The three words “throughout the world” have set the tone for 2023 for the musicians of The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square. They’ve made the first stop on a multicity, multiyear tour in Mexico, combined voices with international singers at general conference, expanded the choir’s weekly “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcast for Spanish-speaking audiences, released new music and performed in several concerts.
“It’s a period of time when the choir’s influence needs to expand, and [we] need to use all of the tools available to us to reach hearts worldwide in enabling peace and healing,” choir President Michael O. Leavitt said.
Here are updates about their pilot projects and other events with the Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra and Bells at Temple Square this year.
3 pilot programs and updated mission statement
The choir’s presidency, which is comprised of choir President Leavitt and two counselors, President L. Whitney Clayton and President Gary B. Porter, announced a change to the organization’s mission statement in November 2022 — adding the words “throughout the world.”
The expanded mission statement now reads: “The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square performs music that inspires people throughout the world to draw closer to the divine and feel God’s love for His children.”
They also announced three pilot programs. One is to expand the “Music & the Spoken Word” into foreign languages, with Spanish and Portuguese as the first two languages and pilots of those two languages to begin this year. These episodes will include native speakers presenting the “Spoken Word” messages, with graphics and visuals reflecting the geographies.
A second pilot program was changing the way the choir and orchestra traveled, with shorter and more frequent assignments and a smaller and more nimble touring company to allow them to travel annually. And they would test the new travel pilot with an assignment to Mexico City, Mexico, in June.
The third pilot was to help the choir reflect the global membership by having qualified Latter-day Saint singers from Mexico, Central America, South America, West Africa, the Philippines and Asia to audition for opportunities to sing with the choir during the April 2023 general conference.
International singers at general conference
They sang April 1-2 in the Saturday morning session and the two Sunday sessions as part of a pilot program to help support the choir’s expanded global mission. It’s the first time singers outside the United States have joined the choir for general conference.
The singers were Alvaro Jorge Martins of Natal, Brazil; Rodrigo Domaredzky of Curitiba, Brazil; Thalita Gonzaga de Carvalho of São Paulo, Brazil; Tubo-Oreriba Joseph Elisha of Accra, Ghana; Jonathan How of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Denisse Elorza Avalos of Tijuana, Mexico; Georgina Montemayor Wong of Monterrey, Mexico; Ronald Baa of Cagayan de Oro, Philippines; Sundae Mae Indino of the Philippines; and Pei-Shan Chung (Kylie Zhong) of Taipei, Taiwan.
De Carvalho, who sings second soprano, said, “We do know that Jesus Christ is our Savior, and this is the best thing that we could do to show our love through music and testify about Jesus Christ.”
The international singers went through a similar audition process to those who live within 100 miles of Temple Square. They had virtual auditions, sometimes late at night due to the time differences. Once selected, they rehearsed virtually with the choir until they arrived in Salt Lake City a couple of weeks before conference.
“It’s been like a dream come true for all of us for sure. A dream that we never thought would be possible,” said Domaredzky, who sings baritone.
Now, another group of global participants will be participating in the October 2023 general conference, featuring singers from New Zealand, South Africa, Puerto Rico, Japan, South Korea, Ecuador, Hong Kong and the Philippines.
Tabernacle Choir’s global tour launched in Mexico
The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra kicked off a multicity, multiyear global tour to share hope in Mexico. They performed two concerts in the National Auditorium in Mexico City, Mexico, June 17-18, and also at the Toluca Cathedral in Toluca, Mexico, on June 15.
For the performances in the nearly 10,000-seat National Cathedral, guest artist singers Adassa and Alex Melecio and radio host Mariano Osorio shared messages and songs of hope.
The concert marked a couple of firsts for the choir and orchestra — the first tour concert to be livestreamed and the first where tickets were free. The June 17 concert was streamed to more than 250 locations, including stake centers, throughout Mexico. Many around Mexico planned watch parties.
It was 51 years ago, in 1972, when the Tabernacle Choir had last performed in Mexico — in the National Auditorium for an area general conference.
“We were embraced by Mexico, and I believe that Mexico felt embraced by us,” President Leavitt said.
Adassa, who voiced Dolores in Disney’s “Encanto,” said singing with the choir and orchestra was “heaven on earth.”
