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Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square starts in-person rehearsals

By Genelle Pugmire - | Sep 22, 2021

Health care workers prepare to administer COVID-19 tests on members of the Tabernacle Choir and members of the media on Tuesday, September 21, 2021, in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, leading up to the iconic Latter-day Saint music group’s first in-person rehearsal since the beginning of the pandemic. (Courtesy Intellectual Reserves)

Fans all over the world, each Sunday, leave chat messages on YouTube about the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square and how they long to have them back in person. On Tuesday, the next step to in-person singing became a reality.

On Tuesday evening, members of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square reunited at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City for their first in-person rehearsal in 19 months.

“We’ve been waiting for this for so long and we’re anxiously ready for it, we’re so ready to be here,” said Staci Dame, a member of the Choir from Layton.

Choir leadership paused rehearsals, performances and recordings when the pandemic began to take hold in March 2020.

“There are so many steps that have been taken to make us feel safe, to make us feel at home, to make us feel like we can be in our element,” said Dame. “We feel very lucky to be able to sing and to share our testimonies of the Savior.”

Members of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square rehearse in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, on Tuesday, September 21, 2021, for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. (Courtesy Intellectual Reserves)

A few days before the anticipated reunion, choir leaders announced a seven-step COVID-19 protection plan in an organization-wide “Restart Orientation” videoconference, according to a public statement.

“The purpose of our COVID plan is to keep the virus out of the loft in which the Choir sings,” said Michael O. Leavitt, the Choir organization’s new president and lead of the health-centered plan, who previously served as U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

When President Leavitt began serving in August, he and a team of health experts, including Choir medical director Dr. David Palmer and other staff, developed the plan in consultation with leaders of the global faith, according to a church statement.

“We sought the advice of medical professionals and public health officials to say, ‘What’s the best way for us to keep the virus out of the loft?'” Leavitt said. “We know that we can sing safely if the virus isn’t there.”

“Before every event, every person that comes in the building is tested, and then there are other things that we’re doing,” said James Sutherland, a Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Utah, who is also a part of the Choir’s committee that put together the plan for the return to singing.

A healthcare worker carries out a COVID-19 test on a member of the media on Tuesday, September 21, 2021, in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, leading up to the iconic Latter-day Saint music group’s first in-person rehearsal since the beginning of the pandemic. (Courtesy Intellectual Reserves)

“Asking people to self-report if they have exposure, asking people to use caution in their everyday lives outside of Choir rehearsals, wearing masks outside of those situations as well, so that we can do everything we can to prevent people from being infected,” Sutherland shared.

Dame was one of the first members of the iconic Latter-day Saint music group to arrive at the Conference Center on Tuesday. Before doing anything else, she sat down to take a COVID-19 test.

“I am so ready to sing my heart out,” said Dame, shortly after testing negative for the virus. She then made her way to the auditorium, where other Tabernacle Choir members gathered to rehearse.

Rehearsals and performances of the Orchestra at Temple Square and the Bells at Temple Square will come later, as will live broadcasts of “Music & the Spoken Word,” according to church information.

“We’re looking for ways in which we can coexist with this virus, and the best way is to protect ourselves from it,” Leavitt said.

He asked for patience as the protocols are implemented and for the faith and united prayers of all involved for a successful outcome. Leavitt also said the choir is prepared to pause rehearsals if needed.

The Choir’s multi-level strategy includes:

  • Vaccinations: All performers must be vaccinated and provide evidence of immunization. (Those not vaccinated will be granted a special leave until conditions improve.)
  • Screening: Those with health conditions that limit the effectiveness of their immune systems, even if vaccinated, or with immunocompromised household members will also be granted special leave.
  • Testing: Performers and support personnel will be tested prior to each rehearsal and performance.
  • Social Distancing: At the October 2021 general conference, half of the Choir will sing at each session the Choir performs to allow for social distancing.
  • Face Coverings: Choir members will wear masks when gathered except when rehearsing or performing.
  • Self-Reporting: Organization members will report COVID symptoms or household exposure and stay home with any symptoms — even sniffles.
  • Ventilation: Performances will be limited to the Conference Center for now because of greater ventilation safety.

The Choir, the Orchestra at Temple Square and the Bells on Temple Square all act as goodwill ambassadors for the LDS Church.

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