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Mormon Tabernacle Choir director teaches new group — and they're not who you’d expect

First Published      Last Updated Jun 24 2017 11:09 pm


Mack Wilberg is impressed by Utah State Prison inmates’ desire and dedication to learn music.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir director Mack Wilberg has taken a new group of musicians under his wing — but you'll have to visit Utah State Prison to hear them perform.

Members of the advanced vocals class in the prison's Wasatch Music School performed two numbers under Wilberg's direction on Saturday during the school's spring recital. It wasn't just a guest performance — Wilberg said he intends to continue to working with the prison's choirs.

David Aguirre, Wasatch Music School director, reached out to Wilberg earlier this year to ask if someone from the Tabernacle Choir could offer a master class for some inmates who study there. Wasatch Music School offers a variety of courses to inmates, but it's an entirely volunteer-run organization. Instruments are sourced by donation, and some classes are taught by the inmates themselves.




When Wilberg offered to teach the workshop, Aguirre was surprised. Even more so the next day, when he said Wilberg called to ask if he could teach a class regularly.

Wilberg conducted the first workshop in February. He said he was impressed by the inmates' desire and dedication to learning to perform music.

"I was a little nervous at first," he said. "I didn't know what to expect, but that first time I ... looked at all these inmates — I know they have had challenges in their lives — and to see them come together [to sing], I was moved by that."

Aguirre said the inmates love Wilberg — even though Wilberg works them much harder than they're used to.

Wilberg has taught the men's choir about once a week since Easter. He's not always able to make it in person, he said, and when he can't, he turns the class over to his co-director, Roland Pitt.

Pitt accompanied Wilberg's choir on the piano during the recital and closed the concert with a movement from Ludwig van Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata.

Pitt, whom Wilberg described as "very talented," is an inmate. He also has a Ph.D.-level education in classical piano performance, plays the organ and a little string bass, and has taken up the violin in the past year or so.

The choir, Pitt said, provides his fellow inmates with a rare opportunity to set and work toward goals. Under his direction, the prison's choir had already established itself — something he said helped inspire Wilberg to continue with the group.

Pitt decided to teach music at the prison as a way to make up for his past mistakes. He said the choir provides a similar outlet for other inmates.

"It's a really good program to feel like they are contributing something back to the community," he said.

epenrod@strib.com

Twitter: @EmaPen

 

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