Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News
With Tabernacle Choir president Mac Christensen in the background, Mack Wilberg speaks after he was announced as the choir's new director. Wilberg has been the associate director of the choir since 1999.

Mack Wilberg is the new music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The appointment was announced Friday morning in the tabernacle by choir president Mac Christensen. He said Thomas S. Monson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had selected Wilberg, the choir's associate music director since 1999.

Edgar Thompson, former director of the University of Utah School of Music, was named as the interim assistant to Wilberg until a formal search is conducted.

"We announced this last night to the choir," Christensen said of their weekly Thursday night rehearsal. "They stood and they clapped and they cried."

He said he hasn't heard a single negative comment regarding the new appointments and doesn't expect to, also describing Wilberg as a genius and one of the great building blocks of the world-renowned choir.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir music director Craig Jessop resigned March 4 after more than eight years in the position, prompting the changes.

Wilberg was a professor of music at Brigham Young University until he joined the choir on May 1, 1999.

"Needless to say I'm very honored and humbled by the confidence shown by President Monson and the First Presidency," said Wilberg, the choir's 15th director.

"We want to continue the great tradition and legacy" of the choir, he said.

As music director, Wilberg will oversee all musical and creative aspects of the choir, the Orchestra at Temple Square, the Temple Square Chorale and the Bells on Temple Square, including selecting repertoire for concerts, recordings and tours, as well as the creative direction for the weekly "Music and the Spoken Word" broadcast.

Wilberg is a former director of choral activities at BYU, where he conducted the Concert Choir and the 240-voice Men's Chorus. He also taught both graduate and undergraduate music courses at BYU and is a pianist, chamber musician, clinician, composer, arranger and guest conductor.

His compositions and arrangements are consistently performed and recorded by choral organizations throughout the world and published by Oxford University Press and Hinshaw Music.

Wilberg received his master's and doctoral degrees from the University of Southern California and spent his undergraduate years at BYU. He was born in Price and raised in Castle Dale.

Wilberg said there is much pressure directing the choir. "It's a bit of a pressure cooker but the best kind," he said.

He also described the experience as like being on a speeding train that never stops to let off passengers, since the choir performs 300 to 450 different pieces each year.

"I love all music," Wilberg said, indicating he believes his style is similar to that of his predecessor. "No one will miss Craig (Jessop) more than myself."

"Life is full of surprises," Thompson said. "The surprise has worn off but not the honor" of his new appointment.

He said he has great respect for Wilberg and is no stranger to him in the professional sense.

"A whole new world opened up for me, and I loved it," Thompson said of his service to the choir.

Wilberg said he's thrilled with Thompson's appointment and described him as having "unparalleled abilities."

Thompson also had been the music director for the U.'s A Capella Choir, as well as conductor of the Utah Symphony Chorus and a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He was serving in a volunteer capacity to the choir at the time of his appointment as interim assistant.

A search committee is being formed to conduct a churchwide search for the new associate music director. Applications will be accepted beginning in August. They will be reviewed through the end of the year, with an appointment by the First Presidency anticipated in spring 2009.

Christensen said the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is supported by some 600 volunteers. There are only 11 people on its payroll.

"It's like opening Christmas presents," he said of the thrill of singing at general conference, the "Spoken Word" and other events.

Despite rumors circulating of possible other changes to the choir under President Monson, Christensen said those are unfounded.

"I haven't seen anything to support that," he said. "It will go as it always does."

Christensen said he believes President Monson and the late President Gordon B. Hinckley are were on the same page as far as the direction of the choir. "They love the choir. It's a great tool for the church."

Christensen said the choir has an unmeasurable impact on the church's success in missionary work.

"The choir can open doors and minds where no one else can," he said.

For more information on the choir, go to www.mormontabernaclechoir.org.

E-mail: [email protected]