“When you are standing in front of the choir, you feel like there’s angels behind you,” Adassa said. “I think it’s the closest thing that you can have of heaven on earth. … It’s so beautiful.”
Osorio shared personal stories of his father’s death and his wife’s battle with cancer. They were interspersed with Melecio singing the poignant “Color Esperanza” (or “Painting the Colors of Hope”).
And when Osorio during his story asked for people to turn on the lights on their phones and hold them up, Adassa said: “It’s like you were in the middle of the stars, and we all were just feeling that moment. There was so much joy.”
Osorio, who considers himself a friend of the Church, said it was beautiful to share those experiences, especially as it was the first time he was able to have his children in the audience.
There were three goals in coming to Mexico. President Leavitt said, “I think we’ve accomplished the mission that we set forward prior to coming.”
First, was to open the choir and orchestra’s world tour. Next, was the goal to share a sense of belonging to a worldwide church in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Third was to make additional friends for the Church in Mexico.
While in Mexico, choir members did musical service with refugees. Also, President Porter with Elder Hugo Montoya, General Authority Seventy and the Church’s Mexico Area president, on Friday, June 16, formally presented Movilidad Humana with 15 tons of food for the migrant centers it operates.
While in Mexico, the choir and orchestra also recorded a music video titled “Meditation.”
‘Music & the Spoken Word’ in Spanish, Portuguese to come
With Spanish-speaking narrators and other features, the choir’s weekly “Music & the Spoken Word” began a pilot in Spanish.
It’s available on the The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square’s Spanish YouTube channel www.youtube.com/@elcorodeltabernaculo and also through several Spanish-language television and radio stations (see the full of list of stations airing the “Music & the Spoken Word” at musicandthespokenword.com/viewers-listeners/airing-schedules/).
The “Music & the Spoken Word,” which originates in Salt Lake City, first aired on July 15, 1929, and is a half-hour program featuring music and a nondenominational uplifting message.
The components of the broadcast will be in Spanish — including the graphics, text and images featuring landscapes and the lifestyles and cultures of Spanish-speaking people throughout the world. The pilot was delayed from June 25 due to technical issues. There are also plans to expand it to Portuguese.
The initial pilot of “Music & the Spoken Word” in Spanish will feature a rotation of four narrators: Alex Melecio, Ana Yslas, Pepe Valle and Garna Mejia.
In Mexico City, President Leavitt said he saw how people lined up outside the auditorium and waited in the hot sun hours before the concert started.
“It was so moving to me to have them want to tell me a story about the meaning of the Tabernacle Choir in their life, of how it linked them with their parents, and of how it causes them to feel things inside,” President Leavitt said. “And the fact that they are now going to have access to that, in their own language, on a weekly basis is not just exciting to me. It is a profoundly important development in all Spanish and Portuguese countries where there are Latter-day Saints.”
Closed captioning of the “Spoken Word” in 16 languages is available on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ international Facebook pages and includes language subtitles for the spoken introduction and concluding signoff, the song titles and the “Spoken Word” message. See www.thetabernaclechoir.org/articles/music-and-the-spoken-word-additional-languages.html for the languages and links to the Facebook pages.
There have also been a few changes to the “Music & the Spoken Word” in English with prerecorded “Spoken Word” messages in a variety of locations and also some in interview formats.
Tabernacle Choir’s new music and Piano Guys collaboration
Piano Guys collaboration: This year, the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and pianist Jon Schmidt and cellist Steven Sharp Nelson of the Piano Guys have released four collaborations on YouTube.
- The first video was of the American folk hymn “Wayfaring Stranger,” released in April. Schmidt and Nelson are playing in a wooded area next to a small cabin. Choir members walk toward the duo as they sing the lyrics about the journey through life.
- The second video, which premiered in May, is a duet with Schmidt on the piano and Tabernacle organist Richard Elliott on the Conference Center organ.
- The third is the instrumental combination of the theme song from the movie “The Mission,” known as “Gabriel’s Oboe,” and the hymn “How Great Thou Art,” which was released on June 30. It features Schmidt and Nelson with the Orchestra at Temple Square and the Tabernacle Choir.
