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Video: 'Moral issue,' not politics, led Mormon Tabernacle Choir singer to leave group before Trump performance

Published January 13, 2017 9:47 am

Jan Chamberlin says she hopes to ''stand up for all people who have been victims'' after resigning from famed group.
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American Fork • If you thought soprano Jan Chamberlin was merely humming a partisan tune when she decided to bow out of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir over its plans to sing at Republican Donald Trump's inauguration, you'd be wrong.

"I don't belong to either party. I'm an independent," she said Tuesday. "I voted for [independent presidential candidate] Evan McMullin."

No, it was a "moral issue." That's why Chamberlin, a Utah County voice teacher who has been with the famed choir for five years, could not simply skip putting her name in the lottery that would choose volunteers to sing at the Jan. 20 event.



She wanted instead to raise public awareness about what she sees as the incoming president's lurking fascism and potential damage to her beloved chorus's reputation.

So last week the lifelong Mormon and mother of three sent a resignation letter to the choir president and her fellow singers, then posted it on Facebook. It immediately drew a torrent of responses and media reports from across the nation and around the globe.

Chamberlin was taken aback by the media interest, having no desire for fame or recognition, she said Tuesday, "but I stand behind my decision 100 percent."

Now the choir has chosen the 212 musicians to perform at the inauguration, an LDS Church spokesman confirmed Tuesday, but Chamberlin's dissenting voice continues to drive much of the conversation as she fields questions about her faith, motivation and miniprotest.

Within hours of posting the letter on Facebook, she began to receive hundreds of mostly positive comments about her stance as well as thousands of "friend" requests.

Originally from Southern California, Chamberlin earned a degree in music at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University and later returned to Utah to rear her children — who have all been supportive of their mother in her desire to speak out.

Her husband, she said, has backed her as well.

The impetus for her resignation, she said, was a "nasty" Facebook post from a fellow choir member, dubbing those who declined to participate as "unpatriotic" or not "faithful to the faith," and suggesting they quit.

"That rattled me," Chamberlin said, and launched an internal struggle and a ton of praying. Ultimately, she decided she needed to do more.

The choir's performance, she argued, would send the wrong message to outsiders in the United States and abroad — that the famed Mormon singing group supported Trump's behavior and positions.

On that score, one line in the soprano's resignation letter drew some harsh criticism.

"I could never 'throw roses to Hitler,' " Chamberlin wrote. "And I certainly could never sing for him."

She defended that statement Tuesday, seeing "striking and frightening similarities" between the two men.

Both were narcissists who desired "power and wealth," she said. Both promised prosperity and economic security by creating scapegoats to blame. For Hitler, it was the Jews; for Trump, it is refugees and immigrants.

The Nazis set up a national Jewish registry; Trump talked of making Muslims register, Chamberlin said. Neither respected anyone who opposed him.

She wondered whether others felt the way she did about Trump — which is why she put her letter on social media — and now has heard from scores of others who share her worries.

Since Chamberlin's announcement has gone viral, she has heard from other choir members who are torn about the Trump performance, she said, while others "can't wait to go to such an important event."

Overall, she found most of her fellow musicians to be respectful and loving toward her. She has received flowers and kind notes from her mostly Mormon neighbors and fellow LDS congregants.

That backing extends beyond friends and acquaintances to total strangers. More than 35,000 people have signed a petition, started by a fellow Latter-day Saint, urging the choir to scrap its inauguration appearance.

There has, of course, also been shrill condemnation of Chamberlin in some quarters — calling her to task for seeming to criticize the choir or the office of the U.S. president.

She recognizes the troupe's longtime role as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' "goodwill ambassadors," Chamberlin said, but wishes the group would use that position to bring attention to the needs of refugees or ending human trafficking.

She said she will miss the choir, but that she hopes to launch a blog to build a "constructive conversation" on how to "protect our freedoms" and vows to "stand up for all people who have been victims."

Chamberlin believes one voice can make a difference. But, as a trained singer, she knows many voices, working in harmony, can create even more powerful music.

pstack@sltrib.com

Twitter: @religiongal

 

 

 

 

 

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