Mack Wilberg, conductor of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, takes his job of leading the Church’s “musical missionaries” very seriously. His passion for music and the gospel shines through everything he does, including on the choir’s first hymn album in almost a decade, Let Us All Press On. We sat down to ask him about it.
What do you remember about the first time you conducted the Tabernacle Choir?
I was still a faculty member at BYU, and one of the choirs that I conducted was invited to be a guest on Music and the Spoken Word. It’s pretty overwhelming because of the size of the group and also the Salt Lake Tabernacle itself. It’s great but it’s a challenge, and you really have to make adjustments in the way that you listen because it’s very different.
What was the response to the choir’s name change?
It’s an iconic name, and we approached it in the spirit of which the request was made. We’ve been really pleased with the reception that the name change has had. In fact, I think it’s had very little impact on what we do, and it’s seemed to be quite a smooth transition.
Why is music a powerful tool?
I have a theory, and it’s totally a theory, but I think that we bring this innate sense of musical sound with us, because everyone in the world responds in one way or another to musical sound. You notice everybody has earphones or earbuds. Much of the music they’re listening to is not things that I would particularly care for myself, but everybody responds to music in a certain sort of way. I think that music is a part of all of us, and we respond to it in ways that oftentimes we don’t respond to with other forms of communication. Music can just go right to our soul, if you will. I feel that it must have been something that we brought with us.
What is something not many people know about you?
I was a missionary in South Korea, so I love kimchi. The choir gave me a jar of kimchi for my birthday. When I opened it at my house, I still have a few kids who are living at home and they ran the other direction.
What do you hope people will take away from the choir’s newest album?
The title of the album is Let Us All Press On, but the subtitle is Hymns of Praise and Inspiration. I think even if the piece may be more meditative, we want there to be a joy and also perhaps affirmation, comfort, or solace. The first track from the CD is “Press Forward, Saints,” and we want the listener to feel like they can continue to press forward.
What music do you listen to for inspiration?
Music of the master composers. But I also do a lot of CD collecting, book collecting, and I listen to quite obscure things as well—composers that certainly would not be everyday names or names that you would recognize. I’m always searching. I’m very curious, even at my age.
What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?
Be prepared when opportunity knocks at the door. How do you prepare yourself? You work really hard and you educate yourself so that when the opportunity comes, you are prepared to either make application for the opportunity or be able to say, “I can do that.” You have to be prepared and have paid the price in order to qualify for the opportunity.
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. Available now at Deseret Book stores and DeseretBook.com.