Craig Jessop will lead Utah State University's music department beginning May 5, just a month after he resigned his position as musical director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

When announcing his departure plans to the choir during a March 4 rehearsal, Jessop told choir members he planned to keep active in the music world, including teaching.

That announcement was like the shot of a starting pistol — its ring startling the unsuspecting while sending institutions looking for talent on a scramble to their telephones.

Jessop said Friday he has been gratified to receive "many" contacts since announcing he was leaving the choir, but the call from Utah State — his undergraduate alma mater — caught his full attention.

USU interim department head Nicholas Morrison called. "He said this position had been open for several months. 'Is there any possibility you would be interested?' I said 'absolutely I would.' So I immediately made application and it happened very, very quickly."

He met with school administrators, then asked if he could meet with some of the students. "Overnight they assembled a forum of about 150 kids," Jessop said. "I had just a wonderful experience and it played exactly into what I had wanted to do as I continue on this next state, this next chapter of my life."

Jessop said he loved "every minute" of his work with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, acknowledging the job was also "very intense."

The career change "has been a long and careful, and prayerful decision. While it may have seemed abrupt to many, it was not abrupt in our lives," Jessop said. "My wife just had (hip replacement) surgery and I have been able to care for her. We're looking forward to having some more time with one another and with our family," he said. "The opportunity of going to Utah State is just right. The perfect way for us to go into this next chapter of life."

When Jessop decided to leave the choir position, he said, "I had no idea at the time exactly where I might go, though at the time I thought I might go back into education." The USU opportunity "was providential. It is amazing how it all turned out, and how it happened."

Jessop said he is excited about Utah State's relatively new Caine School of the Arts, an umbrella integrating the different disciplines "so everyone is working together in their various specialties and cooperative ventures. It is a way of saving costs but more importantly a way of building teams."

"I know that Utah State has been a great, great institution for caring for and preparing students. I'm a result of the education I have there. I think they have a fabulous faculty," he said. "I'm an Aggie. My wife is an Aggie and all four of our children are Aggies."

USU sophomore and music major Catherine Hatch attended the introductory meeting with Jessop. "I think that Dr. Jessop would do a wonderful job and is very qualified," she said. "He'll have the ability to get things done. He is also very approachable."

USU President Stan Albrecht said the appointment "will lift and extend the excellence of our music programs and benefit our students, faculty and the larger community. His accomplishments are unquestionably impressive. We are thrilled."

Jessop earned a master's degree in music education from Brigham Young University and a doctorate of musical arts in conducting and performance practice from Stanford University. He began his career in education as choral director at Granite High School.

Jessop spent 16 years leading music programs for the Air Force, first as director of the Singing Sergeants in Washington, D.C. from 1979 to 1987, then commander and conductor of the Band of the United States Air Forces in Europe until 1991, then commander and conductor of the Air Combat Command Heartland of America Band until 1995.

He retired from the Air Force at the rank of lieutenant colonel when he was asked by church officials to work with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, serving as director from 1999 until his resignation in March.