A familiar face will soon be holding the leadership reins of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.
Michael Leavitt — who formerly served as Utah governor and U.S. secretary of health and human services — will become the beloved choir’s president on Aug. 26.
The announcement was made on Friday, Aug. 6.
Leavitt has spent the past several decades in public service, and in the public eye. He was elected to three terms as governor of Utah and then twice in the Cabinet of President George W. Bush — first as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and later as the secretary of health and human services.
But despite his many years of labor, the 70-year-old said Friday that he’s not the retiring type.
“I like being busy and I like big challenges and opportunities — and this [new position] is clearly all that.
“More importantly, it’s a call to serve. I’m deeply appreciative of the chance to be of service to the Church and to a mission that I deeply care about.”
Just don’t expect to see the choir’s new leader performing a solo in any performances.
“They did not choose me because of my ability to vocalize in song,” he said with a smile. “My wife [Jacalyn], on the other hand, is a very talented musician. She is my companion, which is a change in the [choir’s] organizational structure.”
Leavitt will also serve with two counselors in the choir presidency — another evolution in the choir’s leadership. The counselors will be announced at a later date.
Bishop Gérald Caussé, the Presiding Bishop and adviser to the choir, announced Leavitt’s appointment on Friday morning to the choir organization.
“Mike Leavitt will build on the legacy of the choir organization with his exceptional executive experience,” he said. “We are looking forward to his leadership and a future of continued success.”
Leavitt replaces Ronald Jarrett, who has been president of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and its sister organizations — the Orchestra at Temple Square and the Bells at Temple Square — since 2012.
Jarrett presided over the choir during a historic moment. The organization increased its reach, influence and international fan base by establishing a growing YouTube page and deftly utilizing other social media platforms.
But the past 18 months have also marked a difficult period for the choir because of COVID-19. The ongoing pandemic has forced the choir and other organizations to halt live rehearsals and performances and postpone the long-anticipated Heritage Tour of several Nordic countries and the United Kingdom until July 2022. The choir has also been absent at recent general conferences.
But promising days await the choir, assured Leavitt.
“We have all been through a year of change and a bit of turmoil with the pandemic,” he said. “We’re now in the process, as a society, of moving back to what we know as normal, recognizing that the world will be different.”
Leavitt noted that he has spent much of his professional life in recent years dealing with public health matters, specifically pandemics. He will draw upon that experience to help keep the choir and its audience safe as circumstances change.
But, he added, “a global Church needs a global choir.”
“There will be opportunities for us to use the tools of digitization to reach larger and more global audiences, and to do it in a way that will align with the mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
On a personal note, Leavitt said he can’t remember a time in his life without the choir. It has enriched his Sundays, strengthened his home and brought joy to his holidays.
“The choir is a conduit for our most spiritual thoughts,” he said. “When I want peace or when I want to feel spiritual things, the choir is a conduit to those feelings.”
Together with his counselors, Leavitt will oversee the administrative components of the choir, including the supervision of over 700 volunteers.
The new assignment comes as a “pleasant surprise” for the Leavitts.
“I got a call from President [Russell M.] Nelson’s assistant asking if my wife and I would be inclined to meet with President Nelson,” said Leavitt. “That was an automatic. … We had a delightful interview with him and he extended a call to us.
“We were very pleased.”
The Church president, Leavitt added, recounted to him the choir’s rich history “and its importance as a messenger for Christ and for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He said that the job of the choir is to bring a sense of peace and joy to people’s hearts and minds.”
Leavitt said his initial surprise has been replaced “by a sense of gratitude and optimism.”
Jarrett called serving as choir president “one of the choicest calls” in the Church.
“I am thankful for my opportunity to serve and will miss my association with the extraordinary men and women in the choir organization. Please know I will be watching and singing along with them from my living room each Sunday morning.”