Friends and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints often spend many hours in line to get a seat inside the Tabernacle on Temple Square to view a session of the church's twice-yearly general conference.
But select groups spend several months preparing to take their seats in the Tabernacle - in the choir seats beneath the massive organ pipes that are known around the world as the church's trademark for worship music.This season has been no different, with the preparations being made for the sessions of the 160th Semiannual General Conference that begin in the Tabernacle Saturday at 10 a.m.
Guest choirs will occupy the Tabernacle's choir seats during the two general sessions Saturday and the priesthood session Saturday evening.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir will provide the music at the two Sunday sessions. The Mormon Youth Choir, which regularly sings during one or more conference sessions, will sing Saturday morning. The men from both choirs will sing during the Saturday priesthood session.
Michael F. Moody, chairman of the church's General Music Committee, said conference is a highlight for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir even though it sings in the Tabernacle every Sunday. And singing for conference is a particularly unique opportunity for church members who are invited to be in the guest choirs.
Music in the conference sessions, and in church meetings in general, is not just a "filler" but is an integral part of the worship service, he said. "The music contributes so much to the spirit of the conference. It puts forth the gospel messages in such a beautiful way."
How church members feel about being asked to sing during a conference session is illustrated by the reaction of a Tongan choir that sang at a recent conference.
"They wanted everything to be just perfect. The men were even trying to get matching ties so they would all be dressed just the same," said Marilyn Sharp, who with her husband, Gerald, works to find special choirs for the church's conference sessions. The Tongan group practiced every Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening for two months to prepare. Women in the Tongan choir had even ordered fresh flower leis from Hawaii to wear while singing. Church guidelines for a choir's appearance while in the Tabernacle kept them from wearing the leis but didn't keep the women from using the flowers to decorate banisters around the inside of the Tabernacle, Moody said.
Church choir groups occasionally contact Moody and offer to sing at conference sessions. Most of the groups invited to sing are chosen through the church's established priesthood leadership channels and come from areas along the Wasatch Front that are close enough to Salt Lake City to keep travel from being burdensome.
"I think we turned down Boise the other day," Moody said. But music committee officers regularly invite choirs from church-owned Ricks College in Rexburg, Idaho, as well as from Brigham Young University and church institute groups at other Utah colleges.
The music committee keeps a map showing the geographical areas each invited choir came from so the committee can spread the invitations to as many different places along the Wasatch Front as it can.
Each conference also offers a choir with a different makeup: Relief Society, young women, family choirs, combined ward choirs and Primary children's choruses.
The guest choir for this weekend's conference will be a young women's choir from the church's Bountiful and Val Verda regions that will sing Saturday afternoon. All but one of the pieces they will sing come from the church hymnbook. And as is required of all of the guest choirs, the group will come prepared with one extra hymn in case there is extra time during the session.
Planning music for the conference sessions is an almost continuous effort that begins one week after each conference ends. And the music committee has a tentative choir outline for the next 10 years.
Music directors for a chosen group generally have three to four months' notice so they will have ample time to choose music selections and arrangements to be reviewed by the music committee and then approved by the church's First Presidency.
Even with all the advance planning, there are often last-minute details to work out. The Tabernacle organ, which has components scattered throughout the building, is thoroughly checked to make sure there are no interruptions in the musical sermons that help tie the spoken messages of each conference session together.
A 50-50 chance of rain awaits conferencegoers Saturday. High temperatures will be in the 60s with lows in the 40s. More than half - 56 percent - of all conferences, held since 1888, have had wet weather at some time, according to meteorologists.