A multicultural choir will be among those performing as live music returns to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ general conference this weekend for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019.
The multicultural choir will join the Tabernacle Choir Temple Square and a choir from Brigham Young University in performing at the 191st Semiannual General Conference, which will be broadcast from Salt Lake City, Utah. Music for the last three conferences has been prerecorded.
Half of the 360-member Tabernacle Choir will sing in the Saturday morning session and the other half will sing in the Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon sessions as part of the choir’s layered “Swiss cheese” COVID-19 protection plan to allow for social distancing.
The story of the multicultural choir, which will perform in the Saturday afternoon session, began in January 2020. Church leaders asked for the organization of a local choir representing Latter-day Saints throughout the world to perform in the April 2020 general conference. More than 6,000 applied but only 360 were selected, said Katie Bastian, who coordinates the music for general conference and works as a music manager in the church’s Priesthood and Family Department.
The group rehearsed up until a few weeks before the April 2020 conference was closed to the public due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At that time, we just thought, ‘We’ll be back for October,’ and we are back for October, but not the October that we thought we’d be back for,” Bastian said. “So they’ve been waiting a long time to sing, and they’ve been on our minds this entire pandemic. We’re excited to finally have the opportunity for them to sing.”
The opportunity for the multicultural choir to sing at October general conference was offered again last June, although it required the number of choir members be reduced to 180 for safety reasons.
This multicultural choir of 180 men and women represent 39 countries on six continents and 35 languages, including immigrants, refugees and people from across the United States.
“We miss the rest of our choir. It’s been hard knowing we are not complete,” Bastian said. “We’re hopeful that those that didn’t get to sing this time will have an opportunity in the future.”
It’s been a long wait but the experience will be meaningful, said Jamie Kalama Wood, director for the multicultural choir.
“We’ve waited longer than we expected. At the same time, it’s been such a beautiful journey,” Wood said. “If I can keep it together and not cry through the whole meeting, out of gratitude of hearing these beautiful voices singing, then I’ll probably just cry on the way home, out of joy.”
The whole experience felt almost too good to be true for Thom Reed, a member of the choir who also works as a deputy chief genealogical officer for FamilySearch. He was deeply disappointed when the pandemic postponed the original performance. There was talk of recording music or doing something virtual, but it didn’t feel the same. Then came the email with another plot twist, he said.
“I was actually shocked when I got another email saying, ‘Hey, we’re gonna give this another go.’ But they had to reduce the number. So it’s like, ‘It was a good experience, but they are going to cut to the people who really can sing, I probably won’t make it,’” Reed said. “I can’t imagine the process from 6,000 to 360. Then you had the 360 and you have to go down to 180? ... That had to be difficult.”
Reed made the cut. To be selected again for the choir was a “blessing,” he said.
“That I might have the opportunity to participate and represent in some way my own experience as a Latter-day Saint, particularly as a man of color, for the whole world, right? This is the Lord’s timing. Our ways are not the Lord’s ways, our thoughts are not the Lord’s thoughts. He has a plan for this,” Reed said. “It’s been a testimony to me that God’s hands are in this work the whole way, and he does it the way that he wants to, and I’m just privileged and blessed to be somewhat a part of it.”
I'm excited to sing in #generalconference in the Saturday afternoon session as a member of a multicultural choir that was originally scheduled to sing in April of 2020.— Thom Reed (@iamthomreed) September 30, 2021
Read more details on my post on #FamilySearch!https://t.co/Ky5l7uHtaQ@Ch_JesusChrist @ldsconf #ldsconf pic.twitter.com/yUzxDeUp4x
“When you watch this session, you will see a visual representation of the diversity of the body of Christ that you may not have seen before at general conference,” Reed wrote in his FamilySearch post.
Woods, the choir’s director, believes the timing worked out this way for a good reason.
“I cannot think of a better time to have a choir like this,” she said. “Who knew that when we started this in January of 2020, that this choir was actually being prepared for October 2021. ... I think we’re needed now. We just didn’t know it until now.”
Contributing: Mary Richards, KSL NewsRadio