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.

5 comments for “When You Believe: An EP Review

  1. In some ways, calling Fiellheim’s Song of the Earth “movie music” does it a great disservice. So did the English publisher’s use of the text “Fairest Lord Jesus” instead of a translation of the Danish hymn, the first verse of which was used by Fiellheim in his “Eatnemen Vuelie”. That verse is clearly concerned with earth and song and not Jesus, even though the entire 1850 Danish hymn is in the end a Christmas carol.

    Sweet is the earth,
    glorious is God’s heaven,
    Beautiful is the souls’ pilgrim song!
    Through the fair
    kingdoms of Earth
    We go to paradise with song.

    There is a reason the music from Frozen was called by the composer “Vuelie” and not “Eatnemen Vuelie” Here’s part of what he had to say about the creation of Vuelie for Frozen:

    Frode Fjellheim: “The original piece was a mix between a yoik-inspired melody and a hymn floating on top of that. For the film, they asked if I could make a new version, without the hymn part. That hymn was called Deilig er jorden – meaning “wonderful is the Earth”. 19th-century-Danish poet Bernhard Severin Ingemann wrote the lyrics for this in 1850. In English speaking countries the same folk tune is known as “Fairest Lord Jesus”.
    So I worked together with film composer Christophe Beck to compose a new version for this film. In the end, the Disney version was developed by keeping all of the original yoik-inspired parts and most of my original arrangement. The melody floating on top was made by me and Christophe Beck. We tried out different versions – and ended up with a mix between his and my ideas.”

    Note that it was the folk tune (not the folk song/text) that is known in English as “Fairest Lord Jesus” or “Beautiful Savior,” both singing translations of the much older German “Schoenster Herr Jesu.”

    You can hear Eatnemen Vuelie sung with the intended Danish text here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTNQAL4nV5A

  2. Huh. I have a similar but different CD. Google informs me that “Showtime! Music of Broadway and Hollywood” was released in 2007. Like the more recent album, Showtime! selected songs from shows where light triumphs over darkness. You can listen to samples here https://www.thetabernaclechoir.org/shop/products/showtime-music-of-broadway-and-hollywood-2007.html

    My favorite is the Lord of the Rings. If you’re looking for additional similar tracks, this might be a good place to start.

  3. Thanks for the insights JR.

    Other Clark, Showtime is a fun album too! A lot more Broadway than the new EP, which is a nice addition. If you like Tabernacle Choir albums featuring soundtrack music, there’s also the Miklos Rosza: Three Choral Suites album from around 2005 that I enjoy. It features music from religious films from the 1950s like Ben-Hur.

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