When You Believe: An EP Review

Last Friday, the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square released a new extended play record (EP), “When You Believe: A Night at the Movies.”  I bought and downloaded the music this weekend and I have listened to it several times since then.  The EP is short (totaling five tracks and about 23 minutes), but it is a lot of fun and displays a high quality of performance.  My biggest complaint is that there isn’t more.

One of my first thoughts with the idea of the Tabernacle Choir recording soundtrack pieces was the question of whether the choir can bring something to the pieces that the original soundtrack recordings do not have.  With the two pieces from blockbuster sci-fi films featured on the EP (Avengers and Star Wars), it feels like having a 300+ member choir combined with a virtuosic performance by the Orchestra at Temple Square packs a punch that added something extra to the tracks.  While I enjoy the originals, I think I enjoy these recordings more because of that added umpf.  The choir has also cultivated a lighter, younger sound in recent years that worked well for a softer, angelic tone at the start of “I’ll Fly Away” (though I felt like they had a difficult time making the transition to the rowdier, gospel-style singing I that I feel like the piece asks for later on in the arrangement) and makes for a pleasant rendition of “When You Believe.”  “Eatnemen Vuelie” (the Song of the Earth used with the opening title of Disney’s Frozen) surprised me by having “Fairest Lord Jesus” (“Beautiful Savior”) interwoven throughout.  My gut reaction was surprise—I love Jesus and I love Disney, but I don’t usually appreciate mingling them in the same context.  As it turns out, however, the version of the song with “Fairest Lord Jesus” predates the Disney movie as a composition by the Norwegian musician Frode Fjellheim from the 1990s, combining the traditional joik music of the Sami people with the popular carol.  That original composition was later adapted for the film and stripped of references to “Fairest Lord Jesus,” with  the “Eatnemen” also being dropped from the title of the song.  It is a beautiful piece of music as presented on the EP, even if I’m still having problems mentally reconciling Frozen with “Fairest Lord Jesus” in my head.  In any case, I consider the EP a worthy addition to my soundtrack collection.

My second concern was about whether the collection of soundtrack music would be overly secular in nature.  As some Church leaders in the 1970s noted, there is always a concern that the choir would become merely a “polished and competent entertainment group” rather than serving primarily as what it was created to be—a church choir.[1]  As I listed to the EP, I realized that those concerns were unfounded.  The choir’s website makes the point that “movies … have the power to inspire, to build faith, and bring us closer to the divine” and that “much of that power is conveyed through music,”[2] so there is the idea that movies and soundtracks can be inspiring to the soul without being explicitly spiritual.  In any case, two of the five tracks were religious in nature to begin with (“I’ll Fly Away” and “When You Believe”).  With the full context of “Eatnemen Vuelie” including “Fairest Lord Jesus,” that piece can be added to the list of overtly religious pieces.  There is also an argument that could be made that “Duel of the Fates” has a spiritual dimension.  The words to “Duel of the Fates” are a Sanskrit translation of a fragment from a medieval Welsh poem involving a forest battle.  The specific text fragment focuses on a dreadful fight going on externally with “another raging behind in the head.”  This is meaningful in the context of Star Wars, with the cautionary theme of falling to the dark side internally while fighting against evil externally (becoming the very thing you swore to destroy) and the theme of light pushing back darkness.  There are some potential gospel applications there, though probably far too tenuous to justify performing the piece in general conference anytime soon.[3]  While focusing on popular soundtracks, the EP maintains a spiritual core.

“When You Believe: A Night at the Movies” is a fun, if brief, adventure into film soundtrack music by the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and the Orchestra at Temple Square.  It maintains a spiritual core while still presenting popular material that appeals to nerdy Millennials like myself.  The music showcases the capabilities of both the Orchestra at Temple Square and the choir in a fantastic manner.  As stated up front, my biggest complaint is that there wasn’t more.

 

Footnotes:

[1] CMC to First Presidency, 21 December 1973, in CMC Office Files, cited in Michael Hicks, Mormonism and Music: A History, p.165.

[2] https://www.thetabernaclechoir.org/shop/products/when-you-believe.html.

[3] According to a Deseret News article, director Mack Wilberg justified using music from Star Wars and Avengers by stating that: “Both ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Avengers’ are about overcoming darkness, darkness to light,” and stating that he felt strongly that the EP “had to be inspirational and it had to be faith-promoting.”  See Lottie Elizabeth Johnson, “With ‘Star Wars’ music, Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square reaches its broadest audience yet,” Deseret News, 21 May 2020, https://www.deseret.com/entertainment/2020/5/21/21266754/tabernacle-choir-and-orchestra-at-temple-square-utah-lds-mormon-when-you-believe-star-wars-avengers.

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