What do you get when you cross Bluegrass, Southern Gospel, and A’Cappella harmony with a handful of talented Mormon musicians living in Utah? The answer is Mountain Blue, a powerful vocal group with a unique sound, contagious melodies, and wide audience appeal!
MormonSoprano recently caught up with the busy singers for an online Q&A. The band not only answered our questions, they graciously shared all of the photos and audio clips used for this article. Two new MoSop Movies featuring Mountain Blue music are included in this post for your listening pleasure which highlight the quartet’s exceptional versatility!
“The musicians of Mountain Blue are bringing a new flavor of religious music to the Wasatch Front. While sticking mainly to traditional bluegrass, the group’s philosophy about song selection is “anything about Jesus.”" – Review
Meet the band!
TODD Horne: Baritone & Manager
SPENCER Whitham: Bass
DREW Norton: Tenor
JULIA Sanders: Alto a.k.a. “Diva”
MoSop: How did the band get started?
TODD: The quartet began in the fall of 2003 when Adam Monteith and Karen Magleby, both choir directors at Brigham Young University, conceived of the idea of doing bluegrass music a cappella, more or less as a joke to see if they could draw some attention away from all the pop groups on campus at the semi-annual a cappella jam. I was walking out of Men’s Chorus one day and saw them singing in the middle of Brigham Square. I knew Karen from my ward. Adam said all I had to do was speak and he knew we would blend well together. I sight read a song by Blue Highway called “Someday” and they called up their previous two Baritones and told them they had found someone for the quartet, and so I was in from the beginning. Easiest audition I’ve ever had! I’ve been a member for about 6 1/2 years now.
MoSop: How long have you known each other?
TODD: I’ve known Spencer for about 4 years, and Julia and Drew just over one year each. I’m the only original member of the group.
DREW: I’ve been a member since January of 2009
JULIA: I had a friend who was in Institute with Todd. They were out one night and he was venting to her about having had months of auditions for an alto for the group, and couldn’t find anyone. She told him she knew a girl, and called me that night. It was a Friday. She told me his dilemma and asked if I would be interested in auditioning the next day. This was the first Saturday in WEEKS that I was free, so I said I would. I went and auditioned the next day, and found out the following week that I had made it.
MoSop: It says you are “formerly known as Blue Cheese.” What’s the story there?
TODD: Karen [Magleby] had a bluegrass band in TX that she always wanted to name Blue Cheese, but they wouldn’t let her. So, before I had a say in the name, she proposed it, and the group gave in. We had a lot of fun with that “cheesy” name on stage! But, just like cheese gets moldy after a while, we had to eventually change the name to match the message of our music.
JULIA: Luckily for me, it was Mountain Blue when I joined. (You can see what my preference is)
MoSop: How would you describe your music, and who is your audience?
TODD: Our music is unique in the fact that it’s not only southern gospel music, performed by artists [living] in the west (Arizona is about as far south as we get), but it’s also bluegrass, and it’s also a cappella, and we are all Latter-Day Saints! If you liked the music from the movie “Oh Brother Where Art Thou?” then you’ll love this style of music!
SPENCER: One of my favorite things about our music is the songs were all arranged so beautifully (thanks mostly to Adam Montieth). Listening to the music of Mountain Blue seems to bring peace and comfort no matter what else may be going on at the time. I’d say our main audience is anyone who gives it a listen, most people are surprised at how much they like this style of music! The notes and harmonies (and many other musical terms I hear but am not sure exactly what they mean) are pretty much ear candy. I’m honored to have the opportunity to sing one of the parts of this music!
JULIA: Our music is. . .just so many genres all rolled into one. I would say our target audience is anyone who loves music. We have a unique blend, and our music brings the spirit. If you love music and harmony, you will love us.
MoSop: What qualifies as a Mountain Blue song?
TODD: Any song that testifies of Jesus, is a’cappella, and has a southern gospel flavor. Ultimately, we also have to like it (namely, the lyrics, melody and harmonies) and all agree on learning it!
DREW: Anything about Jesus
SPENCER: “Anything about Jesus” and something we can make fit into our genre that works.
JULIA: Anything that makes you shout Hallelujah!
MoSop: Who writes your arrangements? and, How long does it take you to learn a new song?
TODD: For the most part, our original tenor, Adam Monteith, has written almost all of our arrangements, with the help of everyone in the current group at the time. We all offer suggestions and come up with our own parts, and our former alto Kindra Clemence has contributed quite a bit as well.
DREW: Tricky question, it takes a while to get a song down really well to where we all blend perfectly. I can learn a song very fast just to learn it, but to be able to perform it with feeling takes a lot of practice.
SPENCER: Well, Adam Montieth has an incredible talent for doing arranging. As far as learning goes, it really depends on the song. Some take longer to lock in all the notes, but once we do, we’re set and it seems to roll off the tongue almost as if someone else is singing it.
