The History of Utah’s Tabernacle Choir

The LDS Conference Center was built in 2000, primarily to host the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ semiannual congregations of the faithful (called simply General Conferences). But it also sets the stage for many other musical and performance events—namely the Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas Concert. An engineering marvel with insanely fastidious acoustics, the 1.4-million-square-foot center seats 21,000 people and is large enough that it could fit a Boeing 747 in the main auditorium. Moreover, it was designed so that the view from every one of the 21,000 seats in the house is unobstructed by support pillars. And engineering milagro!

The LDS Conference Center is also home to the famous Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, formerly known as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which was mind-bogglingly renamed in 2018. (Why would The Church give up such a household name? It’s Elvis Presley changing his name to “The Singer at the Las Vegas Hilton.” But whatever.) The Choir’s former internationally recognized name came from the Church’s original Temple Square gathering space, the Tabernacle, which the much larger Conference Center was built to replace. (Locals cheekily call the Conference Center “the SUPER-nacle.”)

Utah Tabernacle Choir

Bell ringers accompany the Choir during the annual Christmas Concert. Photo courtesy of the LDS church.

The original Tabernacle still is a functioning concert hall and an interesting piece of frontier architecture. Its builders designed an amazingly acoustically sound hall. If you take the tour, the tour guides will demonstrate the acoustics by dropping a pin from the dais that you can hear at the back of the hall. Another interesting note: the pillars that support the upper mezzanine in the Tabernacle are made of wood, but the designers, seeking old-world grandeur—which, in the new world that Utah was in, was anything “from back east”—meticulously painted the wooden columns to look like striated marble. Sections of the Choir and other smaller choruses still practice and perform in the Old Tabernacle.

How Super? The numbers.

  •  1,200 lights illuminate the stage.
  • 38 horsepower of wind drives the Conference Center’s organ.
  • 50,000 miles of electrical wire power the building, enough to circle the Earth twice. 
  • 8.4 on the Richter scale would not be enough of an Earthquake to topple the building.
  • 620 tons of fabricated steel hold up the roof without the aid of support columns.

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Jeremy Pugh
Jeremy Pugh
Jeremy Pugh is Salt Lake magazine's Editor. He covers culture, history, the outdoors and whatever needs a look. Jeremy is also the author of the book "100 Things to Do in Salt Lake City Before You Die" and the co-author of the history, culture and urban legend guidebook "Secret Salt Lake."

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