SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time in decades, the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square will not perform live at this weekend’s unique general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
But the church’s leader, President Russell M. Nelson, recognized nearly two months ago that the spreading coronavirus outbreak — it was not yet a pandemic — could disrupt the conference. He asked the choir to begin making contingency plans in case government restrictions prohibited the world-famous, 360-member choir of volunteers from gathering in the Conference Center to sing, choir spokeswoman Kim Farah said.
The choir began in March to record the hymns it had been practicing for the 190th Annual General Conference. The recordings were done a few at a time after several of the choir’s weekly “Music & the Spoken Word” broadcasts, before Utah’s state and local governments issued the current restrictions on assembling in groups.
The music for the conference will be a combination of recordings the choir made before COVID-19 restrictions ended the sessions and some past recordings of the choir, Farah said.
“Choir members have remarked that their feelings during these rehearsals and recordings were deeper, more profound and more powerful than other previous conference preparation experiences,” according to the choir’s email newsletter distributed Friday.
“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 reads.
The conference will be held as scheduled, but with only a handful of people attending each session, without a live audience and from an auditorium on Temple Square rather than in the 21,000-seat Conference Center with the organ that is as much a symbol of the choir as its singers are.
It is unclear when the last conference was held without the choir, but it was likely during World War II, when several 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.
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.
“Music & the Spoken Word” is broadcast on 2,000 stations each week.