SALT LAKE CITY — The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square gave “Star Wars” fans a surprise earlier this month when it released a recording of “Duel of the Fates,” the epic song that accompanies the final lightsaber battle in “Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.”
“People would say, ‘Two things that I love so much that I never thought I’d have together — the choir and ‘Star Wars,’” Scott Barrick, the choir’s general manager, told the Deseret News. “Somebody on our team called it the chocolate and peanut butter strategy.”
That track debuted on May 1 — just in time for “Star Wars” day. And through that recording, the choir has now reached a broader audience than it ever has before, according to Barrick.
The general manager wasn’t shocked to see Salt Lake City and Provo at the top of the choir’s listenership data on Spotify — Mack Wilberg, the choir’s music director, was even interviewed by the FanX Salt Lake Comic Convention on May 4th — “Star Wars” day.
But Barrick said it was a surprise to see Istanbul listed high at No. 4 — followed by Taipei, London, New York City, Madrid and Sydney.
“There’s just an amazingly international collection of people listening on Spotify. Our strategy since we launched our YouTube channel in 2012 was to go after a younger, more international audience. And this ‘Duel of the Fates’ has nailed that,” Barrick said, noting that on Spotify, the average listener of “Duel of the Fates” has been between ages 24 and 35.
“We anticipate that the other tracks will perform similarly.”
“Duel of the Fates” is part of the choir’s five-track EP, “When You Believe: A Night at the Movies,” due out Friday. The remaining tracks featured are songs from the films “Avengers: Endgame,” “Frozen,” “The Prince of Egypt” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
The EP marks the first record to feature the choir’s new logo — a symbol that includes the name of the choir and seven gold-colored organ pipes representing the Salt Lake Tabernacle organ, according to the Deseret News.
But while “When You Believe” introduces a new logo, a stronger digital presence and a wider audience for the choir, Wilberg wants to make one thing clear: The concept of this album isn’t anything new.
New audiences, same purpose
The Tabernacle Choir has long performed Broadway and movie music — in fact, the choir’s first recording in 1910 featured a piece by Broadway composer Victor Herbert, Wilberg said. And “Star Wars” composer John Williams even wrote and conducted a piece for the choir called “Call of the Champions” during the 2002 Winter Olympics.
Wilberg said the purpose behind the music the choir performs hasn’t changed. The EP’s title, “When You Believe” — a song from “The Prince of Egypt” — shows the connection between faith and pop culture.
“With this EP, the one thing that was of prime importance was that the music had to be inspirational and it had to be faith-promoting,” the choir director said. “Both ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Avengers’ are about overcoming darkness, darkness to light. … The music has to have an integrity about it.”
“But we also tried to be cognizant of reaching out to new audiences,” Barrick added. “We tried to be aware of release dates of movies or anything that we could tie into like the ‘Star Wars’ day. … The pieces that Mack outlined were primary, but we tried to leverage all the other pieces so that we could share this music with as broad an audience as possible.”
A year in the making
Talk about recording the EP began last summer. The choir had recorded “Duel of the Fates” several years ago for a different project, Wilberg said. So the organization decided to build upon that idea. For the next few months, Wilberg narrowed down what he called an “exhaustive list” of movie songs to the ones featured on the EP today.
The choir and orchestra recorded the tracks between September and November 2019.
“We did not spend a lot of time rehearsing this music. Some of it really wasn’t almost ready until we were scheduled to record it. But this is the way that we do everything,” Wilberg said, noting how the choir and orchestra typically prepare for a new “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast in just a few rehearsals each week. “This is why we are always saying that we have to have musicians who can produce at a very, very fast pace and also at a very high level.”
The album’s release comes as the coronavirus pandemic has halted the choir’s usual activities. The 360 singers have not been attending weekly practices or singing for “Music and the Spoken Word,” according to the Deseret News.
Amid the pandemic, more people have been tuning in to previous “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcasts and using them as at-home church services, Barrick said. The choir hopes the release of “When You Believe” adds to that momentum.
“I would think that there are probably many, many, many people out there who have never thought about listening to the choir nor the orchestra,” Wilberg said. “Hopefully this music will open some doors and they’ll want to listen to more of what the choir and the orchestra does on a regular basis.”