Music Man

Sterling Poulson

Amelia Nielson-Stowell May 1, 2019

Sterling Poulson lights up in front of a news camera — and a conductor’s podium. He thrives on studying air pressure and cloud patterns, as well as poring over sheet music and song lyrics.

Poulson is a recognizable face in Utah as the chief meteorologist for KUTV Channel 2, but this 67-year-old Renaissance man is also an accomplished musician. As the music director of the Choral Arts Society of Utah and the Days of ’47 Pops Concert, Poulson has led hundreds of musicians.

“If you look at all the choirs in the state, you could call Utah the choir capital of the world,” Poulson says. “Utah has a very healthy music scene.”

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square put Utah on the map musically, but lesser known are the dozens of local choral groups and community orchestras. Poulson, a champion of Utah’s talented pool of vocalists and instrumentalists, wants to give a stage to all.

man conducting an orchestra
Sterling Poulson conducts the Days of '47 Pops Concert.
Photos courtesy of Days of '47

Military Strong

A foster child, Poulson was adopted at age 2 by parents Dahl and Irene. He developed an interest in weather as a military kid living across the U.S. in different climate zones. As a child, using an Erector Set he attached an anemometer to his mom’s clothesline to track wind speed.

Poulson joined the U.S. Air Force out of high school (his father swore him in), and served a 13-month tour in Vietnam from 1970-1971. After an Air Force assignment in Omaha as a severe storms forecaster, Poulson returned to his roots in Utah. He started working for KUTV in 1989.

But his career passion doesn’t stop after the news airs.

members of an orchestra dressed in black
The Choral Arts Society of Utah
Photo by Bry Cox

Musical Genesis

Growing up, Poulson’s musical experience was limited to church choirs. After returning to Utah in 1980, he joined the Jay Welch Chorale, founded by family friend Jay Welch who became Poulson’s mentor and coach on the podium. Welch was a talented Utah musician and Navy serviceman, who later became the conductor of the Tabernacle Choir.

For years, Poulson worked alongside Welch as the chorale’s associate music director and president. In 1987, Poulson incorporated the choir into a nonprofit and, after Welch’s retirement, renamed it the Choral Arts Society of Utah. Poulson’s innovation helped the choir thrive.

“When you see a storm coming, you never really know what’s going to happen until it’s over,” Poulson says. “And it’s the same with a concert — you don’t know how it’s going to turn out until it’s over. Weather and music are both very exciting to me — you don’t know the final result until it’s there.”

In 2013, Poulson decided to get formal music training and began a degree in choral music education at the University of Utah. True to his service-oriented attitude, Poulson regularly turns over his conductor’s baton to the U’s School of Music graduate students for their senior recitals.

“There’s a lot of coaching going on from these new conductors,” Poulson says. “They’ve only helped the choir — we’re getting better and better.”

man in white jacket conducts orchestra
Sterling Poulson conducts the Days of '47 Pops Concert.
Photos courtesy of Days of '47

Community Collaboration

In the late 1990s, Poulson volunteered to take over the popular Days of ’47 Pops Concert after the former director retired. The free community concert performs for two nights at Abravanel Hall with the Days of ’47 Pioneer Day holiday celebrations. It’s one of the choral society’s five annual concerts.

Musical altruism is at Poulson’s core. “I love to help people perform music,” he says. He collaborates with music groups around the state for concerts like the Utah National Guard 23rd Army Band, the Salt Lake Symphony and the West Valley Symphony.

In March 2018, Poulson fulfilled another dream. He was the guest conductor at New York’s Carnegie Hall performing Gabriel Fauré’s “Requiem,” his wife Danette’s favorite piece of music. She died in 2018 after a four-year battle with cancer. They have five children and 11 grandchildren.

2019 Days of ’47 KUTV Pops Concert

July 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Abravanel Hall. This year’s Days of ’47 KUTV Pops Concert features the Choral Arts Society of Utah with the Salt Lake Symphony in collaboration with the Clark Planetarium and celebrates the 50th anniversary of man’s first steps on the moon.

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