JULIA: [It takes] maybe a couple practices if we focus mainly on that one song.
MoSop: One of my FaceBook Friends mentioned that you recently performed on her Cruise line. Are you regular “Cruisers”? Any upcoming nautical gigs?
SPENCER: Ooo…yes we did just sing on a Cruise Line! Our invitation came to sing on an LDS Singles cruise and it was a lot of fun. I never imagined I’d be invited to do such a thing. I definitely hope there are more cruises in our future So far we’ve sung in 2 States and 1 Ocean!
JULIA: It was an amazing experience.
TODD: We will sing and dance for food!! This was actually our first time performing on a cruise as a quartet, and for me teaching ballroom dance lessons [as trade] for a free cruise! We have been invited to do it again on another cruise, but no definite dates as of yet.
MoSop: What do you find most rewarding about being in the group?
TODD: I love how all of life’s lessons can be taught or learned through the principles of music. I love harmonizing with each other on a vocal and personal level. I love testifying about the Savior through song because music can have the power to touch your heart, mind and senses more powerfully than words alone. So, having our music all be religious, and have it be entertaining and educational all at the same time can bring life, enjoyment and greater understanding in new ways into someone’s soul.
DREW: I love being able to testify of Jesus Christ through song, feel the spirit, and help others to do the same.
SPENCER: One of the most rewarding things to me from singing with Mountain Blue is the opportunity to sing with 3 very talented individuals some of the most beautiful music I know of. It’s not what you expect when you hear of an LDS music group. To hear the harmonies and words of Mountain Blue’s music is one of the best parts of my life. It doesn’t ever seem to matter what’s going on that day, as soon as we meet and start singing, instantly I’m in love with it again.
The MOST rewarding part though, is to see and hear how our music touches the lives of those who come to our concerts and listen to our music. We’ve heard countless stories from people after concerts, through emails and other ways how one of our songs in particular made a difference for them. It’s also really neat to hear of people who don’t know us at all but come anyway and find they get much more than they expected. To be able to bring the Spirit into our lives, and others, through the talents we’ve been blessed with is nothing short of amazing. We are truly grateful. It just goes to prove how important it is that we all seek out our talents and develop them. You never know what may happen.
JULIA: The most rewarding times for me have been when we have touched people’s lives. We were doing a CD signing at Seagull Book one day and we sang the song, “Jesus Love is Like a River”. A lady came up to us after who had been struggling with cancer. She wasn’t a member of our church, but she said that when we were singing that song, she knew that she was being looked out for, and that no matter her trials and struggles there is a God that is watching her, and He is there for her. She had tears when she was talking to us. It’s those moments that I will never forget, and it’s those moments that make me want to do this forever!
MoSop: What do you consider your biggest challenge?
ALL: Practicing!! [laughter]
TODD: Everyone loves to perform but having a structured schedule to learn, improve, and do all the hard work behind the scenes can be quite difficult. Making the time with everyone’s busy schedules is a challenge and makes it hard to move beyond just singing the words and notes to singing with the Spirit, and our whole hearts and minds. This is certainly our greatest challenge and adventure!
DREW: The trouble for me right now is that I’m working and doing school full time. But [singing] is so much fun!
SPENCER: Syncing everyone’s schedules for practice is difficult [but] concerts don’t seem to be a problem. Things always seem to work out though, and the shows go on.
JULIA: We are finally to a point where we practice once a week, but all our schedules are so different it was hard for a while. Especially last summer while Todd was out of town (and I predict this coming summer as well) we three remaining members never practiced. Oops ;)
MoSop: Tell us about your goals and dreams for Mountain Blue.
TODD: We would hope Mountain Blue becomes a household name. We stand for tight harmonies, Spirit filled music, and a way for people to develop a closer relationship with the Savior and His life, teachings and vision for us all. We look forward to arranging, recording and writing new music, progressing beyond what we have done in the past, improving our sound with every practice, and strengthening the relationships we have with one another. We also want to tour to other states and countries, and spread the “good news” far and wide!
JULIA: My goals for this group are for everyone to know our music – to be a “household name”. I would love to travel to the southern states. We have so many people who hear our music who are from there, or served a mission there, that tell us our music took them back. I would love to take this music back to its roots and see how the people in the southern states react. I just want to perform! This year we have so much going on, and it’s so awesome, and so exciting. I just wanna keep moving!
SPENCER: To keep the group alive as long as possible, and continue to share what we love and have been blessed with. None of us are in this to make money, we put everything we earn from CD’s and concerts back into the group. Additionally, having sung in “2 States and 1 ocean”, I’d like to add all the other States and oceans and as many countries as possible! I never thought we’d make it here, so only the future can tell where we’ll go.
MoSop: Anything else you’re bustin’ at the seams to share with us?
TODD: You can learn more about us, contact us, order and listen to samples of our music, and book concerts on our new and improved website at:
SPENCER: Julia loves being called The Diva