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Once again, the Tabernacle Choir won’t perform live at general conference

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square performs during the “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast prior to the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square performs during the “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast prior to the Sunday morning session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.
Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Once again, the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square will watch from home this weekend rather than perform live at a general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The 360-member choir has not practiced or performed since mid-March, when the coronavirus pandemic was declared.

The church will use music and singing previously recorded by the choir when the 190th Semiannual General Conference of the church convenes on Saturday and Sunday, following the format used during the church’s April general conference, spokeswoman Irene Caso confirmed.

The First Presidency, as it did in April, will conduct the conference on Saturday and Sunday in a largely empty auditorium. Only senior church leaders and those speaking and praying will attend the sessions.

It is unclear when the last conference prior to 2020 was held without the choir, but it was likely during World War II, when several general conferences went forward without audiences and were held in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square or in the assembly room of the Salt Lake Temple.

In April, the choir had a few newly recorded performances available because the church’s leader, President Russell M. Nelson, had recognized that the spreading coronavirus outbreak — it was not yet a pandemic — could disrupt the conference and asked the choir to begin making contingency plans.

The choir recorded some hymns in early March that it had begun to practice for the April conference, including a special one that was used to close the final session. Six smaller choirs from around the world were edited into that recording of the Tabernacle Choir to create a stirring rendition of “We Thank Thee, O God, For a Prophet.”

The smaller choirs were recorded prior to the pandemic’s restrictions on group gatherings. They were recorded singing in their native languages in meaningful locations in their cities: Accra, Ghana; Mexico City, Mexico; Seoul, South Korea; São Paulo, Brazil; Frankfurt, Germany; and Auckland, New Zealand.

A choir of Latter-day Saints in Auckland, New Zealand, records a performance of the beloved Church hymn “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” in early 2020. The recording allowed Church choirs from six different continents to virtually join a prerecorded performance of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during the Church’s April 2020 general conference. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t allow choirs to sing live.
A choir of Latter-day Saints in Auckland, New Zealand, records a performance of the beloved Church hymn “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” in early 2020. The recording allowed Church choirs from six different continents to virtually join a prerecorded performance of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during the Church’s April 2020 general conference. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t allow choirs to sing live.
Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Other previously recorded performances of the choir that were used in April were from past general conferences, some more than a decade old, which led to some tender moments as families saw loved ones who had died after the recordings were made. Retired choir members enjoyed seeing themselves singing with the choir again.

“It was such a happy time in my life,” Matthew Toone said last spring. “Seeing that recording today brought all those memories back with full force, and also helped me to remember all the wonderful people who were in the choir with me during that time. It was like a ray of sunshine to my soul during these challenging times.”

The choir newsletter distributed the day before conference last April said that choir members experienced profound feelings while prerecording songs last March.

“They have all felt the chaos and tumult of the world but understand that now more than ever the world needs the power of music to uplift us, to help us find peace and comfort and to bring us closer to Jesus Christ,” the newsletter said.

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir was formed to sing at a conference of the church in August 1847, just 29 days after pioneers reached the Salt Lake Valley. The choir changed its name in 2018.

The choir has achieved international acclaim, winning a Grammy, an Emmy and producing two platinum records and five gold records.

The choir’s weekly broadcast, “Music & the Spoken Word,” usually is carried live on 2,000 stations each week. The show has rerun previous shows since March.