By Ashlan Jackson
Starting next Thursday, Furman will hold its annual Church Music Conference, an event that brings in established composers, called clinicians, to lead sessions on music composition and vocal performance. Serving as clinician this year is Mack Wilberg, Director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a 360-member Grammy and Emmy award-winning choir that is among the most famous singing groups in the country.
The conference will include a free concert open to the public, conducted by Wilberg, on Friday, Jan. 24, at 8 p.m. at the First Baptist Church of Greenville. This concert will include hymns and will feature the Furman Singers and the Furman University Chamber Choir. The collection of songs will consist of the likes of “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” “O Worship the King,” and a special version of “All-Glorious Above” arranged by Wilberg and commissioned for the event.
Wilberg has served as director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir since 2008. This is his second appearance as a guest clinician at Furman, but his first time serving as full director.
The conference itself has a new addition this year as well: attendees are invited to sing with Wilberg in the closing concert and to practice during the conference to prepare for the event.
In order to prepare for the concert, the Furman Singers plan to practice with Wilberg for two hours during the conference.
Music Professor Hugh Floyd, Director of the Furman Singers, said he looks forward to leading the choir through such a tremendous event.
“The Furman Singers get an opportunity to work with some of the greatest conductors in the United States, including Mack Wilberg,” he said. “It’s really fun for me as a musician to prepare the choir as much as I can, but then have another conductor come in and work with them.”
Freshman Jonathan Painter said he is looking forward to learning from such an esteemed composer.
“It is going to be interesting to see and learn from such a prominent leader in the music field,” he said.
Furman’s Church Music Conference was started in 1971 with a generous donation from the Thomson Foundation. The Thomson family wanted to provide a place to continue the practice and education of church music. This year’s schedule will include sessions on choral arrangement and the history of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Wilberg will exclusively teach all the sessions.
In addition, Furman alumnus Adam Pajan will perform an organ concert in Charles E. Daniel Chapel on Thursday, Jan. 23, at 8 p.m. Pajan is a world renowned organist and is the recipient of many national and international awards. He will be performing as part of the Sound Quality Music Series, an annual series brought to Furman every year.
Music Professor Charles Tompkins, who is also the chief organist at First Baptist Church, has been in charge of organizing the conference in recent years.
“The Church Music Conference is one of the highlights of the year,” he said. “This and especially the lessons and carols services are the summits of many wonderful things every year in the department.”