By Lynn Arave
“Ogden Tabernacle Choir to sing in Salt Lake Tabernacle Tomorrow.” That was an April 7, 1917 headline in the Ogden Standard-Examiner.
Yes, Ogden boasted its own Tabernacle Choir for some 86 years in the past and often it competed directly with the Salt Lake Tabernacle Choir.
The Ogden Choir had its own Ogden Tabernacle to sing in but also performed at times in General Conferences in the Salt Lake Tabernacle in the 19th Century too.
“A Tabernacle choir. It was thoroughly organized Sunday afternoon” was a March 10, 1891 Standard headline. Back then, Weber LDS Stake President Lewis Shurtliff stated he desired “a thoroughly equipped and competent Tabernacle choir.”
An even earlier Standard article, on June 20, 1881, reported that the Ogden Tabernacle Choir was enlarged, so it had even earlier beginnings.
In fact, the book, “Beneath Ben Lomond’s Peak, states the choir had its modest start as early as 1863, with just 12 voices. By 1896, it boasted 121 members.
The biggest rivalry came in early 1911 when it had to be decided which Mormon Tabernacle Choir – Ogden’s or Salt Lake’s – would represent the state during that 10-day National Land Show in New York’s Madison Square Garden the following November – and sing “Irrigation Ode.”
A lengthy Standard article on April 4, 1911 stated: “Presidency of Church favors Ogden Choir.” President Joseph F. Smith was reported to like Ogden’s Choir for the show.
The Ogden Choir had recently toured the Western U.S., singing at Portland or Sacramento and they were “considered second to none.”
Former Ogden Mayor Fred J. Kiesel had lobbled the land show on behalf of the Ogden Choir. Willard Scowcroft, Joseph Ballantyne and Charles J. Ross had also worked hard promoting the choir.
However, “As usual Zion Claims it all” was the April 5, 1911 Standard headline, as the Salt Lake Mormon Tabernacle Choir landed the contract to sing in New York.
The Ogden Tabernacle Choir also toured San Diego and San Francisco in the 1920s and had many favorable reviews by the media there.
Merlin Ray Sorensen wrote his thesis for the Brigham Young University Department of Music on Ogden’s Tabernacle Choir history back in 1961 and concluded the choir was great publicity for not only the LDS Church, but for the State of Utah as well.
(The Salt Lake Tabernacle Choir began its famed national radio broadcasts in 1929, further overshadowing Ogden’s version of the choir.)
How many members were in the Ogden Choir about then? Almost 150 members are shown in an April 7, 1917 choir photograph in the Standard. (Today’s Mormon Tabernacle Choir has 360 members.)
How long did members sing in the Ogden Tab Choir? Some did, for decades. For example, Ivy Stanford Goddard Whitaker of Ogden sang in the choir from 1906 until it was disbanded in 1949.
During World War II, the Ogden Choir had dwindled to just 100 members. In 1949, some of its former members joined the Ogden Oratorio Society.
It is also worth noting that Brigham City also had its own “Tabernacle Choir” too. A Nov. 15, 1922 story in the Standard reported that “it is anticipated that the choir will become one of the leading choral organizations of the state.”
Farmington and Provo also had Tabernacle Choirs, though Ogden’s lasted longer than any, except Salt Lake’s.
Since it could take the better part of the day to travel from Ogden to Salt Lake in the late 19th Century, having separate Tabernacle Choirs was a likely geographical necessity.
But, by the 1950s there was but one world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir – the Salt Lake Tabernacle Choir. Today, its choir members have to live within a 100-mile radius of Salt Lake’s Temple Square. Thus, Brigham City church members -- and even those in Logan -- could meet that requirement.
(-Originally published in the Ogden Standard-Examiner, by Lynn Arave, on March 7, 2014.)
-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org