USU conductor Craig Jessop honored with top Utah arts award

Apr 21, 2016

LOGAN — Craig Jessop, founding dean of the Caine College of the Arts at Utah State University, has the Midas touch when it comes to the arts in the state of Utah and Governor Gary Herbert agrees.

Jessop is one of four honorees of the 2016 Governor’s Leadership in the Arts awards. Other winners include the Utah Arts Festival, James Rees and the Zion Canyon Arts and Humanities Council.

Jessop will be presented with his award May 5 at the Mountain West Arts Conference at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City.

“This just came out of the blue. I was very surprised and very honored. It was completely unexpected,” Jessop said in a phone interview.

Jessop has a long resume of accomplishments over the years. He received a bachelor of science degree from Utah State University in 1973, a master of arts from Brigham Young University in 1976 and a doctor of musical arts in conducting from Stanford University in 1980. He started his career with the United States Air Force where he conducted the “Singing Sergeants” and was able to perform for President Jimmy Carter during a summit where Anwar Sadat was in attendance.

He remembers being in the White House for that performance looking around and being awed by where he was and what he was doing.

Jessop didn’t stop there. He spent several years as the conductor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. During that time he recorded more than 15 CDs with the choir and in 2008 received a Grammy nomination for his work with the choir and orchestra at Temple Square.

The Orchestra at Temple Square was started during his tenure with the choir, and was a great experience for him, Jessop said. He spent 13 year with the choir, four years as associate director and nine years as music director.

One of his greatest experiences of that time was helping with the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Olympic Games. He conducted the choir and the Utah Symphony and worked with artists Sting and Yo-Yo Ma, and composers John Williams and Michael Kamen.

Eight years ago, Jessop came to Utah State University where he started as the head of the music department. Six years ago he became the first dean of the of the Caine College of the Arts.

“I really came home at that time,” said Jessop, a fourth-generation Cache Valley native. His great-great-grandfather was one of the original pioneers of Millville. He met his wife at Utah State and raised his children, all four of whom graduated from USU as well.

“I really have three distinct chapters of my life — the Air Force, the Tabernacle Choir and my time at Utah State University. Each one has been the best possible thing for me at the time,” Jessop said.

One of Jessop’s associate deans, Christopher Terry, said Jessop’s leadership in the arts award is “extremely well-deserved.”

“He is an amazing figure. He grew up Cache Valley and has performed on every major stage in the world,” Terry said.

Terry believes Jessop is a perfect choice for the award because of his diverse background and because of the huge strides he has made just at USU alone.

“The improvements he has been able to make in the arts programs just in the last five years have just revitalized things here,” Terry said.

Terry believes the secret to his success lies in the way Jessop interacts with others: “He’s an amazing people person and he enjoys meeting with other people,” he said. “He knows how to work successfully with others. He’s a master.”

Jessop was praised as one of the most perceptive choral conductors working today in a press release about the awards from the Utah Division of Arts and Museums in the governor’s office.

“Craig is a treasure in the music community across the state of Utah,” the release said.

One of the new endeavors Jessop has taken on is to create the American Festival Chorus and Orchestra. It’s in its eighth season in the Cache Valley area and people come from far distances to participate, Jessop said.

“We now have sell-out Christmas concerts and it’s a remarkable time,” he said.

The conductor and educator’s success doesn’t surprise Terry or Jessop’s other associates.

“He understands his role as dean and brings his assistance to all of the arts. And he’s not slowing down. He’s just getting started,” Terry said.

And while others are praising Jessop for his ability to bring people together and unite others, he is praising those that surround him.

“Really the secret of my success is that I have learned to surround myself with incredibly talented people and I love working as a team,” Jessop said. “This award should go to the teams I have worked with.”