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Mormon Tabernacle Choir celebrates 100 years of records

Published: Friday, June 11 2010 9:00 a.m. MDT

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs as part of the news conference on Thursday.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Observing a century of recording history, members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir merged their voices with their counterparts of 100 years ago Thursday evening at the Salt Lake Tabernacle as choir officers announced to news media the release of a three-disc album to mark the centennial.

With historic photos of the choir being projected on the tabernacle's domed ceiling, a segment of a 1910 recording of "Let the Mountains Shout for Joy" — the earliest existing choir recording — was played. Then, on cue from musical director Mack Wilberg, today's choir picked up and finished the anthem in a live rendition.

Richard E. Turley Jr., assistant LDS Church historian, told the story of the making of that early recording.

"The fact of the matter is, the Columbia Phonograph Co., which sent the technician out (to Salt Lake City) to make the recording, really didn't think it would work," Turley said. "Recording technology for music was still in its infancy in those days. The microphone had been invented, but it was not yet refined enough to record music well."

Instead, acoustic technology was used, Turley said, with two large horns, similar to those one sees in picture of old-time phonographs, to capture the choir sound. On Thursday, Sept. 1, 1910, the two flared horns, 56 inches long and 2 feet wide at the opening, were suspended from a rope strung from the balcony on either side of the choir seats.

This captured a recording of "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet," which was not deemed good enough for public release — and thus has been lost to history — and the subsequent performance of "Let the Mountains Shout for Joy," which Columbia then reproduced for sale.

A lot has happened in 100 years, and the three-disc celebratory set, which entered stores Thursday, contains two audio CDs with 32 tracks, comprising the choir's most-requested songs. The third disc, a bonus CD-DVD, with rarely seen or heard performances, is also included, containing 11 historic videos and six vintage audio selections.

"I can think of very few musical organizations in the world that can boast a recording tradition of 100 years," Wilberg said, addressing media representatives.

In fact, Deseret Book, which is distributing today's recordings on the choir's own label, says no other artist in the United States has a recording career that long, and worldwide, only the Vienna Boys Choir exceeds it.

"Those of us who are currently involved with the choir salute those who have come before us," Wilberg said.

e-mail: rscott@desnews.com

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