SALT LAKE CITY

In Salt Lake City, Utah, the Amer­i­can mu­sic venue com­mis­sioned by Brigham Young and com­pleted in 1867, is a ma­jor at­trac­tion.

The Gulf Today - Time Out - - CONTENTS | FOCUS - Christo­pher Reynolds has the de­tails

There’s noth­ing par­tic­u­larly Mor­mon, or Amer­i­can, about “Ubi Car­i­tas.” It’s a Gre­go­rian chant at least 11 cen­turies old, was re­ar­ranged by French com­poser MAU­RICE DURUlE IN 1960 AND HAS BEEN SUNG by church cho­ral groups around the world.

But I can tell you that when it is per­formed by a cer­tain fa­mous choir in a cer­tain quirky old build­ing in down­town Salt Lake City, that melody works a par­tic­u­lar magic.

The voices rise and fall, singing a cap­pella in Latin. The sound rip­ples to the back of the hall, guided by the curv­ing plas­ter ceil­ing. The iNAL “AMEN” GROWS TO 10, 15, 20 SYL­LA­BLES, EACH ONE A SLOW-MO­TION ACRO­BAT IN lIGHT.

That’s how it went on a re­cent Sun­day morn­ing at the Salt Lake Taber­na­cle at Tem­ple Square, a sin­gu­lar Amer­i­can mu­sic venue com­mis­sioned BY BRIGHAM YOUNG AND COM­PLETED IN 1867.

THE 360 SINGERS WHO CALL THIS BUILD­ING HOME are known as the Mor­mon Taber­na­cle Choir — OR RATHER, THEY WERE UN­TIL OCT. 5, WHEN LEAD­ERS of the Church of Je­sus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints re­named them the Taber­na­cle Choir at Tem­ple Square.

In the world be­yond these walls, the group has been nee­dled for its squeaky-clean im­age and song list, and for per­form­ing at Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion.

But the singers are a beloved avatar for the church, of­fer­ing mu­si­cal balm for all, backed BY THEIR OWN TWIT­TER FEED (SINCE 2009) AND YOUTUBE CHAN­NEL (SINCE 2012).

As for the build­ing that houses them, one UNIM­PRESSED 19TH CEN­TURY VIS­I­TOR CALLED IT “A pump­kin half-buried in the sand.” To me, as light danced on its alu­minum roof, the taber­na­cle looked like a sur­fac­ing sub­ma­rine.

THAT SHINY ROOF (A 1947 AD­DI­TION) IS A GREAT dis­guise for a fron­tier relic and a strik­ing el­e­ment among the land­mark church build­ings that make up Tem­ple Square.

The site’s sin­gu­lar his­tory is more than enough rea­son to eaves­drop on choir prac­tice (MOST THURS­DAY NIGHTS) OR TO SEE A BROAD­CAST PER­FOR­MANCE (EV­ERY SUN­DAY MORN­ING) OR TO drop by to hear a pin drop (which hap­pens HOURLY TO SHOW OFF THE HALL’S ACOUS­TICS).

A Thurs­day night re­hearsal in the taber­na­cle, FREE TO THE PUB­LIC AT 7:30, IS A GOOD PLACE TO START.

Once you’re in­side, look at the choir loft, where choir mem­bers will be me­an­der­ing to their as­signed seats, men on one side, women on the other, and mak­ing notes on their sheet mu­sic.

Mu­sic di­rec­tor Mack Wil­berg prob­a­bly will be up front with a mi­cro­phone, de­liv­er­ing cor­rec­tions and com­men­da­tions with a dry WIT: “LADIES, YOU SOUND GREAT. MEN, YOU’VE got to lis­ten more to the ladies.”

To win a place in this group, singers must BE­LONG TO THE CHURCH, BE AT LEAST 25, NO OLDER THAN 55, AND LIVE WITHIN 100 MILES OF TEM­PLE Square. Be­sides an au­di­tion, they must pass an in­ter­view and mu­sic the­ory test.

FOR THE 1 IN 5 AP­PLI­CANTS WHO MAKES THE grade, there are hun­dreds of songs to learn and a year-round sched­ule of re­hearsals, broad­casts, per­for­mances, and some­times record­ing ses­sions and tours.

