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Tabernacle Choir Director Jessop resigns

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Mormon Tabernacle Choir music director Craig Jessop resigned Tuesday night during a meeting with members of the choir, leaving the group stunned and emotional, according to one source.

He made the announcement to choir members following a regular rehearsal. Associate music director Mack Wilberg will serve as interim choir director.

Jessop apparently read a letter to choir members announcing his resignation. At first, one source said, the group wasn't sure who the letter was from. Then it began to dawn on them.

A press release issued late Tuesday night by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints quoted Jessop as saying, "I now find myself at a major crossroads of life. With long and prayerful consideration I have decided to resign as director of the choir.

"I look forward to new challenges and opportunities and I intend to keep active in the musical world including teaching — the career that I originally began my musical journey."

Jessop said he and his wife, RaNae, and their family "are looking forward to spending more time together with our children and grandsons."

Choir president Mac Christensen told choir members that Jessop had taken the choir to great heights with each concert, tour and performance, according to the release.

"Now the choir, with Mack Wilberg as interim director, will move forward building on the foundation that both Craig and Mack and their predecessors have helped to lay," Christensen said. "Along with the First Presidency, we extend our love and appreciation to both Craig and to his family."

One choir member who didn't want to be identified said members of the group were "simply stunned" when Jessop read his letter of resignation during their practice session Tuesday night.

"We cried. We stood up spontaneously and started to applaud. But that doesn't even begin to say how we feel. We were just stunned. There are no other words for it. We never saw it coming."

She said Jessop's departure will leave a large hole in the organization, "but as long as he is OK, the most important thing is him and his family. We love him and if this is what's best for him, it's what he needs to do.

"I have to have faith that if Craig feels this is the right thing for him and his family then the Lord will provide. I don't know how. I love the gospel and have faith that it will be OK, but I sure don't know how."

Jessop was appointed music director and conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in December 1999, after having served as the choir's associate director since 1995. During his tenure, the choir performed with world-renowned artists and performers at Christmas concerts in the LDS Conference Center that became so popular, more than 1 million tickets were requested for the 2007 performances.

The release said Jessop's vision was to bring the music of the choir to everyone. "My passion has always been music and the power of music — helping other people in lifting their spirits. And whenever we're on tour I see the emotion that the choir can generate from the audience. It's a wonderful experience."

During his tenure, the choir and orchestra at Temple Square launched a private record label in March 2003 and subsequently releasing over 10 albums, several of which hit No. 1 on Billboard's Classical Music chart. They performed 20 times during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, including the opening ceremonies.

Under his baton, the group received the Special Recognition Award from the International Radio and Television Society Foundation and the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush. In April 2004 the choir and its Music and the Spoken Word broadcast were inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Jessop is scheduled to present workshops this summer at the prestigious Berkshire Choral Festival.

E-mail: carrie@desnews.com