5.0. Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or on the Good will
I feel a little bit embarrassed when speaking about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir (hereafter MTC) because saying bad things (or not saying good things) about it is like ‘shooting on the Red Cross’, just to use a popular Italian expression.62 The MTC is a large mixed choir accompanied by a full symphonic orchestra (the Orchestra at Temple Square) or a powerful concert organ. The ensemble hosts conductors and famous singers (frequently lyrical singers) longing for the thrill and reward of having in front a oceanic audience, something that with the MTC is always guaranteed. This audience is not biased toward the genre of music played and therefore is very similar to the audience attending André Rieu’s concerts. The difference consists in the peculiar composure that the MTC’s audience maintains at every piece and with every ‘star’: there are neither abrupt clapping nor heads’ and arms’ shakings accompanying the rhythm of the music; the audience is neither deeply moved nor dancing all of a sudden. On the other hand, the TV direction is one of the few that does not make usage of light effects and similar tricks. Everything flows as it were a classical concert. However, when watching one of many spiritual songs devoted to the Christian divinities, it is like attending a religious celebration rather than a concert.
62 Based on the principles of the Red Cross International Movement and the Mezzaluna Rossa, the Italian Red Cross was created in Milan in 1864 and is an association of social interest that carries out emergency duties both in peace and war time. For people’s common perception, the Red Cross is the symbol of highest vulnerability.
The MTC can be proud of its very large vocal repertoire, but not so much perhaps of its dubiously tailored transcriptions and arrangements. In addition to timeless Christmas carols such as Silent Night and Jingle Bells, the MTC performs also God Bless America, Battle Hymn of the Republic and The American National Anthem. There is, thus, some patriotic feeling in ‘spirituality’ (or vice versa), so much that with closed eyes it is like attending a magnificent military parade or a tattoo. But the MTC’s repertoire is much larger than that: from classical pieces such as the Hallelujah! - And the Glory of the Lord from Georg Friedrich Händel’s Oratorio Messiah and the Magnificat and Gloria Patri from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Magnificat in D minor (BWV 243), to music by Gabriel Fauré, Nikolai Rimskij-Korsakov (Николай Римский-Корсаков), Jean Sibelius, Franz Schubert, J. S. Bach/Ch. Gounod, Charles-Marie Widor and others. Unfortunately, the arrangements are too often terrible: those pieces were composed in a Romantic style for an instrumental ensemble and now they are arranged for choir and orchestra, with the choir being an undisputed protagonist. Whoever has a taste for horrible music can listen to, for example, Finlandia, Sibelius’ Op. 26, in a version for choir and orchestra.
These demanding and now distorted pieces are performed along with such compositions as Over the Rainbow from the film Wizard of Oz (dir. Victor Fleming et al., 1939), Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ from the musical movie Oklahoma! (dir. Fred Zinnemann, 1955), The Sound of Music and Climb Every Mountain from the musical movie The Sound of Music (dir. Robert Wise, 1965), Circle of Life from the animated film and the musical The Lion King (dir. Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff, 1994; Julie Taymor, 1997, respectively), Love Is a Song from the cartoon Bambi (dir. James Algar et al., 1942), When you Wish upon a Star from the animated film Pinocchio (dir. Norman Ferguson et al., 1940) and then main theme of the Walt Disney production Whistle While You Work/Heigh Ho! from the animated film Snow White (dir. William Cottrell et al., 1937), The Impossible Dream from the theater musical The Man of La Mancha, and Bring Him Home from the theater and, then, cinema musical Les Misérables (in the English version).
In the MTC’s repertoire from theater and cinema musicals there is also the difficult West Side Story with such pieces as Tonight, Somewhere and Something’s Coming. However, neither Mack Wilberg, conductor of this large and old choir,63 nor Ryan Murphy, associated director, thought that the MTC’s music concept is too ‘Christmassy’, too edifying, too conformist to express the right ‘maliciousness’ that is needed to interpret a piece like Something’s Coming, no matter if the main singer was a Broadway specialist. More on this indicative défaillance64 and other impossible arrangements can be found in the Conclusions at the end of Part I.
63 In 2012 the MTC celebrated one hundred years of recordings.
64 ‘Weakness’ [EN].
Among many soloists featured in the MTC’s concerts there are Andrea Bocelli, Santino Fontana, Natalie Cole, Stanford Olsen, Sandi Patty, Alfie Boe, Dallyn Bayles, Bryn Terfel and Nathan Pecheco.
Source: several YouTube videos (accessed in 2013-2014).