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How the Salt Lake Children’s Choir made it to the big screen

Salt Lake Children’s Choir to be featured in score of new Vietnam War hero film ‘The Last Full Measure’

Salt Lake Children’s Choir

SALT LAKE CITY — Being asked to sing for a Hollywood film score was “nothing really out of the ordinary” for the Salt Lake Children’s Choir, according to artistic director Ralph Woodward.

“Over the decades, we’ve just been very much in demand for any kind of recording,” he said.

The Last Full Measure,” set for release in theaters Friday, is just one of the many recording projects the Salt Lake Children’s Choir has taken on, from promotions for CBS, NBC and Walt Disney Productions to movie soundtracks for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“We’re identified largely for the sound that the choir gets,” Woodward said. “We strive for a very pure, angelic sound, and that is something that has been in demand for scores for film and television and even commercials and occasionally a movie.”

“The Last Full Measure” is based on the true story of William H. Pitsenbarger, a Vietnam War hero who saved more than 60 men and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

The film features a star-studded cast including Sebastian Stan, Christopher Plummer, Ed Harris and Samuel L. Jackson.

Although “The Last Full Measure” is not a kids movie, having received an R rating from the Motion Picture Association of America for war violence and language, Woodward thinks helping to create the score was a worthwhile endeavor for the choir.

“It’s probably pretty heartwarming and maybe even inspiring, hopefully. Certainly it’s about valor,” Woodward said. “I just think we’ll feel pleased that we were a part of a well-done project.”

Woodward said he usually accepts invitations like this and handpicks a few members of the choir to participate. The children are often asked to sing an open vowel for effect.

“When there’s a special kind of desire for some sort of ethereal or angelic sound, the children’s voices will be brought in to just kind of be a highlight to the score,” Woodward said.

It’s a treat for the children to participate in the recording sessions because it gives them an opportunity to hear and sing along with a prerecorded orchestral accompaniment, according to Woodward.

“It’s something that the kids really love to do because they’ve got their earphones and they’re listening to the tracks,” Woodward said. “They kind of feel like rock stars when they do this because it’s a big deal.”

The children also receive a financial reward for being involved in these projects.

“The kids get paid, and it’s nice for them,” Woodward said. “It’s a very fun experience, but it’s quite a taxing experience, too. It’s quite intense because when they’re rolling, you need to perform.”

Composer Philip Klein was “extremely pleased” with the way the score turned out, according to Woodward.

“As I was recording this, I thought, ‘This is really nice stuff,’” Woodward said. “He just uses the instruments really well and he uses the children’s voices to great advantage, and of course, I appreciate that. I like it when they play to our strengths, which is I think what this does.”

The Salt Lake Children’s Choir, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, is a traditional group whose emphasis lies in classical music but sings music of all kinds and in a variety of languages, according to Woodward.

The Salt Lake Children’s Choir will be featured in the score of “The Last Full Measure.”
Salt Lake Children’s Choir

“This is just an added dimension to what we do, but it just kind of comes out of the blue every now and then,” Woodward said. “Somehow or other, we’re known for our sound, and it’s just not like a kid choir. It’s something more.”

Recording sessions are a good experience for both Woodward and the kids, the artistic director said.

“It takes me out of my comfort zone,” Woodward said. “We’re all pulling together and trying to be successful, and it’s gratifying to hear the final product.”

Woodward said when he hears the children singing on the soundtrack for “The Last Full Measure,” he feels very proud of them and thinks, “Man, they really nailed it.”

“It’s one of the things that keeps me going because they inspire me, and whether it’s in a concert setting where they’re singing for a lot of people and having to remember everything, or whether it’s a recording session with earphones on, they always rise to the occasion,” Woodward said. “It’s good to see, and it’s fun to be a part of.”