Robert Cundick, retired Tabernacle organist, dies

Robert Milton Cundick, who served for 26 years as a Salt Lake Tabernacle organist and as such composed numerous devotional works including two hymns that are in the Church’s hymnal, died at home early on Jan. 7, 2016.

His name was familiar to millions of Church members and other listeners through his close association with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in its weekly television and radio broadcasts and tours in various parts of the world.

His work “The Redeemer, a Sacred Service of Music” was identified as “his greatest musical legacy” in an obituary published by his family, who added, “And yet he was hesitant to claim credit, feeling that his part was more as scribe for inspiration from above.”

He was born Nov. 26, 1926, and started to take piano lessons at the age of 8.

“After several years, the Sandy [Utah] 2nd Ward acquired a Hammond organ, one of the first that had come to the state of Utah,” he recalled in an interview published in the Church News on Aug. 17, 1991, on the occasion of his retirement. “We were all fascinated by it.”

His parents, Milton and Florence Pierson Cundick, supported him in his musical ambitions.

Later, Alexander Schreiner, chief Salt Lake Tabernacle organist, took on young Robert as a scholarship student.

By the time he entered the University of Utah after a stint in the Merchant Marines, he was giving piano and organ lessons and playing for Unitarian, Jewish and Christian Science congregations.

He filled a teaching assistantship under renowned LDS composer Leroy Robertson and was awarded a doctorate in music composition in 1955.

At the university, he met Charlotte Clark, who took organ lessons from him. They were married in the Manti Utah Temple on June 9, 1949.

In 1957, he went to Brigham Young University to fill in for Crawford Gates, who was on sabbatical. He stayed on until a mission call issued by President David O. McKay in 1962 took the Cundicks to England, where he played daily recitals at the Church’s Hyde Park Chapel in London.

The year after his return, President Hugh B. Brown, acting for the First Preidency, called him as Tabernacle organist. As such he composed well over 100 works, including the hymns “That Easter Morn” and “Thy Holy Word” that are in the hymnal.

Upon his retirement in 1991, he and his wife served as directors of hosting for BYU’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies. He had earlier been specifications adviser and selected a builder for a pipe organ in that facility, though he had never been there until his mission call.

Brother Cundick proposed the idea of a new organ for the Assembly Hall on Temple Square in 1980, an idea that led to extensive structural renovation of that facility. He also helped restore and update the Salt Lake Tabernacle organ.

Brother Cundick is survived by his wife and their five children. The Cundicks have 23 grandchildren and 38 great-grandchildren.

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