SALT LAKE CITY — The Mormon Tabernacle Choir isn't afraid to try something new, especially if it might help to spread its music and gospel.
It's been 36 years since the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir, comprising musical missionaries and goodwill ambassadors for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was featured in the short film "Mr. Krueger's Christmas." So when Candlelight Media Group approached choir president Ron Jarrett and others in 2014 about collaborating to produce a full-length feature movie, the idea was intriguing.
More than a year later, with the film "Singing With Angels" (rated PG) ready to open for audiences March 11, people associated with the choir are pleased with the outcome and are eagerly anticipating the public response.
"It’s totally different than what we have done before. The format for this movie was an opportunity for us to share with our audiences some of the strengths of our members by sharing their stories and experiences," Jarrett said. "We also wanted to broaden our audience by looking at the diversity that might be present in a viewing audience, different from a listening audience. Maybe it will entice a few more people to come and investigate our music a little more."
"Singing With Angels" tells the story of a woman (Sarah Kent) who deals with life's challenges while pursuing her dream to sing in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. In the process, she has several powerful and life-changing experiences, all taken from real-life events that happened to choir members.
Brian Brough, the film's director and producer, emphasized the film is not a documentary.
"One of the biggest misconceptions about this movie is that it's a concert performance or documentary," Brough said. "As we've done some advance screenings, audiences have been pleasantly surprised to see that it's a real movie, with a narrative story, characters they can follow and care about, that uses the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as a backdrop to the overall story."
Brough and his sister, screenwriter Brittany Wiscombe, pitched the idea to Jarrett, who discussed it with choir leadership. When everyone was on board, Jarrett sought approval from the LDS Church's First Presidency, which found the concept appealing, the choir president said.
“They were intrigued by the idea,” Jarrett said. “They were interested, curious, and wanted to know how it would be portrayed, what would be our involvement and commitment timewise. They were very supportive.”
Scenes involving the choir were filmed at the Salt Lake Tabernacle and Abravanel Hall. Jarrett said Candlelight Media Group persuaded more than 250 choir members to take part by promising a special private screening of the movie.
Wiscombe said coordinating schedules with a 360-member choir that already maintains a busy weekly schedule was not as hard as one might expect.
"We were prepared for it to be a lot harder than it ended up being," she said. "The great thing is they plan so well, we planned, and all that planning paid off. Everything in production went really smoothly."
Jarrett, who makes a brief appearance in the scene filmed at Abravanel Hall, said the film accurately portrays the choir audition process, the thrill of singing with the choir and the sometimes difficult decisions that choir members face relative to life's challenges.
"It becomes real for people," Jarrett said. "They will understand more of the sacrifice required, what families give up, and what the choir takes home, the blessings and spiritual experiences. People will understand that a little bit clearer."
The movie’s title, "Singing With Angels," is explained early in the film. It emerged in the process of revising the screenplay and is especially precise, Jarrett said.
On many occasions, choir members have said they felt the presence of angels in the loft. As an example, Jarrett related what happened when the choir was recording the 2013 album "Homeward Bound," which features music originally performed by early LDS Welsh converts in their language. Those stalwart Saints formed the nucleus of what later became the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Jarrett said.
"It was during the recording of that album that many choir members related experiences of having personal witnesses that other people were there," Jarrett said. "The Welsh Saints were there because it was their music. We were singing their songs in their language, and we had their support. So the title of the film is right on."
More information about the movie, including locations and showtimes, is available at singingwithangelsmovie.com.
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