“Mormon Tabernacle Choir Marks Anniversary of First Recordings,” Liahona, Sept. 2010, 76–77
A century ago this month, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and organ were first recorded in the Tabernacle on Temple Square. To mark the anniversary, the choir has released a three-disc set, 100: Celebrating a Century of Recording Excellence, including selections from its 100-year history of recorded music.
Today, many would agree with famed director Eugene Ormandy, who said, “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is the greatest choir in the world.”1 But in the first few decades after it was formed in the mid-19th century, the Tabernacle Choir remained largely unknown because few people around the world had heard it perform. Then in 1909—32 years after the invention of the phonograph—the Columbia Phonograph Company agreed to attempt to capture the majestic sounds of the choir and organ. It would be a difficult task given the limited technology of the time, which worked well enough for soloists but generally failed to produce quality recordings of large groups.2
Over three days in late August and early September 1910, Alexander Hausmann, the recording engineer who supervised the operation, suspended two long recording horns “from a rope stretched across from gallery to gallery, the flaring bells of the two horns covering—the one the sopranos and altos, the other the tenors and basses.”3
The Salt Lake Herald reported that Mr. Hausmann made 25 recordings: 12 selections by the choir, 10 by Tabernacle organist John J. McClellan, 2 by Brother McClellan and violinist Willard E. Weihe, and one by former Tabernacle organist Joseph J. Daynes Sr.4
While it is not known how many finished discs were ultimately sold or how broadly they were distributed, the public response was positive. J. A. Vernon, a missionary serving in Larned, Kansas, USA, reported in a letter printed in the February 1911 Improvement Era: “We recently received some phonograph records containing songs and solos by the Tabernacle Choir and organ. On hearing them played, the people become inquisitive, which gives us many opportunities to explain the principles of the gospel.”5
Since those first rudimentary recording sessions in 1910, the Tabernacle Choir has released more than 175 albums, including two that have sold more than a million copies each. One of the choir’s recordings received a U.S. Grammy Award in 1959, and another album garnered two Grammy nominations in 2007. More important than awards and honors, however, is the effect of the choir’s music upon its listeners. Though technology has changed dramatically over the past century, the recorded music of the choir continues to move and inspire, just as it did in 1910.