- The fourth is “Tuya Es La Gloria,” which premiered Sept. 7. It’s from when the Piano Guys were guests at “Music & the Spoken Word” in August 2022. The traditional Latin American hymn was arranged by choir director Mack Wilberg and features a blend of Spanish and English lyrics. It also features Schmidt and Nelson with the Orchestra at Temple Square and the Tabernacle Choir.
New releases: Also in 2023, the choir released the single and video of “Because of Him” on June 8 that was arranged by Wilberg, with the American folk tune “Prospect” and lyrics by David Warner about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It debuted during “Music & the Spoken Word” on Easter Sunday. See tabernaclechoir.ffm.to/becauseofhim for available platforms.
“A Lullaby,” released on July 27, has music by assistant choir director Ryan Murphy and lyrics are from the poem “A Lullaby” by Eugene Field. It’s about a mother singing a lullaby to her child, and also to another child who had died as she asks the angels to bring the child her lullaby.
“It’s about hope overcoming grief,” Murphy said.
The choir also released a 20th anniversary remastered version of the “Consider the Lilies” album, originally released in May 2002. It includes 17 songs, including the title song, “For the Beauty of the Earth,” “O Holy Jesus,” “This Is the Christ” and “I Believe in Christ.” It’s available on YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Pandora and on vinyl. See tabernaclechoir.ffm.to/considerthelilies.
Playlists: More than a dozen playlists on YouTube and Spotify, and songs are also available on other platforms.
- Sacred Music: See https://tabernaclechoir.ffm.to/sacredmusic
- “Road Trip With the Tabernacle Choir”: Spotify and YouTube
- “Best of the Tabernacle Choir”: Spotify and YouTube
- “Celebrate America With the Tabernacle Choir”: Spotify and YouTube
- “Study With the Tabernacle Choir”: Spotify and YouTube
The YouTube channel @thetabernaclechoir also has recent releases, “Music & the Spoken Word” in both English and Spanish, music videos, the “Piping Up! Organ Concerts at Temple Square,” four of the choir’s albums, songs with friends of the choir and other playlists.
Tabernacle Choir 2023 concerts
Summer Concert: The Tabernacle Choir’s 2023 Summer Concert was a tribute to Latin American pioneers and featured guest artists Adassa and Alex Melecio, who performed with the choir on tour in Mexico.
From Adassa’s upbeat Latin music to strains of “Hallelujah,” the night of music was a tribute to the pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who came to the Salt Lake Valley in search of religious freedom and also to those who helped share the gospel in Latin America.
“Hope is what we remember when we think about our Savior and what He has done for us,” Adassa said before singing “Dos Oruguitas,” or “Two Caterpillars,” from “Encanto.” As she sang, many in the audience held up and waved the lights on their cellphones.
The summer concert tradition started as a Pioneer Day concert to honor early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who came west to Utah seeking religious freedom. The first group arrived in July 1847, and July 24 is celebrated as Pioneer Day in the state.
Tanner Gift of Music concert: 2023 marked the 40th anniversary of the Tanner Gift of Music concert with the Tabernacle Choir and the Utah Symphony. They performed Felix Mendelssohn’s oratorio “Elijah” on Feb. 17 and 18.
Thierry Fischer conducted the Tabernacle Choir and Utah Symphony in his final Gift of Music performance as he completed his tenure with the symphony at the end of the season.
The choir and symphony were joined by soloists Susanna Phillips, soprano; Sasha Cooke, alto; Matthew Polenzani, tenor; and Kyle Ketelsen, bass.
Tabernacle organ and organists
Tabernacle Organ Virtuoso Performance Series: The Tabernacle Organ Virtuoso Performance Series, which started in 2022, was created to showcase the Tabernacle organ and world-renowned organists.
The third of four virtuoso concerts scheduled for this year featured BYU–Idaho’s Daniel Kerr. James O’Donnell — who is professor in the practice of organ at Yale School of Music and the Yale Institute of Sacred Music in New Haven, Connecticut, and has had tenures at the Westminster Abbey and Westminster Cathedral, both in London, England — performed in May. Viktor Billa, Ukrainian organist and soloist who is an organist at Trinity United Methodist Church in Tallahassee, Florida, performed in February.
The final concert in the series will feature Tabernacle organist Brian Mathias on Oct. 13, in the Salt Lake Tabernacle at 7:30 p.m., according to the schedule on the Tabernacle Choir’s website. Each concert is available on the Tabernacle Choir YouTube channel.
