Tabernacle organ gains more fame

The adjective "famous" will soon have another application in relation to the Tabernacle organ. On Oct. 23, the Organ Historical Society will present to the Church a citation naming the Tabernacle organ "an instrument of exceptional historic merit, worthy of preservation.'

President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency, is scheduled to receive the citation on behalf of the Church. Factors that are important in the decision to cite a historic instrument are its integrity, latent musicality and its importance as an example of a builder's work. Special consideration is also given to the importance of the organ to the community and its rarity.The Tabernacle organ was dedicated Oct. 4, 1875, by John Taylor, then president of the Council of the Twelve, who read the prayer of dedication prepared by Brigham Young.

The name of Joseph Ridges is inseparably connected with the history of the Tabernacle organ. A native of England, he was introduced to the gospel by a fellow shipmate on a voyage to Australia in 1851. A carpenter by trade, he had developed a keen interest in organs when he was a boy living across the street from an organ factory near London. After he settled in Australia, he built his first organ, which impressed the Church's presiding elder there so much he suggested it be sent to Church headquarters.

In 1856, the Ridges family and others sailed to North America. After spending nearly a year in California, they arrived in Salt Lake City in the late spring of 1857. The organ was reassembled in an adobe-walled structure that came to be known as the "Old Tabernacle," built in 1852. When that building was razed in 1877, parts of the organ were used to build a larger instrument for the Assembly Hall, which was completed in 1880.

In 1861, when plans were being made for the present Tabernacle to be constructed, President Young asked Brother Ridges if he could build a large organ that would "be commensurate with the beauty and vastness" of the new building. (Deseret News, Feb. 16, 1901.)

Brother Ridges began work building the organ. In the October 1950 general conference, Elder Levi Edgar Young spoke on the history of the Tabernacle organ. He said: "Elder Ridges was assisted by Shure Olsen, Neils Johnson, Henry Taylor, Frank Woods, and others. Meetings were held with these men almost daily, and the reports of each man's work were heard. While one was collecting various specimens of wood from the canyons of Utah, another was making good tools with which to carve the wood, while still a third man was experimenting in making glue. Specimens of wood were sent by people from all over Utah, and it was finally decided that the best wood was found in the hills around Parowan and in Pine Valley, about three hundred miles south of Salt Lake City. It was a fine grain of white pine variety, free from knots and without much pitch or gum. . . .

"The large pipes, some of which measure thirty-two feet, required thousands of feet of timber. Over the long, lonely roads labored the oxen, day by day, hauling the heavy logs to Salt Lake City.

"About one hundred men were employed constantly in the construction of the organ, and it was dedicated in October 1867. It is a majestic creation, and to this day, thousands come to listen to its melodious strains. It is one of the great instruments of the world."

The Tabernacle organ still holds that distinction of greatness. It has been repaired and expanded over the years, the latest renovation having taken place from 1984-1988. The present organ is not the instrument Joseph Ridges built, although the massive case he constructed is incorporated and a small number of the original pipes remain in use. The case, which features domed tops and carvings, is made of pine grained to look like oak.

The casual observer has no idea just how vast the Tabernacle organ really is, seeing at most 50 of its 11,623 pipes organized into 147 voices (tones) and 206 ranks (rows of pipes) in eight divisions played from five keyboards and pedals. Most of the visible pipes are "show pipes"; only the 10 largest - which date from Ridges' original organ - actually work.

Two technicians, Robert Poll and Lamont Anderson, maintain the organ, keeping it in working order. (See related article on page 12.)

All divisions of the organ are located behind the massive casework on the west end of the Tabernacle, except the antiphonal organ, which is located in the lower attic on the east end, projecting sound to the west and creating an interesting acoustical effect of contrasting sounds.

Tabernacle organist John Longhurst explained that today's organ is primarily the work of G. Donald Harrison, the tonal director for the Aeolian-Skinner Company at the time the Tabernacle organ was last rebuilt.

Brother Longhurst serves with two other full-time Tabernacle organists, Clay Christiansen and Richard Elliott. Temple Square organists who work part-time on staff are Bonnie Lauper Goodliffe and Linda Swenson Margetts.

Brother Longhurst, who has a doctor of musical arts degree from the Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester, N.Y., has been a Tabernacle organist since 1977. He received bachelor and master of music degrees from the University of Utah, where he studied organ with Alexander Schreiner, then Tabernacle organist.

As with each of the other Tabernacle organists now on staff, Brother Longhurst has a vivid recollection of his first encounter with the Tabernacle organ. "The first time I paid attention to the organ was when I was 8 years old," he said. "My family was still living in California, and we were taking a trip to Yellowstone Park, which brought us through Salt Lake City. An aunt, knowing my interest in music, brought me to the Tabernacle to an organ recital. I was impressed. I made the comment that someday I would play that organ."

As he grew older, he forgot about his childhood ambition to play the Tabernacle organ. He studied engineering and was headed, it seemed, for a career in that field until he went on a mission to the Eastern Atlantic States, when he decided to "give music a stab." After he received his doctorate, he was invited to audition for the position being vacated by Brother Schreiner, who was retiring.

After having played the organ on an almost daily basis for the past 17 years, Brother Longhurst feels he knows the organ about as well as anyone. "But this organ still surprises me quite often," he said. "No matter how well you know this organ, you discover there are millions of possible combinations of sound - attractive, useful combinations that have not yet been heard, have not yet been explored."

