Pioneer Day concert on hiatus — but Tabernacle Choir fans can enjoy online selection from past concerts

Over the course of the ongoing pandemic, The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square’s loyal listeners have gained a historic understanding of the musical term “fermata” — a pause of unspecified length on a note or rest.

As the writer and music educator Anne Moul explained, a fermata causes a choir to “stand frozen, waiting for that pivotal moment when the conductor’s arms come down and his or her face lights up and is released to sing again.”

But, in an optimistic nod, Moul added: “The music always comes back after a grand pause — no matter how long it lasts.”

The Tabernacle Choir — along with its sister organizations, The Orchestra at Temple Square and The Bells at Temple Square — are, thankfully, in the closing moments of its COVID-19-driven fermata. As the choir recently announced, it’s soon returning to Temple Square for in-person rehearsals and “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcasts. The choir will also be performing live at the 2021 October general conference.

The choir is scheduled to reform at the end of August. Unfortunately, that return date arrives a few weeks after the July 24 Pioneer Day holiday. In April, choir leadership announced the cancellation of the popular summer concert amid continued concerns over large gatherings.

Disappointing, yes — but there is a silver lining. Thanks to the choir’s vast collection of videos on its YouTube channel, fans can satisfy their Pioneer Day choir cravings until the musicians are back together in a few weeks. 

The summer concerts featuring music by the choir and orchestra are a long-standing and beloved Pioneer Day tradition. A wide variety of guest artists have enriched the holiday event — including Linda Eder and Brian Stokes (2011), Katherine Jenkins (2012), Nathan Pacheco and Lindsey Stirling (2013) and Santino Fontana (2014).

Here are a few highlights of the Pioneer Day concert in recent years.

2015

Laura Osnes, who brought wonder and song to life on Broadway in her award-winning title role in Rodgers & Hammersteins’s “Cinderella,” delivered a bit of fairytale magic at the 2015 Pioneer Day concert.

“We’re so glad the glass slipper fit with her busy schedule,” said choir president Ron Jarrett of Osnes’ inclusion in the 2015 program.

The vocalist’s concert performance of “All the Things You Are,” captured the combined talents of Osnes and the orchestra.

2016

The six-man a cappella vocal ensemble The King’s Singers brought their virtuosity, energy and charm to the 2016 Pioneer Day concert.

The concert marked a reunion of sorts between the choir and the award-winning artists. 

The King’s Singers performed with the choir in the 2007 Christmas concerts, four Cultural Olympiad concerts held in the Tabernacle during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and numerous Music and the Spoken Word appearances.

One unforgettable moment from the 2016  concert was The King’s Singers performance of a medley of familiar  Primary songs — including “Popcorn Popping,” “‘Give,’ Said the Little Stream,” and “My Heavenly Father Loves Me.”

2017

Recording artist and YouTube sensation Alex Boyé felt right at home during his rousing performance at the 2017 Pioneer Day concert.

Alex Boyé and the Tabernacle Choir perform at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 14, 2017.
Alex Boyé and the Tabernacle Choir perform at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 14, 2017. Credit: Christina Smith

Boyé is a former member of the Tabernacle Choir and did not need to be introduced to the choir directors and musicians — or driving directions to the Conference Center.

Highlights from the evening included renditions of “Where You Are” from the Disney flick “Moana” and a medley of Nat King Cole hits.

Other memorable moments included “I’m Runnin’ On.”

Closing the program, Boyé performed two selections from the Disney animated classic “The Lion King”: “He Lives in You” and “Circle of Life.”

It was the latter, Boyé said, that got him to make African-infused music so much a part of his performances after former Tabernacle Choir music director Craig Jessop enlisted Boyé, who is Nigerian by descent, to record that song as a solo with the choir. The recording in turn led to his joining the choir and to doing more African music.

2018

The choir’s 2018 iteration of the Pioneer Day concert enjoyed a Broadway theme. 

The event featured special guests Matthew Morrison and Laura Michelle Kelly. 

Matthew Morrison spins as he sings as he joins the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square in their annual Pioneer Concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City with other guest performer Laura Michelle Kelly and narrator Oscar "Andy" Hammerstein III on Friday, July 20, 2018.
Matthew Morrison spins as he sings as he joins the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square in their annual Pioneer Concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City with other guest performer Laura Michelle Kelly and narrator Oscar “Andy” Hammerstein III on Friday, July 20, 2018. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News, Deseret News

Morrison is an Emmy, Golden Globe and Tony Award nominated singer, dancer and actor, most recognizable from his role in the television series “Glee.” Kelly is a Laurence Olivier Award-winning actress and singer for her role as Mary Poppins, and has performed for many other musical productions in radio, television and concert.

Their engaging performance included renditions of “Oklahoma,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” and “I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy.”

Morrison and Kelly concluded the concert, along with the choir and orchestra, with the song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” from the musical, “Carousel.”  They songs lyrics seemed to capture the essence of pioneers:

Walk on, walk on

With hope in your heart

And you’ll never walk alone,

You’ll never walk alone.

2019

Special guest Sissel sings with the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square during their annual Pioneer Day concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2019.
Special guest Sissel sings with the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square during their annual Pioneer Day concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 19, 2019. Credit: Colter Peterson, Deseret News, Deseret News

An old friend of the choir, the soloist Sissel, headlined the 2019 Pioneer Day concert.

“It is wonderful to be here with you and with this inspiring choir and orchestra,” she said during the concert. “I just have to say, I love to sing with you. And I love to sing from my heart to you.”

The Norweigian artist noted the rich historical connection between Scandinavia and many of the early Mormon Pioneers who came from Nordic lands to settle in Utah.

Several Scandinavian songs and hymns were featured — including “Eg Veit i himmerik ei borg” (“I Know a Castle in Heaven”), “O store gud” (“How Great Thou Art”) and “Onska dig ett gott nytt ar” (“A Happy New Year”) — alongside American gospel songs and the more traditional Pioneer Day numbers “The Handcart Song” and “Faith in Every Footstep.”

Sissel’s performance of “Slow Down” brought the audience to its feet in a standing ovation.

“To be able to hear the still voice in our hearts, we have to slow down,” she said following the number. “But then, what we hear, what we feel inside, often inspires us to get up and get going.”

2020

The 2020 Pioneer Day “concert” signalled the realities of the day. No live performance was staged because of the pandemic. So choir leaders organized a special pre-recorded program to observe the holiday while celebrating 90 years of broadcasting the weekly “Music & the Spoken Word” program.

The 90-minute broadcast, “Music for a Summer Evening: Celebrating 90 Years of Broadcasting,” featured performances and interviews with renowned guest artists who have previously appeared with the choir — including Bryn Terfel, Sissel and Kristin Chenoweth.

Additionally,  the five Tabernacle organists performed with a virtual quintet of The William Tell Overture.

The program also included interview excerpts from President Russell M. Nelson, who called the Tabernacle Choir, “one of the great jewels of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” 

President Nelson’s late wife, Sister Dantzel Nelson, was a soprano in the choir for 20 years. Some of their daughters were also choir members.

While the 2021 Pioneer Day concert was canceled, the choir is hopeful that a live Christmas concert can be presented in the Conference Center in December 2021. Arrangements are still pending and, with a successful outcome, details will be confirmed at a later date.