Latter-day Saint Life

3 Things You Always Wanted to Know About the Tabernacle Choir's Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy


In a recent Facebook Live video, LDS Living had the opportunity to sit down with Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square director, Mack Wilberg, and assistant director, Ryan Murphy, and ask them some questions our readers have always wanted to know. 

And while these questions ranged in seriousness, the responses from these two men were very insightful. 

Read their responses to three questions some of you were anxious to know below:

How do you strengthen your arms to be able to lead and conduct for hours?

MW: Well, both of us are pianists and have played the piano since we were very young. And so playing the piano and practicing a lot, that really strengthens your fingers—it strengthens your hands, it strengthens your arms, and it strengthens your shoulders. 

People always ask me, "Don't your arms get tired?" And I always say, "No, it's my feet that get tired, not my arms." 

RM: I think usually the adrenaline is sort of what gets you through. And it's very different, obviously, when I see Mack conduct a two-and-a-half-hour, three-hour Messiah performance. That is a real workout. 

What is the process of taking the music you can hear in your head and putting that onto paper? 

MW: I think you really have to prepare yourself on that and you really have to educate yourself so you can do those sorts of things. . . . I always find orchestrating as painting the picture. You maybe have the form of the picture, and then you put the color on—not only with the voices but with the instruments. And so the process is a little hard to describe.

RM: What's interesting about it for me is when I'm doing an arrangement, I'll try to close myself off in a room with a piano and I'll get nowhere. And then when I'm doing something else—I'm mowing the lawn or doing the dishes, then that flash of inspiration comes. 

MW: That's right, I've written many pieces after mowing the lawn, sweeping the floor, driving long distances. . . . 

What is the most unexpected thing you've experienced while working with the Choir?

MW: I'd say that's every minute with the Choir. People don't sometimes realize that we don't take a couple of weeks to learn a piece. We don't take a couple of hours to learn a piece. We take a few minutes to learn a piece. And so as a result, we work very, very quickly. The Choir, and the orchestra as well, we perform between 300–400 pieces a year, only rehearsing on Thursday evenings for two and a half hours. . . . And so, you never know quite what to expect. 

And of course, we do a live broadcast once a week. And live television, as we all know, isn't so common now except, perhaps, the news. And doing a live performance from week to week, you always have to tell yourself that anything can happen during that time. But I'd have to say in my almost 20 years with the choir, I think we've experienced very few what you would call disasters. 

RM: We work very hard to overcome the unexpected. 

Lead image from LDS Living's Facebook Live video

The first hymns album from the Choir in seven years,Let Us All Press On, features beloved classics like "All Creatures of Our God and King" and "More Holiness Give Me." The rousing title track, "Let Us All Press On," is a fresh arrangement by Richard Elliott first performed after Russell M. Nelson's historic address by the same name in the spring of 2018. 


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