Tabernacle Choir Touches Hearts, Changes Lives
That was absolutely excellent, thank you. You were nervous as all get-out, weren’t you? But she did a great job, and it certainly set the spirit and tone for today.
Welcome, everyone. I’m glad that you chose to come today, so that I wouldn’t be speaking to an empty hall. And the choice that you made was to come, and every choice that you make for the rest of your life, and all that you’ve made before, have brought you to this point and will lead you on to other opportunities. Today I’m going to share with you a little bit about what’s behind the loft, about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Tab Choir, Tabernacle Choir, Mo-Tab…whatever name you want to use, we want to talk about that today. And because I may not get to the most important question that you have in your mind about the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, that you would want an answer to, please think of it still and I will allow a few minutes at the end of my message, so that we can let you ask a question that’s important to you, and invite you to be brave enough to ask those questions.
I did bring with me today a few tickets for this weekend’s concert. I don’t know if you know or not, but we are singing this weekend in the Conference Center, and Santino Fontana is coming from Broadway to perform with the choir. It will be an exciting concert, and I gave a few tickets to Adrian that he can hand out to those of you who might want a cheap date, because it’s free.
My journey with the Tabernacle Choir began in October 1999. Ryan Bateman, wherever Ryan is, and I joined the same year. He was much younger; still is. But we joined the Tabernacle Choir in the same year, both being a part of the new organization that was being created when Craig Jessop and Mack Wilberg were invited to take over the reins of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I did sing with the choir for 8½ years, and then, as was mentioned, I served as an assistant working with President Mac Christensen; you know, Mr. Mac? I worked with him for a few years, and then we decided, after my wife had retired also, that it was time for us to serve a full-time mission, and we had the great choice opportunity of serving in Germany, in Frankfurt, in the Public Affairs office, in the area office for the Church. Nope, we don’t speak German. But everything in the office is done is English, so we got along just fine. And it was while we were serving there that we were opening our morning mail, and my wife read an email that said, “Ron, you need to read this.”
I said, “What does it say? Just read it to me, I’m busy.”
And she said, “No, you need to read this.”
So I went over to her desk and I read the email. The email said, “Can you take a call from the First Presidency today at 5:30 p.m.?” Yeah, I can take the call. I thought for sure it was something for my wife, because I’ve been a bishop, I’ve been the stake president, I’ve been in the choir, I’m serving a mission…it has to be something for her. And we stewed about it all day long.
But at 5:30 we closed our door, the phone rang, and we were asked if we could take a call from President Monson, and I said, “Yes.” I have the same problem as President Eyring, I get too emotional, and I get cloudy, and I have to pause, and I wasn’t able to say anything other than, “Yes.”
And President Monson was on the line, and he said to me, “Brother Jarrett?”
And I said, “Yes?”
“This is President Monson.”
And I said, “How are you today, President?” He … or something, I’m not really sure how that came across, but I nonetheless spoke with him for a few minutes.
And then he said, “I’d like to extend a call to you to be the president of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.”
I’m just this kid who grew up on the west side of Salt Lake who has done nothing in his life but enjoy education and educating children. I don’t know anybody, I’m not in business, I don’t have a lot of money, and… “Are you sure?”
And he said, “I haven’t heard anything from Sister Jarrett.” And Sister Jarrett was sitting right there, but she hadn’t said anything because she was crying.
Well, she did squeak out that she would accept this call, but she said to him, “President, we’re really enjoying our mission. Can we wait for a little while longer until we finish, and then we’ll come home and do this? We love Germany; it would be too hard to leave Germany.”
And he said, “I think President Uchtdorf can tell you how hard it is to leave Germany.”
And President Uchtdorf, who was also on the phone, said, “Yes, I can.”
Well that was the beginning of an adventure. That happened on May 16, 2012. And on July 24th, my wife and I flew in from Europe and began this odyssey. On the 25th of July, I went to the office, which is right across in the basement of the Tabernacle, where the baptistery used to be—those are our offices now, and I went to work learning what I could from those that were there, President Christensen and others. And I enjoyed that experience from that moment on, and will soon complete my full second year of this wonderful calling. It’s a great experience, true joy. And I did say, as one of my goals as a president, one of the things I thought I really need to do is to expand the viewership, the listening audience, to the Tabernacle Choir’s music. And your group doesn’t listen very often. Now as a missionary, you were only allowed to listen to us. But when you got home, you kind of clicked us off and you don’t listen too much.
