A 1959 Mormon Tabernacle Choir album is among 50 "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" recordings to be placed in the National Recording Registry, the Library of Congress announced this week.
Recordings, which must be at least 10 years old to be included in the registry, are chosen to represent a broad spectrum of aural experience, from music and radio broadcasts to speeches and even environmental sounds, said Karen Fishman, reference librarian in the recorded sound section of the Library of Congress.
"We have everything from Handel to hip-hop. We try to make sure each genre is represented," she said in a phone interview.
The class of 2004 was announced Tuesday in Washington, D.C.,and includes what Librarian of Congress James H. Billington called a "rich variety" celebrating the "importance of sound recording in our lives."
Included on the list is the 1959 Mormon Tabernacle Choir/Philadelphia Orchestra's recording of Handel's "Messiah," Eugene Ormandy, conductor; Richard Condie, choir director.
Other honorees this year include Eugene Cowles' 1898 "Gypsy Love Song," Nirvana's 1991 "Nevermind," Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs' 1949 "Foggy Mountain Breakdown," John Williams' "Star Wars" soundtrack (1977), remarks from Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong's broadcast from the moon in 1969 and Woodrow Wilson's Armistice Day broadcast (1923).
The Library of Congress established a National Recording Registry, under the National Recording Preservation Act of 2000. For the past three years, the library has annually chosen 50 recordings that are "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" for inclusion in the registry.
Being on the list is "a significant honor, absolutely," said Fishman, not only because of the limited numbers, but also because it helps "capture what was significant in the country at that time. It's not a Top Ten list, it's a sound portrait of America. It's a wonderful way to document history."
As formats change, as technologies change, it is important that this audio history be preserved, she said.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir/Philadelphia Orchestra's recording was a best-selling album of its day, noted Fishman. "The choir had a long history of association with the Philadelphia Orchestra, going back to 1936. This recording was made during a concert tour the choir did in 1958."
The choir's collaboration with Eugene Ormandy "was a match made in heaven," according to Craig Jessop, current music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. "In some ways, that was a golden era, reflecting Condie's passion, drive and love of music. He was the right man at the right time."
Condie was named director of the choir in 1957 and led the organization for 17 years. It was the time, said Jessop, when the choir really stepped onto the national stage, doing recordings and tours. "Their 'Messiah' was one of the first truly successful classical recording stories of its time. It was a benchmark; it set a standard for classical musical recordings that is unparalleled. The fact that it is still available nearly 50 years later says a lot."
At the time, music critics commented on the choir's "great romantic choral tone, deep with feeling that is able to communicate the inner meaning of the world's great choral music."
Paul Hume, music critic for the Washington Post, wrote that "this sound of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has been a special beacon for those who love the world's great choral music." Ormandy himself credited the choir's sound to Condie's background as a opera singer. "Any conductor reflects the instrument he played," he said.
Being included in the National Recording Registry "is a tremendous honor, a tremendous recognition," said Jessop. "It's a recognition of the long-standing tradition of the choir."It is because of the foundation laid by such early choir directors that "the choir still has a continuing presence in the recording industry today," he said. (The choir's latest release, "Chose Something Like A Star", is No. 4 on Billboard's classical music charts.) And, said Jessop, the legacy lives on "with the wonderful choir we have now. It's alive and strong and vital."
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