When the Mormon Tabernacle Choir came to the Mann Center in Philadelphia Thursday night, several local singers won a chance to sit in with one of the world’s most famous choral groups.
As a form of promotional outreach, the choir coordinated with classical stations in the area, which held contests to identify a handful of singers to sit in on rehearsal.
“I am so excited I can hardly talk,” said Bill Staller of Margate, N.J., one of the lucky winners who rehearsed “Down to the River” with the legendary choir. “I sometimes sing with a Stockton College choir, or the Methodist church in Ocean City. I’m not a professional, but I feel a professional tonight.”
Most of the real singers aren’t professional, either. The choir does not pay its performers, but the positions are highly coveted. Some members travel from hundreds of miles away for weekly rehearsals in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The choir is known for its big, lush arrangements of popular songs. Sandy Duffy of Princeton, N.J., usually sings high Mass choral music and requiems. An African-American spiritual such as “Down to the River” is not what she’s used to, but being part of the Tabernacle Choir, if only for a few minutes, fulfills a lifelong dream.
“To be enveloped in the sound is nothing like hearing a recording,” said Duffy. “I have a Bose system, it brings good sound—but to be in the middle of it, and be enveloped, is amazing.”
One voice can make a difference
That big sound is created by 315 singers. Amid all that lung power, one new voice can still make a difference.
“In a large choir, there can be one voice that influences many of the voices around it,” said music director Mack Wilberg. “You may not hear that individual voice, but you may hear the influence from time to time.”
The local singers rehearsed just the one song with the full choir. They did not sing during the evening performance.
“I don’t want to be corny, but it was a thrill of a lifetime,” said Staller. “A little girl, an old lady from the Jersey Shore, standing with this choir, one of the most famous choirs in the world. They are welcoming. They hug you.”
Thursday night’s performance marked the 100th anniversary of the first time the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed in Philadelphia. In 1911, the choir stopped at the Academy of Music on its way to Washington, D.C., to sing for President William Taft.