Alexandria Area High School choir gets illustrious visitor

Former music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir shares tips, praise and moving moments from his career.

We are part of The Trust Project.

For years, Craig Jessop directed the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

On Monday, he directed a rehearsal of the Alexandria Area High School students who laughed at his jokes, nodded briskly at his instructions and hooted when he planted a smooch on the top of teacher Steve Dietz's head.

The students applauded Jessop's arrival at their choir room, having just spent the weekend learning from him during the Camp Ripley Choral Retreat near Little Falls, Minnesota, which brought together five central Minnesota high school choral students and adults from Minnesota concert organizations. Dubbed a "boot camp for singers," the event started in 2012 and occurs every four years. Last year's scheduled event was moved to 2021.

"I'm truly inspired by him, as someone who wants to go into music," said senior Noah Hubbard. "He can listen to things that nobody else can hear."

Jessop's resume reads like a Who's Who of the musical world and includes not only the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but academia and the military. He toured the world as director of the Singing Sergeants, the official chorus of the United States Air Force. He has 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.


Prodded by students and by Deitz, Jessop opened up about the moments in his musical career that moved him the most. He was directing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City when a tattered flag recovered at the World Trade Center was brought out.

"It was pretty emotional," he said.

He was also performing in Belgium in 1989 when someone halted the concert to announce that the Berlin Wall had fallen.

"The Belgians just erupted in a standing ovation and tears," he said. "That was a pretty memorable thing."

The students listened so raptly that it was hard to remember that many of the events he spoke of happened before they were born.

They had questions for him, wondering about what the military is like for those who join its musical performance units. He said they practiced three hours every morning and were trained as back-up to the military police, and they were constantly performing and touring.

After the class, he said that the military opened doors for him, and even though he was already connected to the tabernacle choir having soloed there before joining the military, the military taught him how to find celebrities to serve as guest artists. The guest artists -- which included The Muppets -- brought a whole new audience to the work of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Jessop said. On Monday, Dec. 13, PBS will air a 20-year retrospective of the choir's Christmas concerts, which includes a time when Jessop served as musical director. The show will also be available online.

Jessop not only directed part of the AAHS choir rehearsal as they prepare for their Sunday, Dec. 19, concert, but he offered up critiques. In one selection, the rhythm could be cleaner, he said, and in another, the intonation needed to be cleaned up.


He also served up plenty of praise for the high school choir and for Deitz.

"Gorgeous 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 amazing experience" for him and for the students.

"To have him come speak to them as an elder statesman, pretty much one on one, is a profound, almost unmeasurable experience," he said.

What to read next
This 10th annual national event is Sept. 9-18, and WCI hopes to sponsor community welcoming events within its service area.
Cohort members will participate in a 16-session program focused on state and federal public policy development and the leadership necessary to influence public policy development.
Applications can also be found at