Four people gambled — and won — Utah’s version of the lottery.
Instead of pocketing millions, though, these winners — all members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sing with The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.
“To have a chance to be in the choir is a dream,” said Daniel Wilson, a resident of Pima, Ariz. one of four people selected to perform with the choir on Sunday.
Wilson, a father of six, has been listening to the choir — formerly known as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir — since he was 9. That’s when he would pull out cassette tapes and pop them into his father’s Walkman.
“I’d go outside and lay on our trampoline and listen to the choir,” he said. “It was heaven to me.”
No wonder the tenor admitted to being a bit nervous. “I hope that I can cut it.”
To promote the choir’s recent album — “Let Us All Press On: Hymns of Praise and Inspiration" — leaders held a random drawing on social media, something it had never done before, said Scott Barrick, the choir’s general manager. “We’ve given away tickets and CDs and we’ve had guest singers come from time to time. But nothing like this.”
No musical experience was required to enter. Fans simply had to hit the “like” button on the choir’s Facebook or Instagram page, tag a friend and list three of their favorite tracks on the new CD, which held the top spot on Billboard’s Classical Traditional chart when it was released in March.
Two men and two women were randomly selected from 6,243 entries, Barrick said. They will sing Sunday during the run-through of “Music and the Spoken Word,” which is held just prior to the actual broadcast at 9:30 a.m. While they won’t get to sing in the big show — the 30-minute program is broadcast worldwide — they will be recognized during the broadcast.
Winners also took part in the choir’s weekly practice, getting their sheet music and their official wardrobe, including alterations for a perfect fit. They also were assigned a “buddy” from the 360-member choir who answered questions, showed newbies the ropes and helped them navigate the maze of rooms underneath the Tabernacle building where choir members dress and prepare for performances.
It’s just a taste of what it’s actually like to be part of the Tabernacle Choir — which requires a four-phase audition process that stretches over nine months and includes 16 weeks of training, Barrick said.
Contest winner Matt Breshears, a cabinetmaker, traveled the farthest. He flew with his wife from Palmer, Alaska — at his own expense — “just for the thrill” of singing with America’s choir. As an added bonus, he was able to visit two of his five daughters — one who lives in Eagle Mountain and another who attends Brigham Young University.
While Breshears’ musical background is limited — “I sang ‘Johnny Appleseed’ in the second grade program" — he currently sings in his choir at his Latter-day Saint ward.
Debbie Matheson and McKenna Reynolds live in Cedar Hills and North Salt Lake, respectively. And both are experienced singers.
Matheson, a BYU graduate, sang with the Ricks College A Cappella Choir and with the Mormon Youth Chorus, while Reynolds spent four years in New York City studying and performing in musical theater before returning to Utah and receiving a bachelor degree in music therapy and worked as a music therapist
Before Thursday’s practice, all the winners were sent YouTube videos of the songs.
“I haven’t really had a chance to look at the videos,” said Reynolds, a wedding photographer and mother of a 1-year-old. "I may just have to mouth the words if it’s something I don’t know.”
Lori Hayward, an 8-year veteran of the Tabernacle Choir, said having guest singers — even if they are amateurs — brings energy to the whole group.
“It recharges everyone,” she said. “When you are in the daily grind memorizing music and traveling, you sometimes forget how astounding it is to be in the choir. Seeing their joy, gets you excited all over again."
Correction: This story has been updated to include a correct hometown for Daniel Wilson