Bother Christiansen, who joined the Tabernacle organ staff in 1982, grew up listening to the Tabernacle Choir and organ on the radio in his home in Emery County in south central Utah. "As long as I can remember, that sound did something to me," he said. "I was about 10 when we got television in our community. I would remain glued to the TV set every April and October conference, not only listening to the Brethren, but especially waiting for the music and relishing every shot of the organ console and organists. The Tabernacle organ was a guiding light, a magnetic attraction."

Brother Christiansen was a 19-year-old BYU student when he was selected to play the Tabernacle organ during a music festival.

"I remember to this day the first night I sat down at the console to practice," he said. "I was tied up in knots by the time that rehearsal was over. After that, it was sheer joy to sit down at the Tabernacle organ.

"This organ gives not just a signature sound, but a sound with soul. It has a warmth, power and finesse found in very, very few other organs in the world."

Brother Christiansen, who received a Ph.D. in music composition at the University of Utah, is acutely aware of the role the Tabernacle organ has on occasions such as general conferences. "The thing I try to be consumed by at conference is that I might be in harmony with the Lord's Spirit, that it might touch what I do and that somehow my music will have a role in warming and affecting the hearts of those who listen," he said.

Brother Elliott became peripherially aware of the Tabernacle organ when he was a boy in Baltimore, Md. "We were not members of the Church," he said, "but my father had some Mormon Tabernacle Choir recordings.

"I went to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where I had some classmates who were LDS. Through them, I came to know of the Church. A memorable experience for me, and a significant one, was coming to Utah just a few months after I was baptized in 1980. One of my friends was the daughter of a member of the Tabernacle Choir, who arranged for me to attend a Sunday morning broadcast. After the broadcast, my friend's mother arranged for me to play the organ with the Tabernacle organists at the time, Robert Cundick and John Longhurst.

"The sound was the most suave and sophisticated I had ever heard. I was impressed by the acoustics because there was a wonderful warmth to the sound, enough sweetening without reaching a point where the sound got lost in the room, where the reverberation was too much. Robert Cundick kept bringing out more and more pieces of music for me to play, and I was just wishing that it would never end. I was hoping that I would come back, but I never dreamed that it would be in an official capacity. I left a year later on my mission

to ArgentinaT. When I came back, I felt that I wanted to pursue the organ. I undertook my studies with the goal of becoming a teacher and playing where I could. This just kind of dropped into my lap."

Brother Elliott, who received master and doctor of musical arts degrees from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y, joined BYU's music faculty in 1988. He was appointed a Tabernacle organist in April 1991.

"I can't imagine a better environment in which to be, especially at those times when I'm able to use music to bring the Spirit into people's lives and to help to underscore the teachings of the gospel, to help them want to be better people," he said. "In high school, I played in some rock bands and I saw the effect that kind of music had. I decided I wanted to be in music and to make it do something positive for people. Playing in Church was one thing. Playing here in the Tabernacle and being involved in general conferences and Tabernacle Choir broadcasts is just a dream come true."

As Temple Square organists, Sister Goodliffe and Sister Margetts work part-time, accompanying for Mormon Youth Chorus and Symphony and for other events in the Tabernacle, such as satellite broadcasts, firesides, and stake and regional conferences. They take turns with Tabernacle organists performing daily recitals in the Tabernacle, and also play the organ in the Assembly Hall for special events.

Sister Goodliffe and Sister Margetts started serving as guest organists in the Tabernacle in 1979 and 1980, respectively, presenting recitals and playing for special meetings. In 1984, they were called as associate Tabernacle organists. In 1991, they were appointed Temple Square organists.

Sister Goodliffe has a master of arts degree from BYU, where she studied organ as her major instrument. "I can't remember not having heard the Tabernacle organ," she said. "My parents listened to the Tabernacle Choir broadcast when I was growing up in San Francisco. I think before any conscious memory, I remember the opening and closing themes.

"I never dreamed of playing the Tabernacle organ because it was so unlikely and so impossible - I didn't live in Utah until 1977; I didn't start studying the organ until I was in college. My early training was on the piano.

"At the time I moved to Utah, Brother Cundick, then Tabernacle organist, had a very progressive view of wanting to open the organ to lots of people. I was one of those asked to play at short recitals. I was asked to come back to this meeting and then to that meeting. The load increased. Pretty soon, Linda and I were given a title so they would not have to keep calling someone." Sister Goodliffe and Sister Margetts each average working 15 hours a week.

Sister Goodliffe said although she and Sister Margetts have been playing the Tabernacle organ for about 15 years, they frequently hear people express amazement that "women are allowed to play the organ."

"We're not even the first women to play the Tabernacle organ," Sister Goodliffe said. "There were several before us, dating back to before the turn of the century."

Sister Margetts grew up in Lansing, Mich., where she began her early musical training on the piano. She was introduced to classical organ music at BYU, from which she graduated with a major in organ performance. She taught organ for a year at Utah State University, and received a master's degree in organ performance from BYU.

"My first experience with the Tabernacle organ was as a little girl. I would amuse myself by putting a piece of paper on the hymn book and rubbing the raised image of the Tabernacle organ with a pencil," she said. "At the time I didn't know what I was looking at, and never imagined I would play it someday.

"I've always loved music, and always have loved the Savior and His gospel. It's wonderful to have a job where those two are combined. We all have one goal as organists in the Tabernacle: to create beautiful music that touches lives for good. We respect each other and feel each one has a unique and worthwhile contribution to make. From the people who clean the Tabernacle to those who manage it, it's a wonderful place to work."

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