The five Tabernacle and Temple Square organists — Richard Elliott, Andrew Unsworth, Brian Mathias, Linda Margetts and Joseph Peeples — and organists at the Cathedral of the Madeleine — Gabriele Terrone and James Goldrick — performed in this year’s Classical 89’s Organ Fest XIV on Friday, Sept. 15, in the Cathedral of the Madeleine.
“Piping Up!”: The Tabernacle and Temple Square organists also perform in the weekly “Piping Up! Organ Concerts at Temple Square” that are streamed online on the choir’s YouTube channel, website and also Broadcasts.ChurchofJesusChrist.org Wednesdays at noon.
The 30-minute concerts feature a different organist and started in June 2020. Past concerts are available on-demand on the choir’s YouTube channel @thetabernaclechoir. Listeners can request a song to be considered for a future concert at TheTabernacleChoir.org.
Daily recitals: The tradition continues of daily noon organ recitals in the Tabernacle at Temple Square by the Tabernacle and Temple Square organists and guest musicians. See TheTabernacleChoir.org/events/organ-recitals.html for the schedule and programs.
Orchestra at Temple Square
The Orchestra at Temple Square’s fall concert on Friday, Oct. 27, 7:30 p.m., in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, marks a milestone for the musicians.
While orchestra members have performed with the Tabernacle Choir concerts and tour to Mexico, during “Music & the Spoken Word” and other events, it’s the first concert featuring the orchestra since the COVID-19 pandemic began and paused rehearsals and concerts.
“The Orchestra at Temple Square is such an important part of the Tabernacle Choir family and we are grateful to present them in this performance, their first featured concert in four years because of the pandemic,” said Wilberg.
Also, those who attend the concert in person will be able to exchange their ticket for a general admission ticket to this year’s Christmas concert with The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra on Temple Square.
Earlier this year, the Chorale and Orchestra at Temple Square presented a spring concert, which showcased the 49 singers who had been working through the choir’s audition process and 100 current choir members. Successful completion of the chorale concert, with Tuesday rehearsals and Thursday Choir School classes since the first of the year, is the final step to being admitted as a soprano, alto, tenor or bass member of the Tabernacle Choir.
Bells at Temple Square
The 33-member handbell choir, led by conductor LeAnna Willmore and associate conductor Geoff Anderson, performed hymns, classical music and familiar tunes during its “Bells in Motion” spring concert in June.
The program included: “Prelude on Herzliebster Jesu”; “How Great Thou Art”; “Arise, O God, and Shine”; “Be Still, My Soul”; an organ solo of “Toccata” from Organ Symphony No. 1; “Retrospective”; “Crown Imperial”; “Fantasy on Kingsfold”; “Rhapsody” in B flat minor; “What a Wonderful World”; “Dizzy Fingers”; “Flashdance ... What a Feeling”; “It’s Only a Paper Moon”; the string quartet playing “Orange Blossom Special”; “Puttin’ on the Ritz”; and “Them Basses.”
The group also performed at the Handbell Musicians of America national seminar in Irving, Texas, on July 14.
Tabernacle Choir in 2022
Last year, the leaders looked for ways to perform amid the COVID-19 pandemic precautions as the choir, orchestra and bells groups had paused performances and rehearsals. Here are several of the milestones:
- The first live broadcast of “Music & the Spoken Word” since March 2020 with a public audience on March 20, 2022.
- The first live summer event since 2019, “Love Thy Neighbor,” July 15-16, 2023, with tickets available for the public.
- The first Christmas concerts with tickets available for the public since 2019 on Dec. 15-17, 2022. The Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra, and Bells at Temple Square all performed with Lea Salonga and Sir David Suchet.
- In February 2022, the choir presidency announced four “high-level” objectives: 1. Expand the choir’s digital audience; 2. Magnify the choir’s missionary role; 3. Ensure that the choir reflects the Church’s worldwide mission; 4. Increase worldwide visibility.
Tabernacle Choir by the numbers
- 360 Tabernacle Choir members
- 85 musicians at a time perform with the Orchestra at Temple Square from a roster of 200
- 5 Tabernacle and Temple Square organists
- 33 members of the Bells at Temple Square
- Choir and orchestra feature members born and raised in 13 different nations