I had a Geek Squad member in my home the other day, and I said to him, he was a returned missionary, I said to him, “Do you ever listen to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir?” And I thought, “I’ll give him a CD, and it will make his time worthwhile.”
And I said, “Well, if I were to give you a CD, would you listen to it?”
“No, I don’t think so. I hear you at conference, that’s probably enough.” I praised and thanked him for his honesty, and I did not give him a CD. I wasn’t going to waste it on him.
So, anyway, our goal is to reach out, because music is an international language. It is a language that all people, all over the world can understand, whether you’re young or old. And so we began work on our YouTube channel. That was the first thing that came up. So if you don’t know it, we do have a YouTube channel, and we put up all of our concerts and all of our music from Music and the Spoken Word, and work with our guest artists and so forth on our YouTube channel. So you can go on there and stay in tune with us by being very much a part of social media. We also have a Facebook page, and we have all kinds of things that we’re doing now social-media wise, to reach out a little bit further than the gray hairs that have listened to the choir for many, many years.
The choir is a great organization, a great big family. We only have 12employees who work for the choir; 2 secretaries, 2 managers, a paralegal, 3 full-time organists, 2 part-time organists, and our 2 conductors. They are paid by the church. The rest of us volunteer our time, and gladly give it for the joy that we receive by being a part of the organization. We have over 400 in the choir right now, over 200 who play in the Orchestra. We have 36 who ring the English hand bells, and we have, of course, a staff of many, many people—people who make the dresses to librarians that hand out the music. It’s a big organization, a large family. And it’s a great one to be a part of. If you’re 25 years old, and you sing, have a musical talent, today is the day for you to make your application with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir office. Our applications for membership are online. They stay online until August the 15th, at which time we close application processes and we begin to work to refine that list to a group of people who we can accept. Last year we had over 230 applicants who applied. After the directors listened to their tapes and I read their applications, we reduced that number almost in half, sent out a nice letter of “Thanks, but not right now. Come back again.” And then we told the rest of them, 100-and-some-odd, that we wanted them to come in and take a test. You’re familiar with tests. Our testing center is the basement of the tabernacle in the horseshoe area, and we ask you to come in for a 3-hour exam. Part of the exam is on music theory, and the other part is on your ability to hear music, and to tell what’s happening in the music, the aural sound.
So, you write out your answers, and then you listen. And the tape says, whatever it plays, and then the voice asks, “Was that a minor key or a major key?” And you mark it down. “Did it have the same rhythm the first time I played it as I did the second time I played it? Was that a third or a fifth skip?” And on, and on, and on. You must score 80 percent on the test to pass on to the next level of application. But we did take over 90 people on to that next level, and it was great to meet with them personally and have them then go downstairs and sing for Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy. That’s the nail-biter, that’s the time when the tire meets the road, so to speak. That’s when you really have to be able to show what you can do. You have to be able to sight read and sing a note that they tell you to sing without the use of a piano or instrument. So, for example, this morning, would you please sing for me a “G”? That’s what I had to do, sing a “G.” If you have perfect pitch, that’s a snip, that’s not hard at all. But if you don’t have perfect pitch, or relative pitch, you just pick a note, sing it, and then they play it on the piano and say, “Well, it was close.”
Following that experience, if you’ve done very well, you’ll be invited as 70 were this year from the initial 230-some-odd, to come to choir school every Thursday evening January through April, 100 percent attendance required, where you are taught everything that there is to know about singing music in a choir. And then you come every Tuesday evening to sing in a choir, with last year’s group, and your group, and you sing a major work and perform a concert. After that time we’ve had time to fit you in your uniforms, we’ve had time to get to know you a little bit better, to know if it’s a right fit for you to join the choir, and we invite you to join the choir at the end of April. So you’ve invested at least six months or more in getting to the seat up in the loft. And when you’re there, it’s a glorious experience. And you give so freely of your time.
The choir has two main responsibilities: to sing for the First Presidency at their direction and at their wish; obviously, that’s general conference, because you always see us there. The second one is to perform “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcasts on a weekly basis. And that’s at least five songs every week that you must perfect and perform to max satisfaction, and sing on the broadcast each week. It’s a great experience, a wonderful opportunity. But then, we do have some other opportunities, and that’s the concerts we give in July and December, to share our music with a larger audience when we go on tour every other year. Next year we’ll go on tour to Washington, D.C., New York City, and Boston. We’ll be in New York City on the 4th of July, and we’ll sing in Carnegie Hall twice. And we’ll enjoy that great experience of being in that part of the country during that particular time of the year. Yes, we do want to take the choir, I do want to take them someplace else. I’ve told them all along I want them to go to Rome with me, to the open house and dedication of the Rome temple. That hasn’t happened, I haven’t gotten the invitation nor permission to do that, but I’m not going to give up until we get outside the United States. And then we do respond to additional requests. So if any of you are in Richfield on the 7th of September, come to our concert in Richfield this year. That’s our only touring date this year.
