Sunday morning, Oct. 23, in the Tabernacle on Temple Square was eventful three times over.
First, the 325-member Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the 250-member Mormon Youth Chorus joined voices singing for the weekly "Music and Spoken Word" broadcast. Second, a plaque was presented by the Tabernacle Choir to the Mormon Youth Chorus and Symphony in recognition of the latter organization's 25th anniversary. And third, a plaque was presented by the Organ Historical Society recognizing the Tabernacle organ as a musical instrument of historical significance.The Tabernacle Choir and Mormon Youth Chorus perform together rarely, according to chorus director Robert C. Bowden. Previous concerts by the two groups have been for special events, such as Christmas programs in the Tabernacle that are accompanied by the Mormon Youth Symphony.
The program Oct. 23 was the first time the choir and chorus have performed together on the choir's network broadcast, Brother Bowden said. Jerold D. Ottley directed the opening selection sung by the two choirs, and Brother Bowden conducted the remainder of the broadcast, including three selections by just the chorus and the closing number rendered by the combined groups. Musical accompaniment was on the Tabernacle organ.
The scene, as well as the sound, that came from combining the Tabernacle Choir and Mormon Youth Chorus was impressive. Choir members occupied their usual places in the choir loft while members of the chorus filled the Tabernacle stage and a platform extension in front of the loft.
For the broadcast, the Mormon Youth Chorus sang two selections with the Tabernacle Choir, "Psalm 148," by Gustav Holst, and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," by Gilbert Martin. In addition, the young singers performed "All Things Bright and Beautiful," by John Rutter; "Precious Lord," and "Gospel Train," both arranged by Roy Ringwald.
In a brief ceremony just before the Sunday morning broadcast, Tabernacle Choir director Jerold Ottley presented a plaque to Robert Bowden and the youth organization's president, G. Robert Ruff, in recognition of the Mormon Youth Chorus' 25th anniversary.
The chorus is one part of the musical organization now known as the Mormon Youth Chorus and Symphony, which held its first rehearsal in the Tabernacle on Jan. 25, 1969. Initially, the young vocalists and instrumentalists were brought together on what had been planned to be a temporary basis to make recordings for a radio series, "Sunday Evening on Temple Square," featuring Elder Sterling W. Sill, then an Assistant to the Twelve and later a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy.
The young musicians, under the direction of Jay E. Welch, then assistant director of the Tabernacle Choir, made such a favorable impression that Church leaders decided to retain them as part of a full-fledged musical organization of the Church. Brother Welch directed the chorus until 1974 when he became director of the Tabernacle Choir; Brother Bowden has directed the youth chorus ever since.
Immediately after the broadcast, Kristin Gronning Farmer, national president of the Organ Historical Society, presented a plaque recognizing the Tabernacle organ as "an instrument of exceptional historic merit, worthy of preservation."
Tabernacle organist John Longhurst accepted the award on behalf of the Church, as requested by President Gordon B. Hinckley of the First Presidency.
In remarks before presenting the plaque, Mrs. Farmer said, "It has been said that music is the voice of angels. If so, we've heard a choir of angels this morning - indeed, the morning stars have sung together."
She spoke briefly about the Organ Historical Society, founded in 1956, and its work to recognize and help preserve 19th century American pipe organs that were being "casually and summarily destroyed and thrown out onto the sidewalks" as they deteriorated with age. The society's membership has grown to include writers, performers, organ builders, teachers and "lovers of the pipe organ, all working toward the common goal of preserving our wonderful American pipe organ heritage," Mrs. Farmer said.
"Most rewarding of our activities is officially recognizing special organs, organs of exceptional character and merit," she explained. "Each year the Historic Organs Committee, a select group of musicologists, scholars and performers, receives numerous requests to officially recognize instruments in North America. Only a very few instruments are so honored. The instrument may be a small, one-manual organ of exquisite craftsmanship located in a remote chapel in Maine. It may be a rather average-size instrument that is the last remaining example of an organ builder in Chicago, or it may be a monumental organ located in the Tabernacle of Salt Lake City.
"This Tabernacle organ has woven itself into the fabric of our American musical tapestry. For generations this much-beloved organ has touched the hearts and minds of millions of people around the world in a way the spoken word could not. It is a direct link to the history of this Church and stands as a testimony to future generations of the universality of the language of music, which speaks of truth, beauty and love to all people."
In accepting the award on behalf of the Church, Brother Longhurst said: "As one who is privileged to play this instrument on a daily basis, I see its mission as being two-fold: First, to render praises to the Almighty God, and, second, to delight and edify all of God's children insofar as the sound of its pipes can be heard.
"I suspect that Joseph Ridges and his intrepid band of pioneer craftsmen who were responsible for the beginnings of this instrument back in the 1860s could hardly envision the technology that would a century hence come into play, allowing the sound of this instrument to reach literally millions of ears around the world."
Brother Longhurst said there are three components of the Tabernacle that make the weekly "Music and the Spoken Word" broadcast special: the building itself, those who occupy the seats of the choir, and the instrument that provides the accompaniment.
He noted that two plaques outside the east end of the Tabernacle are already in place honoring the building and the choir. "In 1971 the American Civil Engineering Society designated the Salt Lake Mormon Tabernacle as a landmark of American civil engineering," he said. "During America's Bicentennial year, in 1976, the National Music Council, together with the Exxon Corporation, presented the second plaque recognizing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as an American Musical Institution.
"And now today, Brother Longhurst said, "the third component of this miraculous experience has been recognized by the Organ Historical Society."