With tears streaming down most of their faces, 27 members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and one member of the volunteer stage crew, bid farewell to their colleagues during mandatory retirement services Sunday morning, April 27.
As the recognition of their dedicated volunteer service to the choir came to an end, the group stood facing the loft and the two groups — retirees and the remaining 360-plus choir members — sang to each other the choir’s traditional farewell song, "God Be with You Till We Meet Again."
President Thomas S. Monson, who serves as adviser to the Tabernacle Choir, was among more than a thousand family and friends of the retirees who gathered in the Tabernacle on Temple Square following the choir’s regular weekly broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word” to honor those who were retiring. President Monson posed for photos with each retiree after the program.
Choir musical director Mack Wilberg read a brief statement each had written about their years of service in the choir. The most-mentioned memories were of the choir singing at various events including the Nauvoo Temple dedication, the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and presidential inaugurations. Also mentioned were the recordings and performances with famous guest artists including Alfie Boe, Bryn Terfel, David Archuletta, Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw.
The choir members had each served from six to 20 years for a combined total of 393 years. Six singers had each served a full 20 years. Membership in the Tabernacle Choir is limited to age 25 or older and for 20 years or until age 60, whichever comes first. Sunday’s retirees had each reached one of those milestones.
Choir President Ron Jarrett and Musical Director Mack Wilberg each praised the retirees for the time and talents each has “freely given in service to the choir and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."
“The words ‘thank you,’ ” said Brother Wilberg, “do not seem adequate for all you have done.”
Several in the group were children or relatives of previous choir members. One alto said she is a “fourth generation edition” following her grandparents, parents and older sister. The crew member leaving had volunteered to work on the stage crew eight years ago after he retired from his job because his wife was a singer in the choir. She retired Sunday after 20 years.
Membership in the Tabernacle Choir requires a major commitment of time. In addition to Sunday mornings, there are Thursday rehearsals, recordings, special concerts and tours. Members must take time off work at their own expense to meet those required commitments. One retiree said she made more than 900 trips from Logan to Salt Lake City — a round-trip distance of about 164 miles — during the seven years she was in the choir.
All the retirees thanked their spouses and families for the support that made their membership possible. Despite all that, leaving their friends and colleagues in the Tabernacle Choir was a tearful goodbye with gratitude for the opportunity to have been a member of such a unique organization.