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March 31, 2004

Los Angeles Times

In a masterstroke of public relations, Mormon leaders in the early 20th century hit upon a way to bring their new version of Christianity whose founders had been literally at the brink of war with American soldiers decades earlier into the cultural mainstream. Send the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on tour.

Nearly a century later, the 360-member singing group is a national symbol for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "America's choir" so dubbed by President Reagan has recorded two platinum and five gold albums, won Grammy Awards, and performed for 10 American presidents, beginning with William Howard Taft. "The use of music was their entree to say, 'We're OK, don't be scared of us, we're human beings,' " said Jan Shipps, one of the nation's leading scholars on Mormonism. "The choir has become more American than most Americans."

So when the Philharmonic Society of Orange County was looking for the quintessential American choral group to help celebrate its 50th season, executive director Dean Corey said the choice was easy. "I can't think of anything bigger than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir," Corey said. For Mormons blessed with a singing voice, performing in the choir is one of God's highest callings. The group is open to church members in good standing, ages 25 to 55. They must live within 100 miles of Salt Lake City, where they rehearse a minimum of five hours a week, and must retire at 60 or after 20 years, whichever comes first.

For the 30 or so openings each year, hundreds of hopefuls go through a rigorous four-stage audition process that includes a capella singing and sight-reading music. Selected singers then must pass a three-month stint in the Temple Square Chorale, a training chorus. The entire process takes nine months. Among the volunteers are lawyers, doctors, computer scientists, contractors, teachers and stay-at-home mothers. Those with jobs use their vacation time to travel with the choir, which averages 160 performances a year. More

Posted by acapnews at March 31, 2004 8:20 AM

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