Is it possible to refine a musical group already as outstanding as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?
Some may question the possibility, but for nearly two years an effort has been under way to do just that. And the vehicle for that effort is the Temple Square Chorale.
Formed in July 1999 as part of the restructuring of musical organizations on Temple Square, the chorale has always been regarded as an appendage to the Tabernacle Choir, according to its director, Mack Wilberg, and Tabernacle Choir Musical Director Craig Jessop.
"In essence it is an in-service organization for the Tabernacle Choir," Brother Wilberg said. "We view it as somewhat of a training organization."
Thus, the membership of the Temple Square Chorale totally changes with each new three-month session.
"We operate two sessions a year," Brother Jessop explained. "One from January through March and the other July through October. Thus, it's always a different ensemble; it's never the same people from session to session. Approximately half are new singers apprenticing for membership in the Tabernacle Choir and the other half are current members we take out of the Tabernacle Choir as an inservice training experience. Every few years, every singer in the Tabernacle Choir will cycle through the chorale."
For example, in the chorale's current composition, the women's section is almost entirely current members of the Tabernacle Choir, while the men's section consists of about 35 potential Tabernacle Choir members and half a dozen current choir members, Brother Wilberg noted.
What benefits come to current and potential Tabernacle Choir members through their experience in the chorale?
"We have been concentrating on major works in the chorale," Brother Wilberg explained. "Because of the performance schedule of the Tabernacle Choir, we do not have time to concentrate on certain important issues that are important, whereas, in the Temple Square Chorale, we are able to take time to do that, plus make great music together."
They do that in weekly, Tuesday-night rehearsals. On Thursday, chorale members assemble for vocal instruction conducted by former Tabernacle Choir director Jerold D. Ottley and his wife, JoAnn, an accomplished vocal soloist.
"The training school is where the chorale members have the opportunity of focusing on music fundamentals: sight singing, diction, stage deportment and so forth," Brother Wilberg said.
The Temple Square Chorale has evidently achieved the desired results.
"We know the reading ability, ensemble singing, intonation, and diction of the Tabernacle Choir is continually improving," Brother Jessop said. "That is because the chorale affords a chamber-choir experience, where the conductor can focus on the individual. In the Tabernacle Choir, with 320 singers, it is very hard to give this kind of attention.
"And with up to 12 rehearsals to prepare a concert, the chorale can refine every nuance of the performance."
So far, those performances have included Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" performed last April and "King David" by Honneger presented last October.
This month, the chorale will present the Mozart Requiem, at the Assembly Hall on Temple Square at 7:30 p.m. on the 23rd and at BYU's de Jong Concert Hall, on the March 28. The Assembly Hall concert is free, but the BYU concert, part of the university's concert series, is a ticketed event.
"Mozart's 'Requiem' is, of course, one of the great works in the choral orchestral repertoire," Brother Wilberg said. "Our four soloists will be Lindsey Killian, Laura Garff Lewis, John Mauldin, Clayton Brainerd as well as the Orchestra at Temple Square."
Performing major choral works in their entirety is another benefit of singing in the chorale, said Brother Wilberg. He noted that the Tabernacle Choir often performs choruses from such works but only occasionally has the opportunity to perform the entire work.
In addition to concerts, the chorale performs on occasion with the Tabernacle Choir as part of its weekly broadcast, and as part of the choir itself for general conference, Brother Wilberg explained.
"I think the chorale adds an additional dimension to the community, particularly in offering this forum of major choral-orchestral works," he said. He agreed that it is in line with the 13th Article of Faith of the Church: "If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."