2020: A Year of Accomplishment Despite the Pandemic
The year 2020 began for The Tabernacle Choir like most of the past decade with a planned rigorous performing, touring, and recording schedule. It envisioned a tour to the Nordic countries and the UK, 75 live performances—including 52 weekly Music & the Spoken Word broadcasts—plus Handel’s Messiah at Easter, Pioneer Day and Christmas concerts, and the release of two new recordings.
In mid-March, the world changed.
Shortly after the Choir’s successful March 7 concert for the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) entitled “Celebrating the Legacy,” the Choir announced what it hoped would be a temporary pause on March 13. Looking back, members of The Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra, and Bells at Temple Square—the all-volunteer music ensembles of The Tabernacle Choir organization—had no idea that this March concert would be their last live performance together in 2020.
Because of its vast archive of recorded work, production of Choir activities immediately transitioned to the use of the Choir’s digital recordings—many of which were new and not yet released to the public.
Despite not knowing the length of the pandemic pause, the Choir felt certain its large library of recorded music could help enrich, uplift, and encourage those facing the unique challenges of COVID. The pandemic restrictions have reinforced the Choir’s goal to increase and broaden its reach in a world that is accessing music more widely through digital streaming and the internet.
Here is what the Choir organization accomplished in 2020—even in the face of pandemic!
Music & the Spoken Word
Prior broadcasts have been re-aired since March 15. With many people looking for uplift and having church at home, average broadcast views on YouTube alone increased over six times compared to before COVID. On an annual basis, that is over 3 million more views a year.
Beginning in August, weekly episodes have been translated in more languages: eight more as of the start of this year. The reach of these foreign language broadcasts has been extended dramatically through the Facebook language pages of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—stretching from Europe to India, the Philippines, Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and beyond.
For several weeks in September and October, and each week as of December 20, newly written and recorded “Spoken Word” messages have been added to the encore broadcasts. Each has been written for the unique experiences we are facing together in the world.
Playlists of Choir music from broadcasts and programs for home-centered and Church-supported worship around the world were prepared and posted on the Choir’s YouTube and the Church's Gospel Library website. Check them out!
Annual Concerts become Digital Stream Events
Quickly after the shutdown, it was determined that the live Easter concert of Handel’s Messiah on April 10 would transition to an encore stream of the 2018 Messiah performance that drew audiences and acclaim from around the entire world. Handel’s Messiah with resources for the audiences is available here for continued viewing.
The annual Music for a Summer Evening concert held in July as part of traditional Pioneer Day celebrations was released through social media channels and websites of the Choir and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, BYUtv, and KSL TV. This concert entitled Music for a Summer Evening: Celebrating 90 Years of Broadcasting of the Choir’s weekly broadcast is also available for continued viewing.
April and October General Conference Music
Through the use of prior recordings, the Choir was able to continue to provide music—though not in person—for the April and October 2020 general conference sessions of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
To review the closing hymn “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” from the April 2020 conference with The Tabernacle Choir and Church choirs from around the world and the inspiring story behind this recording barely completed before the shutdown, check here.
April Announcement of a New Visual Identity and Digital First Strategy
Via a digital press conference, Choir president Ron Jarrett and music director Mack Wilberg unveiled a new logo for the Choir following up on its October 2018 name change.
Also announced was a new “digital first” strategy aimed at increasing the Choir’s relevance and ability to evolve in a changing media environment—and fortunately also in a COVID-dominated environment.
May Release of When You Believe: A Night at the Movies
On May 1, as the first Choir product released with the new visual identity and exemplifying the new digital first strategy, the Choir released the single track “Duel of the Fates” to audiences on the digital streaming service Spotify. It was timed to support the May 4th “Star Wars Day” celebrations.
On Spotify, the top ten locations for streams of this track included Istanbul, Turkey; Taipei, Taiwan; Sydney, Australia; Madrid, Spain; and Paris, France—an impressive new international reach for the Choir and Orchestra.
On May 22, the entire EP (extended play) album When You Believe: A Night at the Movies featuring five songs from five different movies was available for streaming, purchase, and download. Recorded earlier but previously unreleased, the EP became the Choir’s 14th album to achieve recognition as #1 on a Billboard® classical, classical crossover, or Christian music chart.
June Piping Up! Organ Concerts on Temple Square begin streaming
In June, the five Tabernacle and Temple Square organists started a new organ tradition of streaming 30-minute organ concerts from Temple Square. With more than 200,000 views on social media since then, it has now become a new weekly tradition for Temple Square. Watch Piping Up! every Wednesday at noon (mountain time) and find past concerts here. (All of these concert streams are produced in full compliance with COVID-19 restriction guidelines.)
September Recognition of the 110th Anniversary of the First Choir Recording
In September 1910, The Tabernacle Choir was the first large choir to successfully record its music. In September 2020, at a small press conference streamed live to the public on social media, the audience was able to listen to one of the actual 1910 first recordings and then view—for the very first time—the digital video of “Duel of the Fates” from Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace recorded by the Choir and Orchestra and produced prior to COVID restrictions. Check here to learn more about Choir recordings.
October and December Christmas Products and Broadcasts Release
In October, a CD, DVD, and book each entitled Christmas Day in the Morning from the 2019 Christmas concerts with Tony Award® winner Kelli O’Hara and actor Richard Thomas were released. Audiences were able to purchase or download online and to listen to the audio stream on Spotify.
The PBS and BYUtv broadcasts of Christmas with The Tabernacle Choir featuring Kelli O’Hara and Richard Thomas were broadcast and streamed to an expected audience of over 2.5 million viewers. Despite the cancellation of the live Christmas concert in 2020, this annual tradition continued to the delight of pandemic-weary audiences. For the past 15 years, the TV special has consistently been ranked at the top of Christmas programs on PBS.
Watch for a future installment of Choir Notes will the Choir organization’s plans for 2021!