Every six months, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints deliver general conference addresses in an auditorium filled with 21,000 people. But at the recent April 4-5 conference, they spoke in a room hosting a handful of people — only those who were assigned to speak, all sitting at least six feet apart.
Though millions tuned in to their messages via television, radio and the internet as usual, many of the conference’s typical elements were missing, including the live Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.
Since restrictions due to COVID-19 prevented the 360 choir members from performing at the conference, the Church played recordings from past conferences in place of the planned musical numbers.
But there was one rendition of a hymn that no one in the remote audience had heard in previous years: the version of “We Thank Thee, O God, For a Prophet” that closed out the conference at the end of the Sunday afternoon session.
A prerecorded Tabernacle Choir sang with six smaller choirs composed of Latter-day Saints in Accra, Ghana; Mexico City, Mexico; Seoul, South Korea; São Paulo, Brazil; Frankfurt, Germany; and Auckland, New Zealand.
Each small choir’s performance was recorded in early 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated restrictions on group gatherings. The Latter-day Saints around the world sang to a Tabernacle Choir recording that was later edited to match the song’s timing, according to a Newsroom release.
In Frankfurt, the Saints chose a location they felt an international audience would recognize as German: Windecken-Nidderau market square in the city center, which features traditional half-timbered buildings.
“To us, a historical location matched the focus of our conference,” Church project manager Judith Genster told Newsroom.
The singers in Auckland chose a beach in Wenderholm Regional Park for their performance. Natalie Martinez Pedersen, a member of the New Zealand choir who is originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, told Newsroom, “Prior to anyone knowing what the effects of COVID-19 would be on the world or our general conference, [the hymn] served as a tender mercy and helped lift and heal us just when we needed it.”
In Accra, the choir performed in front of Black Star Gate, a monument to Ghana’s struggle for independence, and the Seoul choir chose the 600-year-old Changdeokgung Palace as its backdrop.
In Mexico City, singers gathered at the Church’s Mexico Missionary Training Center.
All choirs sang in their own languages — English, Portuguese, Spanish, Korean and German — and millions of worldwide viewers were invited to join in a final reprise of the first verse, adding the 33 languages included in the conference’s livestream to the international chorus.
At a moment marked by isolation and uncertainty, this multicultural effort symbolized the unifying force of faith in Jesus Christ and His restored Church.
“What a once-in-a-lifetime way to participate in a historic general conference!” said Alisa Gubler, a Church service missionary who sang in the Auckland choir.
“It was exciting to see the finished product and amazing to be part of this memorable experience,” Gubler added. “I have seen many comments [on social media] … about how people were moved to tears.”