From ‘playing’ the couch to the Tabernacle organ, Andrew Unsworth is living his dream

As a four-year-old boy, Andrew Unsworth viewed the couch as his organ. While his mother played organ music, he sported his little black boots as organ shoes and “played the couch.”

Unsworth found the sound of the organ to be “beguiling and powerful.” While his mom had to nag him to practice the piano, “when I started taking organ lessons, I would get in trouble for staying too long at the church to practice.”

Now one of the five organists for the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, Unsworth calls playing the iconic Tabernacle organ with the famous choir a “dream come true.”

The Salt Lake Tabernacle's organ and and its pipes are pictured in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 16, 2020. The Tabernacle and Temple Suare organists have been working on recording music for concerts that will be streamed online this summer.
The Salt Lake Tabernacle’s organ and and its pipes are pictured in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 16, 2020. The Tabernacle and Temple Suare organists have been working on recording music for concerts that will be streamed online this summer. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

“I remember very well the first time I played the Tabernacle organ,” he said. “I was so excited; it was a Christmas morning kind of excitement.” The Tabernacle organ is one of the most notable instruments in America due to its size and tonal design, according to the Tabernacle Choir’s website.

Unsworth was only 17 years old when he first sat on that organ bench: “I was sold after that.”

A Tabernacle Choir organist since 2007, Unsworth has grown accustomed to the rhythm of frequent recitals, broadcasts and performances. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, “that rhythm all got thrown out the window.”

The century-long tradition of daily organ recitals at Temple Square took a brief hiatus when COVID-19 hit, but Unsworth and his four fellow organists recently came up with the idea to livestream recitals online.

“It’s really wonderful that we have the technology to do this sort of thing,” he said. The first 45-minute concert, “Piping Up: Tabernacle Organists in Concert,” will air June 17 at 7 p.m. MDT on the choir’s YouTube channel, the choir’s website and the Church’s live watch page.

Following the June 17 event, regular recitals will be streamed Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at noon MDT, beginning Monday, June 22.

Organist Andrew Unsworth talks about a new concert series that will be streamed three times a week while sitting at the keyboard of the organ in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 16, 2020.
Organist Andrew Unsworth talks about a new concert series that will be streamed three times a week while sitting at the keyboard of the organ in the Tabernacle on Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, June 16, 2020. Credit: Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Unsworth said he spends the majority of his time as a Tabernacle organist practicing and perfecting his craft. But when everything was cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis, he took the opportunity to learn new music, write music and work on projects that have been on the back burner.

“At first it was great, and then it got to be a little weird,” he said, adding that performances focus his practice, so to not have any performances for a while was unusual.

Grateful recitals are starting up again, Unsworth said he is looking forward to “communicating my love for what’s beautiful in music to other people.”