Pulling off the annual Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir concert special is a gargantuan feat. There’s a reason that, as I toured the facility in December 2019, staff (from conductor and music director Mack Wilburg to the broadcast’s executive producer Ed Payne) were already talking plans for 2020. While COVID-19 foiled those efforts for an in-person concert in 2020, audiences around the world will finally be able to see the 2019 special featuring Tony Award winner Kelli O’Hara and Tony Award nominee Richard Thomas on PBS and BYUtv.
As you watch the special December 14 (check your local listings and their websites for streaming), the intimacy of the show will move you, but the scale of the production will shock you. Here, we outline some of the most impressive numbers behind the legendary Christmas.
Pieces of music in the Tabernacle Choir library—which puts university stacks to shame
Audience members who got to see the 2019 Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir concert December 18–20, 2019.
Miles of electric wiring in the LDS Conference Center—if you measure the full length.
Seats in the LDS Conference Center
Pipes in the Conference Center organ. The organ in the Tabernacle in Temple Square is actually larger, with 11,623 pipes. More are visible at the Conference Center, giving audiences the illusion that it is larger. The Tabernacle hosts organ recitals year-round, and the Conference Center hosts recitals Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Yards of fabric bought by Tabernacle seamstresses when they make a new dress. “They have to buy enough material to make gowns for 200 people and then to have enough for the future to be able to do others,” says General Manager of the Choir Scott Barrick.
Tons the Conference Center weighs
Songs the Choir learns each year
Members in the Choir
Handbells used by the Bells on Temple Square ensemble. They also use 178 windchimes. The highest bell (in tone) weighs 0.25 pounds and the lowest handbell (a C2) weighs 17 pounds.
Volunteers in the Orchestra at Temple Square; but, 85 of them play each week on Music & The Spoken Word broadcast.
Years since the first recording of the Tabernacle Choir in 1910
Dancers in the special event—do not miss this brand-new number in this year’s concert.
Years since the first radio broadcast in 1929
Approximate number of crew members (camera operators, sound board operators, producers, etc.) to film the concert
New members each year (approximately). “You can sing in the choir for 20 years, until you turn 60, whichever comes first.” So the turnover is about 45-65 new members each year.
Granite columns that give the Tabernacle the hollowed out eggshell shape. “It's construction was done principally by bridge builders, and that's what gave it that arched roof with no support,” says Barrick. “When they did this seismic upgrade, the roof actually just sat on the 44 granite columns, so if there had been any significant seismic, it could have shaken the roof off. Well, this is in 2005–2007. They lifted the roof up six inches, they put concrete reinforcing, they put overshoes around each column, and then they banded it around and over the king trusses on each end. So this is one of the safest places in Utah to be in case of an earthquake.”
Years Ed Payne has executive produced the Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir specials. He retires this year.
Members in the Bells on Temple Square ensemble.
Years the Tabernacle Choir has performed in the Conference Center for the Christmas special, instead of the actual Tabernacle
Years the Tabernacle choir has invited guests to perform as part of the Christmas special. The first guests were Gladys Knight and Roma Downey. Over the years, the event has featured Broadway greats like Brian Stokes Mitchell, Sutton Foster, Hugh Bonneville, Laura Osnes, and Kristin Chenoweth.
Numbers in the 2020 broadcast’s show
Cameras used to shoot the special, which includes a combination of remote operated stationary cameras, in-hall manned cameras, and roving hand-held cameras in the choir loft and in the audience. They capture over 80 hours of footage that is then edited down to the 60-minute PBS broadcast and the 90-minute BYUtv version (which is also the DVD version).
Phases of the audition process to gain admittance to the Choir. “You have to apply online and send in a recording. Then, that's reviewed by our music directors. You have to take a two-and-a-half hour written and oral hearing music tests. If you score 80 percent or higher, then you get to the in-person auditions. If you are accepted from the in-person auditions, then you get 16 weeks of training.”
Times a Choir member rehearses a piece of music before performing it. “In a normal rehearsal cycle: You'll come on Thursday night. The first half of the rehearsal will be perfecting the work that will be done on that week's broadcast. The second part of that rehearsal, we'll introduce music that will be done on the broadcast ten days from now. You see it the first time. Then, you see it the second time a week later, and then you rehearse it on Sunday. That's it. That's as much as they get to see it.”
Guests at the 2019 concert (Kelli O’Hara and Richard Thomas) which airs December 14, 2020.