On Monday, he led a rehearsal of high school students in the Alexandria area who laughed at his jokes, nodded sharply at his instructions and hooted when he planted a kiss on teacher Steve’s head. Dietz.
The students applauded Jessop’s arrival at their choir room, after spending the weekend learning from him at the Camp Ripley choir retreat near Little Falls, Minnesota, which brought together five choir students from the center of the Minnesota and adult Minnesota concert organizations. Dubbed “Singers’ Training Camp,” the event began in 2012 and takes place every four years. The event planned for last year has been moved to 2021.
“I’m really inspired by him, as someone who wants to get into music,” said senior Noah Hubbard. “He can listen to things that no one else can hear.”
Jessop’s resume reads like a Who’s Who of the music world and includes not only the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but academia and the military as well. He toured the world as director of the Singing Sergeants, the official choir of the United States Air Force. He’s worked with Sting and Yo-Yo Ma, not to mention soprano Renée Fleming, opera singer Frederica von Stade and broadcaster Walter Cronkite, who narrated a Christmas program for the tabernacle choir.
Driven by the students and by Deitz, Jessop opened up about the moments in his musical career that moved him the most. He was conducting the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City when a tattered flag recovered from the World Trade Center was pulled out.
“It was quite emotional,” he said.
He was also performing in Belgium in 1989 when someone interrupted the concert to announce the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“The Belgians have just burst into a standing ovation and tears,” he said. “It was quite a memorable thing.”
The students listened so intently that it was difficult to remember that many of the events he spoke of happened before they were born.
They had questions for him, wondering what the military was like to those who joined his musical performance units. He said they trained for three hours every morning and were trained as military police backups, and performed constantly and toured.
After the class, he said that the military opened doors for him, and although he was already connected to the tabernacle choir having played there solo before joining the military, the military taught him to find celebrities to serve as guest artists. The guest performers – including the Muppets – have brought a whole new audience to the work of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Jessop said. On Monday, December 13, PBS will air a 20-year retrospective of the choir’s Christmas concerts, which includes a period when Jessop was musical director. The show will also be available online.
Jessop not only led part of the AAHS choir rehearsal as they prepare for their Sunday December 19 concert, but he also offered reviews. In one selection the rhythm could be clearer, he said, and in another the intonation needed to be cleaned up.
He also praised the high school choir and Deitz.
“Magnificent voices,” he said. “You inspire me.”
Jessop says his affiliation with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir was the pinnacle of his career. He now teaches music at Utah State University.
Deitz called Jessop’s visit an “incredible experience” for him and the students.
“Getting him to come and talk to them as an older statesman, practically one-on-one, is a deep experience, almost impossible to measure,” he said.