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Choir president released after 17 'remarkable' years

Wendell M. Smoot was honorably released from his calling as president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Nov. 12 following almost two decades of "absolutely remarkable" service.

F. MacRay Christensen, a retired, well-known clothing sales executive, was called to succeed Brother Smoot.

During his 17-year tenure, Brother Smoot was pivotal in maintaining the choir's world-wide renown as a premier choir and musical ambassador for the Church. Along with providing administrative management, he assisted in negotiations for recording contracts and arranged choir tours to a host of global destinations, including Europe, Asia, the South Pacific, the Middle East and throughout the United States and Canada. Brother Smoot has worked with such celebrated musical artists as Gladys Knight, the Canadian Brass, Kiri Te Kanawa, Marilyn Horne and Michael Tilson Thomas.

The Nov. 12 broadcast of "Music and the Spoken Word" marked Brother Smoot's last involvement in some 850 such performances since the beginning of his service in 1983. Along the way, he has been ably supported by his wife, Barbara Smoot.

Following that broadcast, President Gordon B. Hinckley said Brother and Sister Smoot's efforts have been "absolutely remarkable and I think without equal in the annals of this great organization."

President Hinckley said Brother Smoot, 79, has taken the choir across the globe, been a tremendous administrator and an accessible father-figure to choir members.

"Wendell, we salute you, we thank you, we honor you, we respect you, we praise you, we wish for you years ahead of happiness without the restraint of this terrible responsibility," President Hinckley said. "I don't know what you are going to do. You are going to get up every Sunday morning and get dressed and have no place to go."

Brother Smoot called leading the affairs of the choir a "marvelous experience" and highlight of his life.

"I've worked in a capacity of some sort in this Church for the last 60 years. This is, by far, the greatest thing that has ever happened to me," he said.

Brother Smoot said it had been an honor to work closely with President Hinckley and two "great, great conductors," recently retired choir director Jerold Ottley and current director Craig Jessop. He also praised Sister Smoot's service, the dedication of the choir and Orchestra at Temple Square and their families — then offered support for his successor, Brother Christensen.

"You are going wonderful places in this great world under the leadership of Brother [Christensen], with this great prophet here that has a vision of where this choir is going like nothing I have ever witnessed before, and you'll see it unfold as time goes on," Brother Smoot told choir members.

Brother Ottley said Brother Smoot has sacrificed much for the choir.

"He literally dragged us around Europe when he could hardly get out of bed because he needed to be home having surgery," Brother Ottley said. "It is the hallmark of a great man to think about others before he thinks about himself."

Tabernacle organist John Longhurst thanked Brother Smoot for offering exemplary efforts, cooperation and leadership. The new Conference Center organ may never have been secured without Brother Smoot's support, he said.

"I speak on behalf of certainly all of the organists, and I think all of the staff, in expressing our tremendous love and appreciation for all that Wendell has given, for all that Wendell has done," Brother Longhurst said.

Brother Smoot is a "leader's leader," who always puts people first and never compromises his mission, Brother Jessop added.

Brother Christensen, who founded Mr. Mac clothing stores and recently served as director of the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors Center, said his new calling was a "thrilling, humbling, frightening experience." When he was recently called to President Hinckley's office to receive the assignment, he said that his first thought was, "Oh, oh, the boys have made his pants too short."

Brother Christensen ex-pressed his love for his wife, Joan, and the prophet — then pledged to the choir that he would be an obedient, humble and kind leader.

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