The Tabernacle Choir Blog

Orchestra at Temple Square Spotlight: The Family That Plays Together...

In 1999, Bassoonist Christian Smith received a call about joining a newly formed Orchestra at Temple Square. President Gordon B. Hinckley had approved an all-volunteer orchestra and the roster was beginning to take shape. Smith's skills as a bassoonist were needed and he was put on the roster though his first official concert was in January 2001, due to him still attending school. Smith has been performing with the Orchestra ever since, which was the beginning of what would eventually become a family affair. 

Currently, two of Smith’s daughters (Aubrey Woods and Danielle Thompson) and son-in-law (Alex Woods) perform in the Orchestra alongside him. Soon after Smith joined the Orchestra, his daughter Aubrey joined as a violinist. Orchestra leadership made a rare exception to allow her to join. She was only 15 but a remarkable violinist and under her father's care. Shortly after graduating college she won the concertmaster position with Ballet West. Kory Kasteanes, director of the School of Music at BYU said, “That someone fresh out of college would win a professional concertmaster position in their first audition is remarkable.” Years later, Aubrey introduced fellow violinist and more importantly, husband Alex to the Choir and Orchestra where he joined as well. 

In 2012, Smith’s daughter Danielle Thompson joined the Orchestra as a horn player. She started playing the violin when she was young but tightness and pain in her arms caused her to eventually explore other options. At the suggestion of her father, she tried the horn at 12 years old and hasn't looked back. "It has brought so many wonderful experiences and enriched my life in so many ways," said Thompson.

The family enjoys performing together and often carpools to Temple Square for rehearsals and performances. Smith and his wife Patricia are the parents of nine children, which means this story may need additions in the future as family members join the ranks. The Woods often perform as a duo at BYU and other local events as well as in major cities such as Los Angeles and New York. Smith is part of the faculty at BYU where he performs with the group Orpheus Winds. He also performs with Sundance Trio with his colleagues from the Brigham Young University's School of Music.

Alex Woods, who is also on faculty at BYU, has been core member of The Sebastian’s, ever since they exclusively became an early music group. He has known the guys in the group since he was 13 years old and says he enjoys playing with good friends. The Sebastian’s were audience prizewinner’s at the Early Music America Competition, where they performed excerpts from La Folia by Antonio Vivaldi

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square recently performed Handel’s Messiah for an Easter concert and are recording the entire oratorio for a 2015 release. During the concert preparation, Alex Woods ran two unique workshops for orchestra members, which focused on using the proper parts of a bow as it relates to Baroque style music, which Woods has spent much of his career studying. He explained that he was asking the Orchestra members to do things that were different than what they were used to and that it was quite difficult to make those adjustments. Of the members who participated in the workshops he said, “They really went for it and responded incredibly.” Coincidentally, The Woods had a baby around the time of the Messiah recording named George Frederick, however he was named after his great-grandfathers rather than the famed composer.

The Orchestra at Temple Square has a roster of nearly 200 volunteer musicians. At any given week, approximately 85-100 Orchestra members are on hand for the weekly Music and the Spoken Word broadcast. Of the volunteer aspect of the Orchestra, Alex Woods said, “I respect the way that people love music so much to do it and not get paid for it.” Thompson, who is expecting twin girls in September added, "One of my favorite things about playing in the Orchestra at Temple Square is the opportunity it gives me to share the gospel through music. I feel that music is something that can communicate so many feelings and emotions. It allows me to express myself in unique ways."

Below is a video of the Choir and Orchestra performing "Worthy is the Lamb That Was Slain," from Handel's Messiah.