Mormon Tabernacle Choir Blog

What Goes into a Music and the Spoken Word Broadcast?

“One of the unique things about this broadcast is that we do it live—we get one chance to do it. Therefore, we have to be flawless.” —Ed Payne, producer of Music and the Spoken Word

From lights to sound, costumes, music, cameras, microphones, staging, and more, take an exciting behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to produce the world’s longest-running continuing broadcast.

Each week, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir staff start out with a production meeting to discuss aspects of the upcoming broadcast, such as music and themes. During the week, sheet music is distributed to Choir and Orchestra members’ folders, floral arrangements are made for the stage, and even Choir seating charts are made based on height. “If they like what they see, they’ll love what they hear,” said seating manager and former Choir member Deb Gehris. “We want to make sure they look as good as they sound, and we take that very seriously,” added her husband, David.

Music director Mack Wilberg explained, “There are things that Music and the Spoken Word is, and there are things that it is not. For instance, it is not a worship service. I think the program has always been designed to be a nondenominational program to be enjoyed by people of many walks of faith. Also, it is not a concert—it is in fact, as the title implies, a program of inspirational music and spoken word.” Associate director Ryan Murphy added, “I think without diluting ourselves we try to have a little something for everybody and to lift everybody up.” 

The Salt Lake Tabernacle is famous for its unique and beautiful acoustics. A single pin drop could be heard without the aid of a microphone, which could present challenges for recording. Senior audio engineer Trent Walker clarified, “Knowing that if a pin drops, all over the room you’re going to hear that—that then repeats itself with not only a choir and an organ, but with, oftentimes, a hundred-piece orchestra. And trying to capture those sounds is very challenging.” As if that wasn’t challenging enough, the Tabernacle, which is mostly made of wood and plaster, changes the tonal quality of the Choir based on temperature, humidity, and the amount of people in the audience.

The timing of each program is of the utmost importance. During every Thursday night rehearsal, a “tape and time” session is done to see how close Sunday’s broadcast will be to its allotted time. “We have 27 minutes and 56 seconds that we have to put together—we have to bring it right on to the second every single week,” said Scott Barrick, general manager of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. “Once in a while someone will say to me, with a smile on their face, ‘Why did you do that piece so slow, or why did you do that piece so fast?’ Well, sometimes, out of necessity,” admitted Wilberg, smiling.

In the end, Music and the Spoken Word showcases “America’s Choir” and brings joy, peace, and healing to listeners around the world though its music. Payne affirmed, “The main star is not our cameramen and not the director, and not even Lloyd; it’s the Choir and it’s the music, and it’s the spirit that is portrayed through the music.”

Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the historic Salt Lake Tabernacle: