The Inspiring Story Behind a Worldwide Choir
Around the world, choirs of Church members from six continents joined The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square to sing “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” at the close of the Sunday afternoon session of the April 2020 general conference. It was this specially structured performance, prepared through the use of modern digital technology, that left conference participants feeling a sense of unity with others around the world—yet watching separately and safely in their homes.
As promised by Church President Russell M. Nelson, the April 2020 general conference was indeed a memorable one for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Instead of originating from the Conference Center which holds 21,000 people, the speakers in each session gave their talks from a small auditorium on Temple Square in Salt Lake City without a live audience and all the music was pre-recorded.
However, even before COVID-19, pre-recorded music was envisioned for the close of the last session. Plans for the combined choral number with multiple choirs from around the world had been made. The concept was to include pre-recorded elements from these choirs with a live performance of The Tabernacle Choir.
With encouragement from the First Presidency, Mack Wilberg, music director of the Choir, prepared a new arrangement of “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” which was recorded by the Choir. Then a sound engineer added a “click track” (a sound like a metronome to keep the music rhythm consistent) to the recording before it was sent to each of the designated choral groups for their rehearsals. Plans for filming and preparing each choir were made.
As the COVID-19 pandemic began to move throughout the world, a sense of urgency was felt to complete the project. With a shortened timeline and before travel restrictions were put in place, recordings of most of the choirs throughout the world were quickly done. Only one of the international choirs had to record itself just before gatherings in that country were discouraged.
But one choir still had to be recorded: The Tabernacle Choir who would now not be able to sing the hymn live in the final conference session. Providentially, at the very last rehearsal that the Choir was permitted to hold before COVID restrictions began, the 360 members of the Choir were able to record the final portion.
“With profound foresight,” remarked Trent Walker, the senior broadcast engineer in charge of this project, “the Lord knew we needed this special closing hymn prepared for this unique conference. We were blessed to be able to capture and record what we needed before restrictions were in place.”
Members of The Tabernacle Choir have remarked that their feelings during these conference recordings were deeper, more profound, and more powerful than other previous conference preparation experiences. Like everyone, they felt the chaos and tumult of the world, but understood that at that time more than ever, the world needed the power of music to uplift, to help find peace and comfort, and to bring listeners closer to the divine.
Former president of the Church, David O. McKay, once remarked: “Music is truly the universal language, and when it is excellently expressed how deeply it moves our souls.” Having choirs around the world singing the same uplifting and affirmative music of the Restoration, in multiple languages, brought a sense of calm and unity at the conference conclusion enabling members everywhere to go forward in a world full of challenges.