Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square cancels Christmas concert, postpones auditions

The ongoing pandemic continues to disrupt operations and beloved traditions for the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.

On Friday, Aug. 21, Choir leaders announced the cancellation of its annual Christmas concert featuring the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, Orchestra at Temple Square, and Bells at Temple Square.

Canceling the annual holiday event complies with ongoing direction from the Church to postpone large public gatherings in areas threatened by COVID-19. The Choir’s popular Christmas concert is traditionally viewed live by tens of thousands at the Conference Center.

The fall concert for the Orchestra at Temple Square and the November concert for the Bells at Temple Square are also canceled.

Kelli O’Hara performs with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and Orchestra at Temple Square during a Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019.
Kelli O’Hara performs with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and Orchestra at Temple Square during a Christmas concert at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

“This is disappointing for all of us, but we have found a silver lining in these unique times by discovering innovative ways to share our vast repository of music with more people globally than ever before through the blessing of modern technology,” said Choir president Ron Jarrett in a news release. 

“As such, we are exploring ways to continue the Choir’s annual traditions of TV specials and recordings next year even in the absence of a live Christmas concert in 2020.”

The pandemic will also put this year’s remaining Choir auditions on hold.

The remainder of the 2020 Choir audition cycle will be postponed until 2021. Applicants who were successful in phase 1 of the 2020 audition application process will receive an email from the Choir informing them that the remaining three of the four audition phases will be postponed until 2021. 

The pandemic has prompted several key modifications for the Choir in recent months. 

On April 27, the Choir and Orchestra announced their 2020 Heritage Tour scheduled for several European nations was being postponed until 2021. Next year’s performances will be in all the same cities planned for the original tour — including concerts in Stockholm, Sweden; Helsinki, Finland; Copenhagen, Denmark; Oslo, Norway; Cardiff and Newport, Wales; and Edinburgh, Scotland.

Meanwhile, social distancing practices have forced the Choir and Orchestra to halt rehearsals and performances. Pre-recorded performances were used during last April’s general conference — and continue to be used for the weekly Music and the Spoken Word broadcasts.

The Choir and Orchestra’s popular Pioneer Day/July concert at the Conference Center was also replaced by a pre-recorded program featuring a collection of guest artists who had previously appeared with the Choir.

Despite Friday’s announcements, Choir music director Mack Wilberg said the Choir organization ensembles are fulfilling their musical mission.

Mack Wilberg, music director of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, said the iconic choir's mission to uplift and inspire will not be undermined by the ongoing pandemic.
Mack Wilberg, music director of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, said the iconic choir’s mission to uplift and inspire will not be undermined by the ongoing pandemic. Credit: Steve Griffin, Deseret News

“More important now than ever is the need for experiences that elevate, uplift and bring people closer to the divine,” he said. “For over 150 years, both in good times and in bad, the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square has endeavored to bring joy, peace and healing to its listeners through music. 

“Together with the Orchestra and the Bells, and through the use of our archives and technology, we have been and will continue to be active in providing that musical uplift through this pandemic and beyond.”

 Ongoing highlights include:

  • Each week, as it has for over 90-plus years, Music and the Spoken Word continues to be broadcast on radio, television and the internet.  Wilberg works with the program’s executive producers to select previously aired broadcasts that have increased relevance during this time. 
  • The Tabernacle and Temple Square organists continue to livestream the new online series of concerts Piping Up! Organ Concerts at Temple Square (without live audiences) around the world each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at noon MDT. These online concerts renew the century-long tradition of live Temple Square organ recitals. The series’ “kickoff concert” is still available on YouTube and has garnered nearly 70,000 views. 
  • The Choir has refreshed its mobile app for both Apple and Android phones with easier accessibility to inspirational Choir music and information. 
  • As it did in April 2020, the Choir will participate in the October 2020 general conference meetings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints through use of its pre-recorded performances.
  • Scheduled for release this 2020 Christmas season are the special PBS and BYUtv broadcasts of Christmas with The Tabernacle Choir featuring Broadway star Kelli O’Hara and The Waltons actor Richard Thomas, taken from the Choir’s 2019 Christmas concerts. 
  • The Choir and Orchestra will release a new Christmas CD, DVD and book, each entitled Christmas Day in the Morning, also from the 2019 concert, in mid-October of 2020.