Ronald B. Jarrett has known since March that his time as president of the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square was coming to an end.
“It’s been a long time that I’ve had to keep this quiet,” the 73-year-old said with a chuckle.
But after more than 20 years with the world-famous choir in various capacities — nearly nine years as a member, three as assistant to the president, and nine more as president — Jarrett is ready to step aside and let new president Michael O. Leavitt assume leadership.
How do you summarize in a few words one of the greatest experiences of your life?
“There was a great deal of joy and fulfillment in working with these truly wonderful volunteers in performing music that would touch the hearts of people, change lives and offer comfort,” Jarrett said in an interview with the Deseret News. “When I look back on this experience, I think of all the thousands and thousands of people that we had the opportunity of getting to know and performed for, and then the people in the choir who worked so hard to do that. I am eternally grateful for that opportunity to serve. It was a blessing.”
Despite the strange last year with no rehearsals or live performances due to COVID-19, Jarrett and his wife, Lucie, are looking forward to spending more time with their family and traveling.
Before walking out the door, the outgoing president shared five memorable experiences from his time as president of the Tabernacle Choir.
1. From singing member to Tabernacle Choir president
Jarrett holds the unique distinction of being the first Tabernacle Choir president to have also been a singing member of the choir. He sang from 1999 to 2008.
In his outgoing interview as a singing member of the choir in 2008, Jarrett told then-president F. MacRay “Mac” Christensen he wasn’t ready to leave the choir.
“I said, ‘I know you’ve heard that from everybody you’ve talked to, but if there’s anything I can do for you, know that I would be happy to do it,’” Jarrett said.
An appointment to serve as assistant to the choir president came a week or two later. Jarrett served in that position from 2008 to 2011.
“I was just ecstatic. I just felt like, ‘Wow, I’ve been rescued. I can stay longer,’” he said.
In 2011, the Jarretts accepted a call to serve a public affairs mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Europe. They were assigned to the area office in Frankfurt, Germany. Jarrett thought his official association with the choir was over.
At one point during the mission, Jarrett received an email from Christensen saying he could use help if he wanted to come back. Jarrett said thanks, but he and his wife were loving their mission.
Then he received an email from the church’s then-President Thomas S. Monson and was soon after called to be the president of the choir in 2012, replacing Christensen.
“That’s how it all started,” Jarrett said.
2. European tour in 2016
One of Jarrett’s top goals when he became president was to see the world-renowned choir perform overseas again, something that had not happened since a tour of southern Europe in 1998.
The trip turned out to be a true blessing for everyone involved. Not only was it a good experience for the choir members, but the church received positive exposure and missionary work increased.
“Every aspect of that tour came together beautifully,” Jarrett said. “That truly was very memorable because it was a goal and because it made such a difference for the visibility of the church.”
3. Tabernacle Christmas concert featuring the ‘Sesame Street’ Muppets
Another goal on Jarrett’s list was reaching a younger audience.
“I felt like our audience going into this was the gray and silver-haired generation,” he said. “I thought there’s got to be some people out there that would love our music if they were only exposed to it. So our efforts were to really try and reach the younger generation.”
One pivotal event that contributed to this goal was the 2014 Christmas concert featuring the “Sesame Street” Muppets. Cookie Monster, Elmo, Big Bird, Bert, Ernie, Grover, The Count, Abby Cadabby and Rosita joined the choir, Orchestra at Temple Square, Bells on Temple Square and returning guest artist Santino Fontana on stage at the Conference Center. Organizers lowered the required age from 8 to 6 to allow more young children to attend with their families.
“Wow, was that ever fun. We had such a good experience. ... I think that was a true winner for all of us,” Jarrett said. “I think it made many, many memories for families and people, and I hope there were a lot of young people who will remember that and start listening more to the choir as they get a little bit older.”
4. Performing at West Point, New York, on the Fourth of July
As part of its two-week Atlantic Coast tour in the summer of 2015, the choir and orchestra were invited to perform with the West Point Band at a Fourth of July concert at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
Organizers kept the choir and orchestra’s involvement a secret for a long time, only informing them as they rode the bus from the hotel to the venue.
More than 10,000 people attended the concert in a beautiful setting that overlooks the Hudson River, followed by a fireworks show.
Jarrett found out later that a woman who played in the orchestra who wasn’t able to go on tour had a son just arrive at the military academy. Jarrett was grateful the choir could perform for this young man as he had just arrived.
The other memorable moment came when the choir was ushered to the waiting 11 buses below the fireworks show so they could make a quick exit ahead of the crowd.
“The buses were right underneath all the huge fireworks. They were just exploding everywhere,” Jarrett said. “It was a fantastic show and really an amazing experience.”
5. Lending a ‘listening ear’ and the ‘Lord’s choir’
Finally, Jarrett concluded with two memories that are more personal.
First, when possible, he made an effort to offer a “listening ear” to anyone who needed it in the organization. Many of these individuals later expressed their appreciation for his help.
“This is not the church’s choir. It’s not America’s choir. It’s really the Lord’s choir and he directs us. He puts us where we need to be.” — Ronald B. Jarrett
“I wanted to be a listening ear to them to let them know that they were appreciated and cared for,” he said. “I had many, many opportunities to sit with individuals and talk about a concern they had, or a health problem or a family need, all those kind of very personal type of interviews, where we can really talk heart-to-heart. ... That became a true experience of joy.”
Second, Jarrett reflected on traveling with Barry Anderson, the choir’s administrative manager, to scout tour locations, venues, places of interest, opportunities to give service and other tour activities. Over years of planning tours, Jarrett acknowledged a divine hand of guidance that has strengthened his faith.
“This is not the church’s choir. It’s not America’s choir. It’s really the Lord’s choir and he directs us. He puts us where we need to be. If we’re told no, then something else is there that we need to do. We need to search a little more, we need to do a little more work and then he’ll reveal it to us,” Jarrett said with emotion in his voice. “Those are some of my very meaningful experiences.”