The crackling sounds of a 110-year-old recording of John J. McClellan playing Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” was part of special anniversary celebration of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.
The choir’s rich history of recording started first with an acoustical recording Sept. 1, 1910, under the direction of Evan Stephens. Prior to that, on Aug. 30-31, McClellan recorded the music on the famous Tabernacle Choir organ.
The 1910 recordings are extremely rare, according to Richard Turley, church historian.
At the time, three major recording studios were vying for the opportunity to record the choir, and Columbia accepted the challenge to try. Columbia had never recorded a group that large before.
There were no microphones and no high-tech soundboards, but instead, large horns aimed directly at McClellan and then at the choir. The sounds went through the horns and eventually were recorded on wax spindles that made the master copy of the music.
“We now have over 200 recordings,” said Ron Jarrett, choir president. “We have one Grammy award for Richard P. Condie (former choir director), eight gold and two platinum records.”
Twenty years ago, the Orchestra at Temple Square was added to complement the choir. The choir and orchestra have had more than 247 million video views.
“The choir, during the (current) pandemic has had more (than normal) views as people have worshiped from home,” Jarrett added.
The Tabernacle building on Temple Square has played a significant role in the sound and recordings of the choir through the last century and has served as the choir’s recording studio.
“In 2003 we got our own recording label,” said Mack Wilberg, director of the choir. He noted the choir has been recognized by Billboard magazine as the No. 1 traditional classical group and has been on Billboard’s No. 1 list 14 times.
Some of the most popular recordings are the yearly Christmas concerts, according to Wilberg. Last year’s “Christmas Day in the Morning” concert, featuring Richard Thomas, will be released in October.
As part of Thursday’s presentation, a new video was released from the choir’s recent album, “When You Believe,” a collection of music from popular movies.
Directed by Devin Graham, the choir’s video was from its recording of John Williams’ “Duel of the Fates” from the movie “Star Wars: Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace.”
“It took us out of our box,” Wilberg said. “John Williams has been a friend of the choir for years. He wrote a piece for the choir for the Opening Ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Normally we wouldn’t do it on a Sunday morning.”
The choir has not met or sung together during the COVID-19 pandemic and has relied on pre-recorded music for its weekly “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast.
“When the church closed its doors because of the pandemic, people were asking ‘Where can I go for spiritual connection?’ They stumbled around and found the choir,” Jarrett said.
The choir also recently announced the traditional Christmas Concert has been canceled this year as well.