Bishop Caussé: We Sing the Music of the Spirit
“Music is a universal language of its own,” claims Gérald Caussé, Presiding Bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “People don’t want to just hear a good rendition of music; they want to feel something.” And that’s what The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square is all about. They are ambassadors for the Church carrying the power of the Spirit to the world.
Bishop Caussé describes the Choir’s role as one of building relationships and bridging cultural gaps and language barriers. “Music is an international language, sacred music in particular.” When the Choir sings, he explains, “there is no language anymore. There are no borders. Music is a way for the Church to reach out to all the world, all people, and communicate with them from the heart.”
When President Russell M. Nelson asked Bishop Caussé in 2018 to be the advisor to the Choir, he asked the right man.
Steeped in music from his childhood, Bishop Caussé remembers the first time he ever saw the Choir. He was 10 years old when the Choir performed a concert in Paris, France. With his parents and siblings he visited a friend’s home to watch a broadcast of the then Mormon Tabernacle Choir concert in Paris, part of the 1973 European tour. (The Caussé family didn’t have a television.) “I felt really proud of them,” he recalls.
His mother loved music, so the Caussé family always had music playing in their home, including many vinyl records of the Choir. “It was an important part of our family life,” he explains. Bishop Caussé is a gifted musician in his own right. He scoffs at being referred to as a concert pianist. He has been playing the piano since he was seven years old; his first Church assignment at age 12 was to be the Primary pianist in his branch in Bordeaux, France. He also grew up singing and accompanying many Church choirs.
He appreciates the “cultural overtone” of his Choir assignment. “When I spend so much time reviewing day-to-day operations of the Church, building buildings and looking at financial plans, it is a blessing to have the Choir in my life,” he says.
He came to his assignment just as President Nelson put new emphasis on the name of the Church. He participated in a number of meetings and quickly got to know the Choir leadership and their focus and vision for the Choir. He was able to see the team at work. “Entering this new phase, we had to clarify our objectives and our strategy,” Bishop Caussé explains. From those deliberations came the new name, The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square. It was the first Church entity to shift away from the “Mormon” designation.
The Choir is an entity of the Church but is very unique. Bishop Caussé sees his role as both a “shepherd” and an “advocate.” “We don’t choose our assignments in the Church,” he comments, “but this is one I was delighted to pick up. I love the Choir and have a passion for music. I hope I can serve the Choir and help the members in their lives.” Prior to Bishop Caussé’s appointment, President Thomas S. Monson supervised the Choir and before him, President Gordon B. Hinckley. Bishop Caussé was called as a General Authority in 2008, the first from France, and was called as Presiding Bishop in 2015. He also serves as the chairman of the O.C. Tanner Gift of Music committee, whose purpose is to provide periodic concerts by The Tabernacle Choir and Utah Symphony, like the recent one in celebration of the Golden Spike anniversary, as a free gift to the community.
He listens even more intently to the Choir at general conference. “I like to go up at the end of the last session on Sunday and say, ‘Thank you.’ I think Mack Wilberg’s new arrangements of many of the hymns that we have in the hymnbook have done something for the Church. The members are lifted up when they hear the words in a different context, and they feel the music all the way down to their souls.”
In his travels around the world for the Church, Bishop Caussé hears many choirs. “If I want to say you did very well, I say, ‘You sound like The Tabernacle Choir.’”
The Choir’s greatest strength is also its greatest challenge. “Being a member of the Choir is a tough job,” he says. He understands the rigor of being a member of the Choir. They study their music on their own; they practice at home; and they attend rehearsals at least once a week, sometimes twice, in addition to weekly and special performances. They act as professionals, yet they are volunteers. When they travel, their whole family is impacted. At the recent yearly retirement recognition of members of the Choir who had served from 5 to 20 years, Bishop Caussé shook the hand of each one, thanking them for their service. He also acknowledges that spouses should be praised as well as all the other family members for their many sacrifices.
He hopes the Choir will be able to broaden its representation of the worldwide Church, though he recognizes that the diversity of the world is hard to find in Utah. “We’re still trying to figure out the best way to do that. We can’t have singers in Japan and Brazil.” (Members of the Choir need to live within 100 miles of Temple Square for the logistics of rehearsals and concerts.)
He is also encouraging the Choir to continue to reach out and touch the hearts of the younger generation who are technologically savvy. “We need to get to the hearts of the people using the internet, websites, YouTube, and others. The Choir has been working on this for several years with great success.” He used the example that 10 years ago, Music and the Spoken Word, the Sunday morning broadcast from Temple Square, was only seen by people in Utah and in pockets around the country. “Now I see on Facebook a friend from France remarking that he saw the recent broadcast and that it was great.”
Bishop Caussé is also pleased that recent Choir concerts of Handel’s Messiah have broken new ground. “We have participation from all over the world with people recording themselves and singing with the Choir.”
The Choir is different from any other choir. “We spread the message that we believe in Jesus Christ. It’s a message of the values of Christianity, and it appeals to all religions of the world.” He describes the Choir’s mission as bringing the fruits of the spirit to the world as outlined by the Apostle Paul in Galatians: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22–23).
Bishop Caussé’s vision is clear: “The real music we want to sing is the music of the Spirit.”