To make way for new blood, once choir MEM­BERS HAVE SUNG FOR 20 YEARS OR HAVE REACHED THE YEAR OF THEIR 60TH BIRTH­DAY, THEY’RE OUT.

Team­work is cen­tral. Un­like much of show busi­ness, singing in the choir is about dis­ap­pear­ing into a crowd, a pri­or­ity that har­mo­nizes with many LDS church teach­ings.

Oh, and there is no pay­check; all choir mem­bers are vol­un­teers. Ad­min­is­tra­tion and lo­gis­tics are han­dled by a gen­eral man­ager and a paid staff of about a dozen.

Mean­while, out­side Tem­ple Square, ev­er­more-sec­u­lar Salt Lake City (pop­u­la­tion about 200,000) OF­FERS EVER MORE EN­TER­TAIN­MENT OP­TIONS.

The week­end of my visit, the Utah Sym­phony was in Abra­vanel Hall, the Damned were due to play the De­pot, and a pro­duc­tion of “The Rocky Hor­ror Show” was near­ing the end of its run on the Grand The­ater stage.

NO­BODY PIC­TURED THIS IN 1847, WHEN THE choir formed un­der church pres­i­dent Young. The church it­self had been founded less than 20 YEARS BE­FORE BY JOSEPH SMITH IN UP­STATE New York.

Mor­mon pi­o­neers had just be­gun set­tling in Utah, and the Salt Lake Val­ley was nearly empty.

Be­fore long, Young was plan­ning a tem­ple (A TALL, STONE LAND­MARK THAT TOOK 40 YEARS TO COM­PLETE) AND THE TABER­NA­CLE, WHICH WOULD BE MADE OF UTAH PINE, ABOUT 75 FEET TALL, 150 FEET WIDE AND 250 FEET LONG, CAPPED BY A GEN­TLY curv­ing roof.

LIGHTS, CAM­ERA, SOUND

“MU­SIC & THE SPO­KEN WORD,” A 30-MINUTE melange of song, or­gan mu­sic and in­spi­ra­tional NAR­RA­TION, BE­GAN AS A RA­DIO SHOW IN 1929.

BY 1949, THE CHOIR WAS RE­LEAS­ING ITS FIRST com­mer­cial al­bum on Columbia Records. By THE 1960S, THE BROAD­CAST WAS TELE­VISED, AND the choir was singing for pres­i­dents, tour­ing the world, and work­ing with the New York Phil­har­monic and the Philadel­phia Orches­tra.

More re­cent col­lab­o­ra­tors have in­cluded Au­dra McDon­ald, Yo-Yo Ma, James Tay­lor and most re­cently Kristin Chenoweth, who joined this year ’s hol­i­day shows.

On my Sun­day morn­ing, men wore dark suits and ties, and women were in beige gowns.

The taber­na­cle’s benches, typ­i­cally ar­ranged TO HOLD AS MANY AS 3,000 LIS­TEN­ERS, WERE ABOUT two-thirds full. A church host­ess warmed up the crowd and wel­comed groups from Ecuador, Myan­mar and Tai­wan.

Af­ter the count­down to open the broad­cast, a nar­ra­tor wel­comed us and or­gan­ist Richard El­liott leaned over the key­boards.

Mean­while, a so­phis­ti­cated light­ing sys­tem threw in­tense col­ors onto the curv­ing wall be­hind the choir _ some­times blue, some­times pur­ple, some­times red, which made the goldLEAF OR­GAN PIPES GLOW LIKE lAMES.

Sev­eral hymns, folk songs and other pieces fol­lowed, in­clud­ing “Ubi Car­i­tas.”

EDGY IT WAS NOT. BUT THOSE 360 VOICES, RAISED to­gether, were some­thing to hear. I even­tu­ally spot­ted Wood among the al­tos and Harmer with the bari­tones.

“I know there are a lot of peo­ple who en­joy do­ing stage pro­duc­tions and they like do­ing so­los, and that’s never been my forte,” Wood had told me. “I have al­ways loved be­ing one of many in cre­at­ing an amaz­ing sound.”

“YOU DON’T WANT 360 SOLOISTS,” HARMER had said.

In no time, the broad­cast was wind­ing up. It ended with the choir ’s voices on “God be with you till we meet again” _ pre­dictable, per­haps, but warm and com­fort­ing on a win­ter day.

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