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Mormon Tabernacle Choir launches story-driven blog

Published: Saturday, March 29 2014 1:05 p.m. MDT

The artist Sissel was the ethereal voice in the movie "Titanic." She sang with the choir in December of 2006.

IRI

As part of a strategy to bring more people the blessings of gospel choral music around the world, the Church has launched a blog for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (mormontabernaclechoir.org/blog).

“We’re sharing more about the choir than we ever have,” said Scott Barrick, general manager of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. “Social media provides people with a personal connection. With the blog, we are prying back the covers of the choir to let people take a look.”

“The content on a blog should be interesting and add value to the reader,” said Eric Malizia, one of two digital media producers for the new blog. “For example, when I was first introduced to the choir, I watched them during a warm up. It was spectacular. I turned to the other digital media producer, Drew Conrad, and we both said at the same time, ‘We’ve got to get a video of this posted to the Internet so people can see it.’ We had a video shot and put it up on the web. It took off fast and has close to 20,000 views.” Director Mack Wilberg was surprised how many people were interested in seeing the choir do a warm up.

Content created for the blog is done by a digital media team including Eric Malizia, Drew Conrad and Heidi Swinton, author of both President Thomas S. Monson’s biography To the Rescue and America’s Choir: A Commemorative Portrait of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Almost every weekday, one or two pieces of content are posted to the blog. “We’re creating a lot of new, unique content for people who are interested in the choir, choral music, Church history and the hymns. We posted nearly 80 stories in the first two months,” said Drew Conrad, digital media producer for the blog, which was launched Jan. 2 of this year. “You won’t be able to find this content anywhere else.”

The stories on the blog are drawn from books, websites, movies, pop culture and other sources. “The blog shows a 360-degree view of the choir’s past, present and future,” said Brother Conrad. One of the many stories on the blog discusses Evan Stephens, the choir’s music director from 1890 to 1916. He contributed 18 hymns to the current hymn book and took the choir on its first trip outside of Utah to the Chicago world’s fair. ... The choir took second place in a music festival and won $1,000 dollars.

Another story on the blog is about the artist Sissel, who performed with the choir during Christmas 2006. Her enchanting voice is featured heavily in one of the highest grossing movies of all times, Titanic. Former music director Craig Jessop said in the blog story, “When I first heard her sing live, I was taken by the sincerity and purity of her voice. Her voice, like her personality, is disarming and genuine.”

Near the headline of each story on the blog are four ways to share it with others. Visitors can share on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and by email. “By reaching out in different ways, we might attract someone who is not a choir listener but is interested in one of our stories,” said Brother Malizia. “From there they may listen to the choir and become a fan for life. That’s the possibility.”

Another tool that helps people stay informed is the choir newsletter. “The newsletter comes out every Friday with current news about the choir, upcoming events, ticket information and the Spoken Word from that week’s broadcast,” said Brother Conrad. Under the “Connect” tab at the top of the website homepage, users can select “follow us” to sign up for the newsletter online. Brother Conrad added, “We hope to enhance our blog posts with an additional weekly email summarizing the most-read blogs of the week, with convenient links back to the stories.”

“We are increasing the velocity at which we feature all aspects of the choir,” said Brother Barrick. “Our start was rudimentary with a basic Facebook page, website and Twitter account. We’ve since added Google+, Pinterest, Instagram, YouTube and now a blog. Our average engagement with fans is 30 percent higher since we started the blog.”

“Together, these digital and social media initiatives create a rising tide that lifts all ships,” said Brother Conrad. “Since we’ve taken this aggressive approach, we’ve seen an increase in Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube traffic as a whole. We are seeing growth across multiple channels.” By embedding videos in blog posts (90 percent of them have videos), the choir’s YouTube channel traffic has increased 10 percent. Total visits to the website increased 122 percent in January 2014 versus the monthly average.

“At the end of the day, it’s not about the numbers,” said Brother Barrick. ”It’s whether or not the choir has been able to be an ambassador for the Church. All these things are simply mechanisms to touch hearts and minds with the power of the choir’s music.”

The choir’s social media plan appears to be only in its infancy. “We are working on a number of other complementary ideas that will keep moving the choir forward online,” said Brother Barrick. “One of the things we’ve talked about is establishing a network of choir fans who are peer leaders in their own spheres of influence. These passionate fans would share the choir with their peers, allowing us to reach people we might not usually see on the site. It’s our own way to hasten the work.”

Some possibilities for the choir in the future might be a mobile choir app, a 24 hour stream on the Mormon Channel and being able to digitally download music on store.lds.org.

“Stay tuned,” said Brother Barrick. “There are great things coming by the end of the year.”

rmorgenegg@desnews.com

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