The once-Mormon Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square has been largely out of commission for the past 19 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Broadcasts of its famed Music and the Spoken Word have consisted of reruns. The choir’s typical imposing presence during General Conference has been replaced by replays from the archives.
In August, choir leadership announced a pause in a return to rehearsals as it consulted with experts on the best way to move forward. In that time, the choir also installed a new president, former Utah governor and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt.
Now with General Conference set to return to the main hall of the Conference Center, albeit without patrons, the choir has released its plans for a safe return to activity, starting with a “Restart Orientation” that was held on September 9 over Zoom (poor GoToMeeting).
President Leavitt, arguably the most celebrated TabCATS president perhaps ever (seriously, do you recall a time when there was so much coverage about a choir president and his counselors?), has put forth a seven-layer plan, much like a seven-layer burrito! President Leavitt equated the plan to Swiss cheese: one slice has holes in it, but as you stack the slices, the holes are covered. Similarly, every step in the process will provide a layer of protection where the whole is greater than the one.
The plan consists of the following:
- Vaccinations: All performers must be vaccinated and provide evidence of being immunized. Those unable to get vaccinated will be granted special leave until conditions improve.
- Screening: Those with special health conditions that weaken their immune systems even if vaccinated or those living in an immunocompromised household will also be granted special leave.
- Testing: Every performer and all support personnel will be tested prior to a performance. (Nothing says getting to your head voice like having a swab rammed up your nasal cavity!)
- Social Distancing: Only half of the choir will sing at each session of General Conference. Whether this means roughly 150 people crammed in the center or spread across the entire stand is unclear.
- Face Coverings: Masks are required except when actively rehearsing (i.e. singing) or performing (i.e. singing).
- Self-Reporting: Organization members must report COVID symptoms or household exposures, even sniffles among kids.
- Ventilation: Performances are limited to the Conference Center because of ventilation safety.
Singing is, of course, plosive. What is plosive, you ask? Let’s do this like a sacrament meeting talk and consult the dictionary:
“Denoting a consonant that is produced by stopping the airflow using the lips, teeth, or palate, followed by a sudden release of air.”
Basically, singing involves forcing air from, you know, your lungs through, you know, your filthy mouth and out into the world! You can see why it’s a COVID concern and why many local units were slow to bring back in-person singing for fear of spreading germs. The choir, on the other hand, will not have an audience to potentially contaminate, and it will still sit far from any General Authorities or General Officers who might be in attendance.
As the choir works its way through putting these procedures in practice, and if the results are positive, the Orchestra and Temple Square and Bells at Temple Square may be brought into the process, with the potential for Music and the Spoken Word and other live performances a possibility in the fall.
Leavitt stressed that if his team monitors the plan and decides it isn’t working, the choir will pause rehearsals once more.