The Tabernacle Choir: The Music Volunteer Experience
On May 15, 2022, a special meeting was held after the Sunday performance of Music & the Spoken Word in the Salt Lake Tabernacle to honor thirty-two retiring members of The Tabernacle Choir organization—27 Choir members and 5 Orchestra members.
Family members and friends of the honored members were invited guests at the meeting conducted by Choir President Michael O. Leavitt. Together, the retiring Choir and Orchestra members—all volunteers—contributed an astonishing 440 years of volunteer service. When singers are accepted into the Choir it’s with the understanding that they can sing for a total of 20 years or until they turn 60 years of age—whichever comes first. Orchestra members do not have the same age or length of service guidelines. For these thirty-two music volunteers, their retirement day had arrived.
This meeting was different than other prior meetings of its type. Previously, those retiring submitted written remembrances of their service which were then read by Choir music director Mack Wilberg as the retiree came forward to receive a plaque or certificate. This time, the honorees were asked to film a short video of themselves delivering their own parting remarks. The videos were shown on screens and monitors in the Tabernacle.
As the videos were shown, it was interesting to learn what had been meaningful to each member about their performing experiences. Because there is always at least one public performance each week for Music & the Spoken Word, as well as recordings and concerts throughout the year, the members had each contributed at least six hours of rehearsal and performance time every week throughout their many years of service—with concert and recording weeks requiring many more.
Mack Wilberg, music director of the Choir, has often explained that The Tabernacle Choir is like “a speeding train never stopping to let its passengers off.” Yet, even with this huge time commitment coming to an end, the personal comments from the retirees were not about the time they spent—but about the music, their feelings about each other, the audience's reactions to their performances, and their increased personal testimonies of the Savior Jesus Christ.
Here are some excerpts from their remarks:
“My participation in the Choir has fostered some of the most joyous and spiritual experiences of my life.”
“I’ll miss the moments of being enveloped in the glorious sound of 365 unified singers, with the power of the full Orchestra at a crescendo, and the vibration of the organ. These have been powerful moments and have been important in strengthening my testimony and in my ability to feel my Savior's love for me.”
“The most meaningful thing was to learn how the [music of the] Choir so deeply affected people—tears of joy, melted hearts, gasps of amazement, changed attitudes and perceptions. I learned so much.”
“There are many, many amazing experiences I will remember, but I think it’s the little things that have changed me the most: waiting as Mack Wilberg and Ryan Murphy lift their baton, and 360 people draw a collective breath with one purpose only, to sing praise to God.”
“The music will continue to be imprinted on my mind and soul as I listen to and watch the Choir perform some of the most beautiful music ever written.”
“The diversity of experiences has been incredible—from famous concert halls to local chapels. I had no idea I would sing from sea to shining sea, and beyond. At one concert in Berlin after we finished singing ‘The walls come tumbling down’ from ‘The Battle of Jericho,’ I remember hearing the voice of a fellow in the back of the audience giving an emphatic ‘Yeah!’”
“It’s been difficult, thrilling, intimidating, inspiring, amazing, humbling, seemingly impossible at times, a rich delight, a great sacrifice, a singular opportunity, but overall, a great experience! Where else would you sing inspiring music for hundreds or thousands, broadcast to millions of people every week? Where almost every performance ended with a standing ovation by a gracious audience? Under the tutelage of our extraordinarily gifted musical directors, we performed, recorded, and filmed with some of the greatest talents. We sang transporting, magical arrangements, and grand musical works for Church leaders, presidents, and peoples.”
“What this experience has taught me is that God is in the details of our lives and that music is a healing balm. That has increased my testimony and love for the Savior.”
President Michael O. Leavitt, president of The Tabernacle Choir, closed this special meeting with an expression of gratitude and a charge to the retiring members of both ensembles: “Your Choir experience has provided unique skills, insights, and experiences. Use them. Find new ways to serve. Bless the lives of others in a way that perpetually magnifies your time in the Choir. In that way, your Choir service never ends, but will be an eternal blessing to you and the Kingdom of God.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, the honorees who were seated on the Tabernacle stage in front of the Choir, turned so that the Choir joined by those assembled could sing the Choir’s signature closing song “God Be with You Till We Meet Again” one more time. Indeed, may God be with these wonderful musicians as they continue to bless the lives of others with their musical talents.