Just before the SLC Mass Choir’s performance at the Jeanne Wagner Theatre last month, the emcee issued a warning to the palpably expectant crowd: “It’s gonna get loud.” The hall crackled with excitement as choir members, a diverse group of 50 red- and yellow-clad singers took their places on the risers. It’s fair to say that the choir and its stellar backing band then proceeded to rock the house.
The SLC Mass Choir’s stated mission is “to create a culture of unity among the evangelical Christian Churches of Utah by communicating the gospel message through musical expression.” Founded in 2011 by Tim Drisdom, who originally came to Utah in 2002 to play Ute basketball under Rick Majerus, the choir draws singers from 12 different Utah churches. Members range in age from 16 to 80 and come from diverse ethnic backgrounds.
“I just honestly knew that [the choir] was something that God wanted me to do,” says Drisdom. “It was not something I was looking for. I had a regular job. I didn’t have the means.” But as he made the commitment, Drisdom says the means came to him. “He not only told me what I was supposed to do, but he created the resources for me to do it.”
Unlike most church choir performances, applause and vocal praise are generous and enthusiastic, before, during and after the songs. Spontaneous shouts and applause from both audience and choir are part of the music. The joyful exchange between singers and audience energizes both.
Drisdom intends for performances to be soulful and uplifting. Expressions of joy are always welcome. “We make sure the message we’re trying to communicate—that Jesus loves you—is always there, and how we convey that depends on what we’re singing. Each song has a different way of grabbing you.
“A lot of people feel like what we’re doing is irreverent,” he continues. “It’s often frowned upon to smile or to express joy even when the message you’re trying to get across is joy. That creates confusion in the communication. If you’re singing about something that should make you happy but are solemn about it, that just doesn’t make sense.
“We encourage our group to not only sing with their voices, but to sing with their entire bodies so that our body language is communicating what it is that we’re singing. Your smile, your eye contact, a lot of your nonverbal communication is what helps to convey the message of what you actually feel. That’s what we are after.”
Over the years, choir members have become family. When they’ve taken occasional breaks from their regular Sunday rehearsals, Drisdom says singers miss the musical camaraderie. “What inspires me most about the choir is the fact that they keep coming every week. That’s the thing I get the most energy from. Every Sunday at 4:00 the cars roll into the parking lot. This tells me they still believe in what we’re doing.”
The Jeanne Wagner performance celebrated the release of the choir’s new CD, All Praise. The project, produced by longtime gospel producer Jerry Harris, began recording in 2012 and took two years to complete. Drisdom and Harris are currently negotiating national distribution, but for now, it is available on the choir’s website, slcmasschoir.com, where you can also learn about upcoming performances.