Recently retired Mormon Tabernacle Choir president Mac Christensen, founder of the clothing retailer Mr. Mac, may have sold several choir members their shoes. But the choir's new president, Ron Jarrett, has been in their shoes.
Jarrett, who reported to his new volunteer position last month, sang in the choir for nine years. He's the first Tabernacle Choir president to have done so.
Jarrett's experience as a singer and as Christensen's assistant for three years after retiring from singing in the choir is a major asset, general manager Scott Barrick said.
"The beauty of Ron is that he does get it right in the door," Barrick said. "He never wants to forget what it feels like to sit in the choir."
Jarrett, 65, sees his job as keeping the choir on track artistically while expanding its reach.
"If we do our job on the business side, the choir can shine musically," he said. "All cultures and all generations need to feel the excitement of the music. The business side will support and make that happen."
He plans to raise the choir's profile, including a new "little adventure" that will be unveiled in the next month. Might it involve social media? "We have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, but we want to do more," he said.
Jarrett notes that the choir hasn't toured outside North America since 1999. "We really want to reach all the people who care to listen to us," he said. The 360-voice choir isn't planning a full-fledged international tour, but Jarrett hopes it will perform overseas in the near future.
The choir's outgoing president was fond of recounting how then-LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley reassured him that his responsibilities wouldn't include singing. Jarrett, on the other hand, acknowledged he has given in to the temptation to stand at the back of the choir loft and sing along on a couple of occasions.
A Salt Lake City native, Jarrett sang in the Mormon Youth Chorus and various Brigham Young University performing groups while earning degrees from BYU. He worked for 34 years as an elementary-school teacher, special-education teacher, trainer and principal in Jordan School District. He and his wife, Lucie, cut short their service as public-affairs missionaries in Germany when the LDS Church's First Presidency extended the call to preside over the choir.
Shortly after his appointment, Jarrett said, he joked with music director Mack Wilberg about the choir branching into hip-hop. Though that was obviously an exaggerated example, he said, the choir can credibly perform folk music such as the Nigerian carol "Betelehemu" and the Sephardic song "Ah! El novio no quiere dinero."
"That kind of music is appealing even to young adults," he said. "If it has a beat and can be the basis for a good message, you might be surprised at what comes out of the choir."