Weber State University’s Chamber Choir performed Saturday night as a special guest at the Utah All-State Grand Festival Concert. The performance was held in the historic Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square.
“It’s a special place to sing,” said Rawson Butts, a music education major and student conductor in this year’s choir. “The sound there, there’s a life to it. It resonates. You can feel the vibrations…It tends to pierce the soul more.”
More than 700 high school choir students participated in this year’s All-State Choir from schools around the state. This year’s performance was led by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s director Mac Wilberg, currently one of the most recognized choral composers and arrangers in the world.
“I can remember having sung at All-State as a high school student,” said Alex Gerrish, WSU Concert Choir president and Davis High School alumnus. “We got to sing with the organ, which was a completely new experience. I remember sitting on the back row of the tenor section, right by the big pipes, trying to watch the conductor without getting my head blown off by the volume of the organ.”
Along with the giant organ, which wields a staggering 11,623 pipes, the dome-shaped auditorium is home to the world-famous Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and according to guides at the venue, is “so acoustically sensitive that a pin dropped at the pulpit can be heard clearly at the back of the hall, 170 feet away.” Choirs from around the state have to fight for bookings in the concert hall.
“It’s a really big space,” said Gerrish, “but because the acoustics are so good, it’s a very intimate space.”
WSU’s Chamber Choir performed a wide variety of songs, all sung a capella (without accompaniment). The set included older songs like Claude Debussy’s “Trois Chansons” (The Three Songs) along with more modern fare, such as Eric Whitacre’s “Lux Arumque,” a piece which, according to Butts, was made to be performed in an acoustically vibrant auditorium like the Tabernacle.
“With the close harmonies (in the Whitacre piece), there’s a lot of vibrant tonal color, and it’s fairly simple and slow,” Butts said. “A place with good acoustics means that you can hear more of what’s going on. It’s sort of like making the voice naked.”
The WSU Chamber Choir plans on using opportunities like this one to recruit from local music talent pools.
“We want to really put down the notion that Weber is a mediocre school for the arts,” Gerrish said. “It’s a good educational moment for the high school singers…when we perform 30 minutes of music without accompaniement. I remember thinking that was just the coolest thing when I was in high school choir and hear that from college groups.”
The high school choir sang several pieces, including a few arranged by Wilberg. One of these pieces, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” is one of Wilberg’s most popular arrangements and is based on a Christian hymn written in the 18th century.