The Tabernacle Choir won’t go to Europe this summer, but it has plans for a bold expansion

New choir president Michael Leavitt talks to the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square before their first rehearsal of the pandemic.
New choir president Michael Leavitt talks to the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square before they begin their rehearsal at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021. It was the choir’s first rehearsal in more than 18 months. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

New president Mike Leavitt is unveiling the framework of a quest for a radical increase in the choir’s digital, international and social media reach.

The new president of already world-famous Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square unveiled the framework of vivid plans to radically expand the choir’s global impact during a virtual meeting with the choir Thursday night.

President Mike Leavitt announced four new objectives to:

  • Reach more countries on future international tours.
  • Dramatically expand the choir’s digital audience.
  • Diversify its membership.
  • Play a larger role in the missionary efforts of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

At the same time, he announced the choir had cancelled its planned tour to Europe. The tour to Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Wales and Scotland had been scheduled for 2020 but first was postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then again to 2022.

“The recent Omicron surge has not permitted the extensive monthslong preparation needed for the choir to be able to accomplish the diplomatic and missionary purposes of the tour,” he said. “Even though by summer conditions may have changed to make travel feasible, circumstances simply don’t allow us to prepare adequately.”

Leavitt, a former governor of Utah who also served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said that when he was called as the choir’s new president last August by President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the church leader asked him and his counselors to find ways to innovate and transform the choir to meet the church’s mission.

“President Nelson and his counselors expressed their enthusiastic approval of what we will discuss with you tonight,” Leavitt told the choir.

Leavitt said the four new objectives announced Thursday are a framework and that more details would be provided over the next three months. He said realizing the goals would happen over several years.

Here are the four objectives:

Expand the choir’s digital audience

The Tabernacle Choir’s social media audience now boasts hundreds of thousands of subscribers. For example, the choir’s Twitter account has 116,600 followers. Its Facebook page has 571,000 followers.

Leavitt said the choir and Orchestra at Temple Square now will aspire to reach tens of millions on those and other platforms.

Leavitt said the choir will begin by moving away from CDs and DVDs and embrace streaming on social media, as it does on the choir’s YouTube channel, which has 625,000 subscribers.

The choir is gathering a team of experts inside and outside of church headquarters to launch its social media efforts.

It also plans to invest heavily in information technology, said Gary Porter, one of Leavitt’s counselors in the choir presidency.

Leavitt became the choir’s new president in August, and added Elder L. Whitney Clayton and Porter as counselors.

Maximize the choir’s missionary role

“It is often easier to start a gospel conversation by making a gift of sacred music to a friend or stranger than it is to ask direct questions about their faith,” Elder Clayton said. “We also believe there are ways the choir and orchestra can give a boost to the missions of the church as they perform around the world.”

Diversify to reflect the worldwide church

“An important part of this objective is for the choir to reflect the nature of the church’s global membership,” Leavitt said. “This has been a conversation for many years and earnest efforts have been made to incorporate members whose heritage reflects the worldwide church. The First Presidency has authorized the choir presidency to explore new alternatives that will help us accomplish this objective.”

Boost the choir’s worldwide visibility

Leavitt said the choir wants to tour more nation’s to make the choir more visible internationally.

“We plan to be seen in more countries where the choir’s physical presence will make a difference by lifting missionary work, inspiring member devotion and building important friendships for the church,” he said.

Porter said the choir also will make a major investment to expand its wardrobe production capacity and seeks ways to increase and elevate the use of the Choir School.

Omicron cancels choir rehearsals and performances again

The original COVID-19 outbreak prevented the choir from rehearsing together or performing the live weekly television and radio broadcasts of “Music and the Spoken Word” for 555 days.

The choir resumed rehearsals in September and live broadcasts of “Music and the Spoken Word” in October.

However, the choir halted rehearsals again last month when the Omicron outbreak worsened. It began airing encore broadcasts of its weekly show again on Jan. 9.

The choir now tentatively plans to resume its regular weekly schedule of rehearsals on March 3 with a live broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word” on March 6, choir spokeswoman Kim Farah told the Deseret News.

The Tabernacle Choir usually tours frequently. The choir has toured 10 times since 2000, mostly in the United States and Canada. In 2016, the choir performed in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands.

20160711 Music director Mack Wilberg raises arms in acknowledgement of performance by Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square at concert in Brussels, Belgium July 11, 2016. R. Scott Lloyd, R. Scott Lloyd
20160711 Music director Mack Wilberg raises arms in acknowledgement of performance by Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square at concert in Brussels, Belgium July 11, 2016.

The choir’s last tour was in 2018, when it went to California, British Columbia and Washington state.

The choir initially had booked the following locations for the 2020 tour that was postponed and finally canceled on Thursday:

  • Konserthuset Stockholm in Stockholm.
  • Finlandia Hall in Helsinki.
  • DR Koncerthuset in Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • Oslo, Norway.
  • St. David’s Hall in Cardiff, Wales.
  • International Convention Centre Wales in Cardiff, Wales.
  • Usher Hall in Edinburgh, Scotland.
20160701 The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square perform on July 1 at Meistersingerhalle, the principal concert and convention hall in the centuries-old city of Nuremberg in Germany, as part of their 20-day European tour. Deb Gehris, Deb Gehris
20160701 The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square perform on July 1 at Meistersingerhalle, the principal concert and convention hall in the centuries-old city of Nuremberg in Germany, as part of their 20-day European tour.

Further details about the tour cancellation, including information on ticket refunds, will be posted when available at tabchoir.org/tour.

The choir’s roots date to 1847. It was named the Mormon Tabernacle Choir when the Tabernacle was completed in 1867 and first toured in 1893. Its name changed to The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square in 2018.