Since 1929

Linda Burton posting from Salt Lake City, Utah –“If you’re going to cough, now would be a good time,” advised our host. Live broadcast #4,312 was about to begin, and the perfect acoustics in the Tabernacle required that we not applaud or talk during the performance. No cell phones, of course; and no photography. I snapped as many photos as I could as the orchestra assembled and people took their seats; the balcony was filling fast. Our tour guide had slipped us into a third-row pew behind a walkway, almost in the middle. It was a great seat for listening, but as usual I wound up behind a tallish bald-headed man. Not so good for the bottom fourth of pictures of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir! I retrieved a cough drop from my bag; now I was thinking about Not Coughing. I set my camera on the seat and tried to divert my thoughts by reading the program.

The first broadcast was July 15, 1929, I read. It was a hot summer afternoon in the Tabernacle, and the announcer had to climb a ladder to speak into the radio station’s only microphone, which was suspended from the ceiling. The poor man stayed perched on the ladder through the entire performance! The audio engineer was alerted by telegraph when to begin. The announcer was cued by hand signals. Primitive beginnings, but not a Sunday performance has been missed since, and here I sit today, waiting for Performance 4,312 to begin.

Instead of a ladder, I see a CamMate, what I believe to be a camera at the end of a long pole that can go right, left, up, 0r down (I don’t know movie-making jargon); instead of telegraph signals and hand cues, I see people wearing headsets, rolling balcony cameras on either side of the stage, cameras made for walking; uncounted mikes hanging from a mass of ceiling wires, positioned for catching the tiniest nuance of sound. No wonder we shouldn’t cough! The crew is ready, the choir is seated, the orchestra is poised, and we have been welcomed. I close my eyes as the music begins. I am ready too.

“From the crossroads of the West, we welcome you to a program of inspirational music and spoken word.” For more than eighty years these words have opened the program. Music and the Spoken Word is the world’s longest continuing network broadcast, carried on more than 2,000 radio and television stations and cable systems. Times have changed. Technologies have changed. But the power of the music remains gloriously unchanged. “God be with you till we meet again,” was the sing-out number after the recording stopped and we could use our cameras once again. I tucked the cough drop back into my bag and moved towards the front like the rest of the crowd, wanting to be closer to the inspiration.

Here are some facts I looked up for you:

  • The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has 360 members, ages 25-60, from different backgrounds and professions
  • The Choir has appeared at 5 US Presidential Inaugurations and 13 World Fairs
  • Five Choir recordings were Gold Records; two Platinum; most popular recording was 1959 Battle Hymn of the Republic recorded with Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra; Choir Conductor Richard Condie won a Grammy
  • The Orchestra at Temple Square has 110 members, all volunteers
  • The Tabernacle Organ has 11,623 Pipes
  • The pipes are made of wood, zinc, and various alloys of tin and lead
  • The longest pipe has a speaking length of 32 feet
  • The shortest pipe has a speaking length of three-quarters of an inch