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Tabernacle Choir pauses rehearsals and performances during COVID-19 surge

Members of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square sing during the 191st General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
The Tabernacle Choir and the Orchestra at Temple Square perform at the First Presidency Christmas Devotional at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square performs in the Conference Center during the Saturday morning session of the 191st Semiannual General Conference on Oct. 2, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
The stage is set for the taping of the “Christmas with the Tabernacle Choir” television special at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The Tabernacle Choir presidency has paused all of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, Orchestra at Temple Square, and Bells at Temple Square rehearsals and live performances through the end of January, they announced Friday, Jan. 14, on the choir’s website

Due to the current surge of COVID-19 cases, the decision to pause came after considering advice from state health care officials, the choir’s medical team, and creative and administrative leaders, according to the announcement. 

An analogy Michael Leavitt, president of the choir, used during an online orientation last fall was resuming rehearsals and performances was like “walking on ice.” 

When a person wants to cross a newly frozen lake, they “pause to assess if the thickness of the ice will hold your weight,” President Leavitt said. “You take a few careful steps, pausing to listen for cracking sounds, knowing you can step back to safety if necessary. You repeat the process until your full confidence has been gained, mindful that you must choose carefully.” 

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and Bells at Temple Square perform during a taping for the “Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir” television special in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021.
The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and Bells at Temple Square perform during a taping for the “Christmas With the Tabernacle Choir” television special in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, Dec. 17, 2021. | Credit: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

The current surge in COVID-19 cases represents hearing “cracking sounds” necessitating the “step back to safety,” according to the announcement. “It is hoped that the current surge will soon peak and this pause will be of short duration.”

After pausing rehearsals and performances in March 2020, the choir’s in-person rehearsals resumed on Sept. 21, 2021. During the interval, the weekly “Music & the Spoken Word” continued to air from the repertoire of previous broadcasts and were selected by director Mack Wilberg. In late 2020, announcer Lloyd Newell began recording new “Spoken Word” messages that were inserted into the broadcasts. 

As in-person rehearsals resumed, choir officials implemented a layered strategy, including vaccinations, testing at every rehearsal and event, self-reporting and ventilation.

The choir sang during the Church’s general conference in early October, with half of choir members singing the first day and the other half the second day. 

Read more: Temple Department reminds patrons of safety protocols as COVID-19 cases surge

On Oct. 24, the choir resumed live “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcasts. The choir and orchestra performed live at the First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional. The choir, orchestra and bells, along with guest artists, recorded a Celtic-theme Christmas performance.

General conference, the devotional and the Christmas performance had limited in-person attendance. 

The “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcasts for Jan. 2 and Jan. 9 both had music from previous broadcasts, and the choir will continue to stream the weekly program while rehearsals are paused. Music from the choir is available on the choir’s YouTube Channel, Spotify and other streaming channels.

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