Latter-day Saint Life

How is an organ like a sports car? Tabernacle Choir organist answers

Historic Pipe Organ at the Tabernacle on Temple Square at the Salt Lake Temple
The historic pipe organ in the Tabernacle at Temple Square for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah
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Dr. Richard Elliott, the principal organist for The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, would agree with Mozart when he said, “To my eyes and ears the organ will ever be the King of Instruments.” There are many types of organs, each with its own personality and characteristics, and Dr. Elliott has played many of them around the world.

In his recent tour of England, he played at the London Hyde Park building of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, describing the organ as “a Lamborghini.” He then played a concert at Selby Abbey, North Yorkshire, and he describes that organ as “a Bentley.” The organ in the Tabernacle at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, with its 11,623 pipes, “is like a Rolls Royce.” Dr. Richard Elliott says that organ has a lot of British DNA in it.

Dr. Elliott goes on to say, “Smaller organs, like the one in the Hyde Park Chapel, are not necessarily inferior to larger organs, because they can actually ’turn on a dime’ and respond more quickly to the ’driver’s’ actions than a larger instrument can. In contrast, a larger organ can have a more luxurious feel and sound, but it is often at the cost of clarity or speed.” He is certainly well qualified to comment. With his experience as a world-renowned organist, he enjoys using these organs to produce beautiful, interesting music. In fact, he chooses the program he will perform based on what the organ can do.

Bach once said, “Where there is devotional music, God is always at hand with His gracious presence.” Dr. Elliott plays a lot of devotional music in praise of God. He also knows there is other music that enlivens the soul and enriches the spirit.

Dr. Elliott’s repertoire is vast, and he has many of the pieces memorized. He will often play with his eyes closed, relying on his muscle memory to guide him through the intricate pieces.

Elliott, who played in a rock bank as a teen, planned a career as a studio musician. After joining The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints he decided to change his goals. When he returned from his mission in Argentina, he focused on the organ. Now, after many years of education, training, and degrees earned, he puts his fingers on the keys, his feet on the pedals, and he masterfully brings the music to life.

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