Last week, I was leafing through the Deseret Book Catalogue, sifting through a slew of products all promising to strengthen me as a Latter-Day Saint. However, the item that did catch my attention was the newish book/CD/DVD commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of continual broadcasting for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. The book’s title: America’s Choir: A Commemorative Portrait of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. America’s Choir?
Because I don’t live in the United States, the only time I really ever see the choir is at General Conference when they are broadcast over the satellite into the ward meetinghouse that I attend. Up until recently, in my mind, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was a Latter-Day Saint institution, not an American symbol.
However, further research revealed that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has performed for ten U.S. Presidents, earned numerous gold and platinum records and won a Grammy.
From the official website of the Choir, one learns that, "Ronald Reagan dubbed the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, "America’s Choir" in 1981 when the choir sang at his inauguration. The name has remained because "it truly embodies the purpose of the choir."
The FAQ goes on to say that the Choir began "on the American plains as the Mormon pioneers trekked across the country to reach Salt Lake City and has been part of America’s tradition ever since."
It seems to me that during the nineteenth century, Mormons were considered to be anything but part of the American tradition. While Western migration is a dominant theme in nineteenth century American history, it seems that the nature and the impetus of the Mormon migration (mobs, extermination order, prophecy,etc.) spring from a different tradition and vision.
What I think is most interesting about the title of this book (which I have not read yet) is that the choir has assumed this designation. Whether or not, American citizens perceive the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as their choir seems less important to me than the fact that the choir has claimed this role as its own.
Was Ronald Reagan "right on the mark when he labeled the Mormon Tabernacle Choir"? (I have to admit that I’m not convinced he was always right on the mark — for example when he labeled ketchup as a vegetable because it was red and made from tomatoes!)
Do American Mormons see the Tabernacle Choir as their national choir? Does the average American who is not a member of the church see it the same way? Do these perceptions say anything about the nature of the Church or the prevailing view of it in the United States, or for that matter the world?