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James Taylor: Singing with Mormon Tabernacle Choir 'worth the wait'

Published: Saturday, July 4 2015 1:45 a.m. MDT

James Taylor, guest performer for this year’s 30th Anniversary O.C. Tanner Gift of Music Concert, and Choir Music Director Mack Wilberg talk to the media during a press conference at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) James Taylor, guest performer for this year’s 30th Anniversary O.C. Tanner Gift of Music Concert, and Choir Music Director Mack Wilberg talk to the media during a press conference at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The collaboration between James Taylor and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir — two iconic figures of American music — was many years in the making, Taylor revealed at a press conference Friday afternoon at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building.

“It just took us a long time to find the date, and this was worth the wait,” said Taylor, who has been practicing with the choir and the Utah Symphony since he arrived in town Wednesday afternoon. “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is a national treasure and a great gift to the world.”

Taylor will perform with the choir and the Symphony for some 42,000 people in the LDS Church’s Conference Center on Friday and Saturday nights. The tickets were distributed to the public through an online lottery. The tickets are free, a gift from the O.C. Tanner Gift Foundation, the brainchild of the late O.C. Tanner and former LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley.

“Our mandate is to sing for everyone,” said Mack Wilberg, director of the choir. “We don’t just sing for just one group or sing one genre.”

James Taylor, guest performer for this year’s 30th Anniversary O.C. Tanner Gift of Music Concert, talks to the media during a press conference at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) James Taylor, guest performer for this year’s 30th Anniversary O.C. Tanner Gift of Music Concert, talks to the media during a press conference at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

As for the collaboration with Taylor, Wilberg said, "Like everyone else of my generation, I grew up with his music. It's a good fit with the choir. As I've worked with his music it really struck me how close his music is related to folk music." Wilberg called Taylor "A very humble, nice man, a pleasure to work with."

Taylor, 65, has been a widely acclaimed performer and writer since bursting on the scene in the late 1960s. At the press conference, he noted that many of his songs are suited for choirs.

“My music has followed a number of different directions and to a certain extent I’m chorale-focused in my music," he said. "I’ve always worked with four and sometimes five other singers, and there’s a chorale aspect to my music that has been with me all along and has been growing. Some songs really want to be performed by a choir.”

James Taylor, guest performer for this year’s 30th Anniversary O.C. Tanner Gift of Music Concert, and Choir Music Director Mack Wilberg talk to the media during a press conference at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News) James Taylor, guest performer for this year’s 30th Anniversary O.C. Tanner Gift of Music Concert, and Choir Music Director Mack Wilberg talk to the media during a press conference at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in Salt Lake City on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

After rehearsing “That Lonesome Road” with the choir Thursday night, Taylor said he turned to Wilberg and said, “This song has died and gone to heaven.”

Taylor's good friend, legendary movie composer John Williams, worked with the choir and the symphony during the Salt Lake Winter Olympics in 2002 and urged Taylor to do the same.

Says Taylor, “He told me, ‘Don’t hesitate; you must go and make this happen.’ He was so thrilled to work here.”

Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. EMAIL: drob@deseretnews.com

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