screen visuals giving context to the words of the music. Payne shot much of the footage himself in the early days and still provides classic images. The broadcast now features visuals behind almost every song so that people hear the beautiful music and grasp the message as well. 

Music & the Spoken Word isn’t the only broadcast Payne produces. There is the Choir and Orchestra’s annual Christmas concert, the number one holiday program on PBS each year; the Music for a Summer Evening concert, specials during the year from Veterans Day to Martin Luther King Day to the Fourth of July and singular programs like the one for 9/11 that was aired. Messiah concerts in the spring have prompted simultaneous sings-ins with the Choir around the world. 

Everything performed by the Choir from the 3,000-seat Tabernacle to the 21,000-seat Conference Center has one purpose, Payne says. “We want to help people experience a connection with the divine, a connection with the Spirit, and bring that feeling into their homes across the world.”

Ed Payne officially retired on September 30. As he got ready to see his name on the credits one last time he says, “You’d think after 39 years each week would be just another program. Before Covid-19 interrupted our schedule process, we would have production meetings during the week, we had rehearsals on Thursday night, and assignments to get footage and pull it all together. It was very busy. But my favorite part of the show is when the program starts, and I can listen to it. When the Choir sings--especially one of Mack Wilberg’s arrangements—it touches me in a way that I feel like I’m hearing it for the first time. I get emotional; I get goosebumps. And that reminds me I have had the best job in the world.”