Review: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: A Biography - Nova Religio

Review: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: A Biography - Nova Religio

Reviews organizations, individual activists, and apostates enlist the support of the media and various agents of the state to further their claims and...

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Reviews organizations, individual activists, and apostates enlist the support of the media and various agents of the state to further their claims and mobilize action against certain groups. They helpfully trace the roots of that strategy to a plan formulated by the anticult activist Galen Kelly in the early 1980s to support the Citizens Freedom Foundation’s campaign against the Northeast Kingdom Community Church/Twelve Tribes in Vermont. That strategy later spread internationally as a result of concerted efforts by members of the U.S. anticult movement to form working relationships with counterparts abroad. The authors test their model against six case studies of individual groups: the Twelve Tribes, the Family International/ Children of God, the Branch Davidians, the United Nuwaubian Nation, the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints, and the Church of Scientology. Only in the case of the Nuwaubians do they find the direct intervention of the anticult movement missing, although several key actors in that case were familiar with anticult arguments. The authors also devote a chapter to France, the site of nearly half of the raids they have uncovered. They argue that a “distinctive institutional alliance between the state and anticult organizations and actors” (199) decisively shapes France’s officially suspicious and hostile stance toward new and alternative religious groups. Because anticult groups are officially an arm of the French government, it is much easier for them to incite state intervention. In their conclusion, Wright and Palmer argue forcefully that state raids against new religious groups have had largely negative effects, including human rights and civil liberties violations, state-sponsored child abuse, the debilitation or outright destruction of religious communities, and the use of excessive force through military raids (229). They also contrast the government responses to accusations of child abuse in new religions to the government responses to the ongoing pedophilia scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, which have not provoked paramilitary raids. Overall, this is a provocative and informative book. The authors have unearthed substantial and troubling evidence of a widespread tendency to employ overwhelming government force in the social control of new religions. Students will have much to learn from it and scholars may want to pursue many of the questions that it opens up. Eugene V. Gallagher, Connecticut College

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: A Biography. By Michael Hicks. University of Illinois Press, 2015. 248 pages. $29.95 cloth, ebook available. This new volume by Michael Hicks, a professor of music at Brigham Young University, is a great addition to the scholarship on the musical history and culture of the Latter-day Saints. Shaped by numerous years of 139

Nova Religio meticulous archival research, the volume surveys the past of the Tabernacle Choir, from its early inception to its current state. As a true work of careful historical scholarship, it is a thoroughly documented study, one that is packed with facts and archival findings, along with claims that are backed by a wide range of quotations and a wealth of other references. The volume begins with a discussion of the role of music within the Mormon faith and community during the initial years of the Church. Hicks then surveys the various stages through which a modest local Tabernacle Choir—with enthusiastic amateur singers as members— evolved into one of the most acclaimed and well-respected choirs in the world. This evolution was reflective of the expansion of the Church itself, and Hicks, through his insightful analysis, is able to demonstrate the dynamic relationship between the choir and the church leadership, often filled with fierce debates and clashing visions. We can also see how each period in the history of the choir is typically linked to the name(s) of (a) particular individual(s), whose convictions and personal aspirations have greatly determined the course the choir has taken, be they conductors or choir directors, church presidents or outstanding figures in American entertainment. Through a careful reading of a wide array of documents, Hicks also demonstrates the formative moments through which the choir has transformed into a powerful institution within the Latter-day Saint Church, one that has assumed a vital role in spreading the fame of the Church both domestically and internationally. Through its gradual growth in popularity, it has also distinguished itself as a financial asset to the Church, offering distinguished musical entertainment to both the Saints and non-Mormon audiences. Its outstanding cultural position in mainstream American culture is also marked by the fact that the choir has been honored with multiple invitations to sing at United States presidential inauguration ceremonies. The road to such success has not been void of conflicts, a fact that Hicks explores with great sensitivity, carefully establishing the broader context within which differences of opinion, personal motivations, and the resultant decisive debates can be most thoroughly perceived in their complexity. The eloquent mixture of Hicks’ historical accuracy, precision, and impartiality with his sense of compassion and profound understanding of historical processes creates a unique narrative that readers will not only enjoy, but also appreciate. The text is at once academic without being overly technical, and informative without being unduly detailed, thus potentially appealing to a wide-ranging audience. And, since the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has by now distinguished itself as an outstanding American choir as well, its history could well attract a great many readers indeed, regardless of their religious background. Irén E. Annus, University of Szeged, Hungary 140