So, what is it like to sit in the loft? It is an exciting experience. An experience that is so filled with the spirit. I could feel your spirit this morning as you sang your opening song. And so I know that you could be one of those people who are sitting in the loft, if you chose to be. If you’re at all musical. But it is a great experience, because you have marvelous spiritual experiences in the loft, and the people who listen to you have marvelous spiritual experiences. When you are doing what I ask the choir to do, and that’s send their message. Sending your message is very important. What you’re doing is bearing your testimony through the music that you are singing to those people who are listening. And those people who are listening can have their heart changed, and that can then change everything about what they’re doing. I received just this morning an email that I wanted to share with you; if I can find it in this stack of notes. We could be here for a while if I read you all these wonderful stories.
This one came just this morning from a member of the choir whose daughter lives in California and is acquainted with Mark and Vicki from northern California. When she learned that they were headed to Salt Lake for a convention, she suggested to them that they might want to attend a Thursday night rehearsal, or a Sunday morning broadcast to hear “Music and the Spoken Word” with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square. And they both said, “Well, that’s an interesting thought. Maybe we could do that.” It seems that Mark grew up the son of a music director in his childhood, but he regrets that as he got older, his relationship with his father changed, became estranged, and he was not in touch with his father at all when his father passed. But when this young lady spoke to this couple, when they returned, she said, and let me just read to you what they said.
“Mark told her that both the rehearsal and the broadcast affected him deeply and changed the direction of his life. During the broadcast Mark felt the presence of his father next to him. It was so strong that he turned and said, “Dad, is that you?”
He felt a response saying, “Yes son, it’s me.” They shared a brief spiritual moment together, and communication.
“Dad, did you hear that music?”
“Yes, I came to hear the music and to be with you.”
They listened for several more minutes through the broadcast. This experience brought him to be closer to his deceased father. But not only did it do that, it changed his heart enough that when he returned to California, he and his wife decided that they would join the local community choir, and like the Tabernacle Choir, they would devote every Thursday evening to singing hymns of praise to our Father in Heaven and to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Those kinds of things happen, and if you’re sitting there you won’t know that that’s happening to the person next to you. But it does. People’s hearts are changed.
There is a young man, his name was John. He was sitting in a broadcast and he was visiting Salt Lake with some friends, and he is from Israel. He is a Jew and lived in Israel. And on the Sunday he came the choir happened to sing, “Sunrise, Sunset.” And he related to that story, the musical story in that song (from “Fiddler on the Roof”). And Lloyd [Newell] gave a message in his broadcast that really touched him, and he said that he needed to be alone for a few minutes following the broadcast. So he asked his friends if they would wait. And he went outside the Tabernacle, and when he came back in he said, “I need to go home to Israel. But then I need to return so I can be taught this gospel.” Well, he read all the standard works of the Church, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, New and Old Testament…he read all of them. And then he came, was taught, and was baptized. He shared this story in a sacrament meeting, and one of the choir members was in that sacrament meeting, heard that story right before he was to be baptized. So a few of her friends from the choir attended his baptismal service. They sang, and were part of his life for that brief moment as he accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Those kinds of experiences happen to people who are listening to the choir, people who are there, people who are part of that spiritual experience. But the choir themselves, choir members, have experiences as well. We just released an album not long ago with Bryn Terfel [bass-baritone opera and concert singer] from Wales. He is one who has been here before to perform with us, and he came back to do a recording. And if you know anything about the choir, you know that many of the original members of the choir were Welsh converts, and they came; they sang for Brigham Young in 1850. He made the comment, “This choir should become the nucleus of a great choir.” And, it has. And this one member of the choir said, “The impression I had was that there were many singing with us. And of their genuine excitement and joy at not only being able to sing once again with their beloved choir, but especially of doing so in the native tongue of their mortality. For them it was a really big deal. I know that the choir rarely, if ever, sings alone. But the specific message of this experience given our current project was a particular treat and honor for me.” He wasn’t the only one who said he felt the presence of those early members of the choir.
