Behind the scenes with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir

Published: Monday, Nov. 1 2010 6:00 a.m. MDT

Each piece of music has a bar code and is logged in and out; if someone takes a piece home and forgets to bring it back, the music is not re-shelved until it all comes back. Keeping track of it all is a huge undertaking. \"And we get new pieces all the time. We got five new arrangements from Mack for the last general conference,\" Martin says.

Periodically, they will gather up some of the old pieces and send them to Wilberg to see if they should be kept; mostly, he likes to keep them, she says.

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Early rehearsal starts with warm-up and prayer at 7:25 a.m. They will have an hour to rehearse. \"Energize the words,\" Wilberg may tell them; \"it sounds like you're running out of energy.\" Or, \"do it from the al-le-lu-yuh.\" \"Great job; it's going to be terrific this morning.\" \"This one's hard to keep in tune; when in doubt, place your intervals higher.\"

At around 7:45, members of the 110-person, all-volunteer orchestra begin to arrive. \"It's an amazing experience,\" woodwind expert Daron Bradford says, \"to sit in front of this great choir, to be involved with something this superb.\" It is different, he says, from any paid orchestra he has been part of. \"The purpose here is much higher.\"

Sometime around 8, director Lynn Clayson will call the camera operators together to hand out assignments and go over the day's show.

His work for the Sunday broadcast starts at the Thursday night rehearsal. \"We do an audio recording of the program; I get copies of the printed music; we talk about camera angles.\" Then he takes everything away to block out the shots. \"When the altos are singing, we want to see altos,\" he says.

Each show will use about six or seven cameras: a couple in the balcony, a couple of hand-helds, a large jib-mounted camera, some robotics, mounted at the back of the hall and actually controlled from the central control station now housed in the Conference Center.

Each program can have anywhere from 100 to 140 or so different camera shots, which Clayson notes by song, by camera, by length, by sequence. There are also built-in section of \"overroll,\" scenic shots that correspond to music or thought. \"If the choir is singing about God's beautiful world, we want you to see that world,\" Clayson says.

There are 13 or 14 camera operators in all, who rotate assignments week to week. \"I love it,\" says Brandy Vega, who has been working with the choir for six years. \"It's such a great experience to come listen to the choir, to be part of this production,\" she says. \"And no matter how often I hear it, I cry every single time at the end when they sing 'God Be With You.' \"

At their morning meeting, the camera people share goodies, often provided by members of the choir. \"They love us,\" Brian Bunton jokes. \"If they bring treats, maybe they'll get more camera time.\"

It's always a fairly ambitious show, but generally things run smoothly. Jib cameraman Glen Fisk does remember the time when, at a concert in Idaho, \"I got one of the violinist's bows stuck in a cable.\"

Kory Hasagawa has been with the program for 23 years; for Kevin Bills, it's all very new. \"I've wanted to do this for 23 years. This is a dream,\" he says. Before starting out, \"I had to watch the obligatory 200 hours of shows. My family gets tired of me directing behind the scenes,\" he says with a laugh.

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At 8:25 a.m., the cameras roll for the final run-though. \"Thursday night we were 55 seconds under, so we need to slow it down,\" Payne says. \"We can't have more than 10-12 seconds of organ interlude at the end.\" Wilberg will watch the clock closely, he says, and will lengthen out some passages as needed.

Then the signal comes, and Clayson's voice engineers the show: \"Ready 3, shot 12, and take,\" he says. \"Ready camera 2, shot 15, and take.\" \"A little tighter on the tops of pipes.\" \"Clarinets are up. Those are flutes. OK, those are clarinets, and take.\" \"Full-wide on the women, and dissolve.\"

It will need very little tweaking when the program goes live in another half-hour.

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