The Tabernacle Choir Blog

The Remarkable Orchestra at Temple Square

The workings of a symphony orchestra—from assembling the right complement of musicians to handling logistical details to rehearsing the repertoire—are intricate, even for full-time paid musical organizations. This makes the record of the all-volunteer Orchestra at Temple Square quite remarkable in comparison.

The Orchestra at Temple Square was formed in the fall of 1999 by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to serve as a companion ensemble to The Tabernacle Choir. Church leaders wanted an ongoing orchestra that could support the Choir in its role as a musical ambassador for the Church. The Orchestra has added a new and significant dimension of sound and repertoire to the Choir.

Since the Orchestra’s first rehearsal in October 1999, its support role has continued to unfold. The Orchestra performs nearly every week with the Choir for its Music & the Spoken Word broadcasts, shares an annual concert with the Temple Square Chorale, and gives its own concert every autumn. Since its formation, the Orchestra has played on every Choir recording, which became even more important when the Choir formed its own recording label in 2003. A small ensemble from the Orchestra accompanied the Choir on tours in 2001 and 2003; however, since 2005, a full complement of the Orchestra has toured with the Choir, culminating in enormously successful performances in acclaimed European concert halls in 2016.

What amazes both listeners and the world-class guest artists who perform with the Choir and Orchestra is the high level of musicianship from this group of all-volunteer instrumentalists. Like the Choir members, each of the Orchestra members has other full-time work and family responsibilities, which they juggle with their calling as musical missionaries. Some are music teachers or make their living in professional music settings. Others don’t make their livelihood in music but have kept up their musical skills in other ways. All are high-caliber musicians who are able to play the music set before them, often with very little rehearsal.

Unlike a choir whose membership is generally the same week to week, an orchestra’s makeup changes depending upon the music to be performed. Mack Wilberg, music director, determines when the Orchestra will perform, then Barry Anderson, administrative manager for the Choir and Orchestra, is responsible to assemble the right complement of musicians. A full orchestra usually requires some 85 to 90 players, but that may vary depending on the music chosen. Emails are sent to the nearly 200 musicians on the rosters requesting them to sign up for specific events—often months in advance. Some instrumentalists choose to perform every week, while others come as they are able. “When members sign up, they come. They have to come. That’s one of the amazing things about this group—they are loyal,” commented Anderson. “They are devoted to their calling. I don’t think there’s anything quite like it in the world, Church-wise or musically.”

Kathryn Collier, who has been an Orchestra member since it was formed in 1999, explained it this way: “I’ve been quite blessed musically in my life, and I just felt like this was an opportunity for me to give—not to expect money in return—but to give of myself. It’s not really a sacrifice for me because it’s such a joy. I really love the common bond that we have and the goal we have to bring light and joy to people.”

“The Orchestra at Temple Square is an amazing, wonderful group of dedicated musicians,” said Mack Wilberg. “They understand the importance and power of music—the language of music—to reach the hearts of our audiences. They appreciate the responsibility and opportunity they have of bringing this music to each person who listens to them.”