Another man said that as he was sitting there, he looked at the domed room of the Tabernacle, he looked at the pipes that were there, and then he said, “As we sang the song, “Zion Sure,” which retells the story of these Welsh people coming to the United States to build a temple, he gazed at the massive pipes and beheld the faces of the cherubim that were up there. And he knew that many of the spirits of those people who sang in that hall were there. We have great experiences, great emotional experiences, that tell us and help us bear strong witness and testimony that this is not the world’s choir, as many might call it, not the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but it is the Lord’s choir. We do all that we do to honor Him. It’s a great experience, and a blessing for me.
Now I do have a couple of minutes left, and I told you I would give you an opportunity to ask a question or two. Who has a question that they would like to ask me today? Who would like to ask a deep, dark, secret question about Mormon Tabernacle Choir involvement?
Student asks a question about applications for choir membership.
A sign-up sheet for…to get in the choir? No, you just go online to the mormontabernaclechoir.org website, and there is an application you can fill out. Fill out your application, make your recoding, and submit it by August 15th.
Student asks a question about obtaining tickets for upcoming concert.
Can you have a ticket? Adrian? To the ninth floor, he said. He wants a cheap date. Okay.
Student asks Brother Jarrett to relate one of his favorite experiences.
One of my favorite experiences? There were many great experiences that I was able to participate in. The first time we walked into the Conference Center when it was being dedicated in 2000 was an awe-inspiring moment. We had that same feeling that all of our guest artists have when you walk in there and see that for the first time. That was an amazing experience. I remember very distinctly, however, that the Nauvoo Temple was being dedicated, and we had the invitation to go to the temple and be a part of one of the dedicatory sessions. All the choir went, and not all of us could sing, could fit in the temple itself; it’s a small temple. So they divided us into smaller groups. And the feelings that were there as we had that opportunity to sing in that temple, were probably beyond description. It was an amazing spiritual experience. And then President Hinckley invited us to walk the Trail of Tears. That’s down Parley Street to the river bank. And so we did, after we were through, we walked the Trail of Tears. What a great experience that was; great experience. One that I shall always cherish. Thanks for asking.
Any other questions? Yes, sir.
Student asks questions regarding Brother Jarrett’s favorite song.
Anything the choir sings. That’s safe. I’ve been asked that question many, many times. I don’t think I have an absolute favorite song, but one that I love to sing with the choir, even now, because I still remember it, is, “Come, Thou Fount.”
Student asks question regarding the length of Brother Jarrett’s tenure as choir president.
Two years in this assignment. Are there blessings in being the president of the Tabernacle Choir? Yes, there are. I feel very honored and very blessed to be here and to have this responsibility. We report directly to President Monson, so at my last meeting with President Monson, we had the other two members of the First Presidency present, and to sit there and think, “I’m actually in the presence of the prophet of God. I’m sitting two feet away from the prophet of God.” That’s an unbelievable blessing. It really is.
Student asks a question about Brother Jarrett listening to him sing.
Sure. But we’ll do it via the recording.
It has been a great privilege and blessing for me to be with you here today. I didn’t have time to tell you nearly anything at all about being in the choir. It’s just one of those things that you just have to experience for yourself to know how great it is. But it is a great blessing, and a great opportunity. Many fun, exciting, different things happen in the choir. But it is a great blessing to be there. And I feel blessed. The choices that I made as a child were to move my life toward music. I could not do sports to save my soul. I couldn’t do them at all. Tried, but it just wasn’t there. So my life shifted to music. And that choice has led me to do music for my entire life, through all of my experiences. And I think that choice is what led me to this position today. And the choices that you make in your chosen field of employment for the future, and in the choices you make that are fun, that you want to pursue because they’re just fun, will make a difference in your life. So choose to have fun, and enjoy the great blessings that the Lord gives to us.
I do have a birthday gift for someone in the audience whose birthday is today. Whose birthday is today? Is it? Okay, you get “America the Beautiful,” that’s yours. And if you had a birthday, I always have to do at least one. But if you had a birthday on the day I received my call from President Monson, May 16th, I have a CD for you. Do we have a May 16th birthday? Oh, that’s too bad. I just hate to…Okay, if you had a birthday on July 24th, the day that I got home from this mission? Oh, dear. How about…oh, that could be a good one. How about on August the 1st when I took my seat? Is your birthday on August the 1st? August the 1st. What are you saying? Okay, we believe in being honest in all things, so… Alright, let’s say, someone who was baptized on August the 1st. There’s one way back there. Okay, that one’s yours.
Brothers and sisters, it is a great blessing to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I know that this is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had of being involved with it. May you always be blessed to make the right choices, and have the Spirit with you, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.