Credit: Stephanie Rudig

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HO HO WHO: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, which pretty much exists to sing Christmas carols.

NEW VIEW: The Mormon Tabernacle Choir (now calling itself The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square), and the Orchestra at Temple Square, have really outdone themselves this year. Choir director Mack Wilberg and co-writer David Warner recreated the story of Anna and Horatio Spafford. The couple lost property in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and decided to move to Europe in 1873. Anna sailed alone with her four children while Horatio delayed so he could attend to business matters. But the ship sunk and their four daughters drowned. Anna sent her husband a telegram that read, “Saved alone.” He sailed to meet her, and over the spot that was likely his daughters’ ocean grave, he looked to the sky and came up with the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.” By their great faith, the Spaffords navigated this incredible tragedy, and more tragedies, to ultimately found a health center in Israel which survives to this day and serves children in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Hugh Bonneville, of Downton Abbey fame, narrates this tale while adults and children in Victorian dress act out the story. The grand Tabernacle Choir is the backdrop, and they drum up the drama by singing the hymn at key moments in story. The whole thing takes 16 minutes and 34 seconds, and you can watch it here on PBS. “This piece was written and orchestrated specifically for this concert. It is an original,” says the choir’s spokesperson. They’ve also turned it into a children’s book. 

Watch an hour-long video of the full concert here

MORMON DRAMA: If you don’t want to hear about God this holiday season, skip this story and check out City Paper‘s many other new holiday music reviews for secular options. The story of the original Mormons involves survival in the face of hardship as they complete a religious pilgrimage. This musical drama teases out some of those themes. It’s pretty sappy, but Christmas in America is fundamentally sappy.

CHEER FACTOR: 10/10. Cheer is whole point of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and they didn’t skimp on this one.