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She’s played for Barry Manilow, Hugh Jackman, and is a mother of 7—meet the concertmaster for the Orchestra at Temple Square

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Meredith Campbell, concertmaster of the Orchestra at Temple Square.
Courtesy of Meredith Campbell

Violinist Meredith Campbell can’t name all of the famous musicians she’s accompanied in orchestras over the years, but she can list a few.

There’s 28-time Grammy Award–winner Quincy Jones, singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson, Barry Manilow, and the Three Tenors. Then there’s Hugh Jackman, Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban, Michael Bublé, Sarah Brightman, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

But that’s just the tip of the musical iceberg Campbell has tapped into. She’s also played for Hans Zimmer (composer of the score for the 2021 James Bond film No Time to Die), Emmy award-winning composer Sam Cardon, and composer Kurt Bestor (“Prayer of the Children”).

As a soloist, Meredith has traveled around the world, performing in Jerusalem, China, and the Caribbean. She knows her way around a recording studio, too, and was once even hired to create “wretched” sound effects for a warrior woman in a PlayStation video game.

But that’s not all. During her career as a classically trained musician, Meredith has bowed with the Utah Symphony and the Delaware Symphony Orchestra. She’s perhaps best known, however, in a position where she’s heard the world over: in her role as concertmaster, or lead violinist, of the Orchestra at Temple Square.

For over two decades, Meredith has dedicated her time and talents to the Orchestra. To her, the carefully crafted wood and strings in her hands isn’t just an instrument; she is the violin, and the notes coming from her are just as much her testimony as they are a melody. She gives this music freely—because it is, in many ways, her life’s calling.

And so she plays.

The Girl and Her Instrument

Although Meredith and her instrument are nearly inseparable today, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight when she met the violin. As a 4-year-old she had started learning the piano, but it was practically impossible to find practice time—her mother taught up to 50 piano lessons a week in their home and the piano was rarely free. So when Meredith was 8 years old, she began taking violin lessons from her aunt.

“I think I cried the varnish off my first violin begging to quit because it sounded so horrible,” Meredith recalls. But her parents didn’t let her give up and so she kept on practicing.

As she refined the notes that came from her instrument, Meredith was also exposed to great music within the walls of her home. Before going to sleep at night she would lie in bed listening to her mother, a Julliard-trained pianist, play Mozart, Beethoven, Schumann, and Brahms. Her dad was a clarinetist who taught elementary school orchestras, and Meredith fondly remembers hearing him play in a band in Salt Lake City’s Liberty Park for patriotic events.

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Meredith Campbell plays at Salute to Youth in the Salt Lake Tabernacle in 1969.
Courtesy of Meredith Campbell

As a girl, Meredith listened to her inspirations when they came to town—Isaac Stern, whom The New York Times called one of the great instrumentalists of the 20th century, and violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman. On Saturday mornings she’d take a bus to attend free children’s concerts put on by the Utah Symphony, and during her teenage years, she attended music camps all over the country from California to Colorado to North Carolina.

So it’s little wonder that by high school, Meredith’s relationship with the violin had changed; where the young musician had once lamented over the “horrible” sounds of her earliest practices, her trusted bow and strings were now life itself. “This is just me,” she remembers thinking, and knew as she looked toward her future that music was going to play a major part in it.

To Play or Not to Play

After studying violin at the University of Utah for a short time, Meredith studied in London and then auditioned for the highly competitive Utah Symphony—and got in. It was during this period that she met and married her husband, Clark Campbell. But as they began having children, the couple wondered whether Meredith should stay home full time or if she should continue playing professionally.

Meredith knew that there would be long-term consequences if she decided to put her violin on the shelf. “You can’t put the violin away for 10 years and then come back and think you’re ever going to retrieve what was there before,” Meredith says. “It just is impossible—it’s an ongoing, continuous, lifelong process of playing [and] keeping up your skills.”

So she and her husband decided to take the matter to the Lord and found their answer: “When my husband and I prayed about it, I was to continue … playing the violin,” she says.

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A painting of Meredith Campbell playing the violin.
Painting by Walter Rane

Having a career while raising a family of seven children wouldn’t have been possible without the support of her husband of 49 years, she says. In fact, Clark even helped her find opportunities to play. Meredith recalls that early on in their marriage, their family had just moved to Delaware and their second child was still a newborn when Clark surprised her with some news.

“I had been playing in the Utah Symphony up until that point when we moved, and he called me one day. And here I have a six-week-old baby and [I was] nursing and he said, ‘OK, I have an audition for you for the Delaware Symphony in two weeks.’ … [I] went, ‘Yikes!’” she laughs. “He’s been wonderfully supportive, always, throughout our lives. And you have to have that because you’re a team. You are one in the Lord’s eyes, and [neither] of you [can] accomplish what you need to without your spouse, without your helpmeet. So I can’t ever say that I accomplished this on my own because that’s really not true. I had the wonderful support of my husband.”

The Original Orchestra

The Campbells moved back to Utah in 1979 and Meredith quickly became a part of the local arts community; the following year she performed in a volunteer orchestra in honor of the sesquicentennial of the founding of the Church, and in the late 1980s she bowed once more with the Utah Symphony, traveling with them to Eastern Europe. She was also a member of the committee that selected hymns for the 1985 hymnbook.

▶You may also like: Did you know ‘Called to Serve’ was the last song added to the 1985 hymnbook? Here’s how it made it in

In church, Meredith enjoyed leading music in Primary and her family continued to expand as she and Clark had four more children. It was in August 1999 that she got wind of a new ensemble the Church was establishing under the direction of President Gordon B. Hinckley: the Orchestra at Temple Square. She decided to audition for a spot and was notified by mail that she’d been accepted. Today, former Tabernacle Choir director Craig Jessop recalls how Meredith stood out among the rest.

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Meredith Campbell poses with her violin.
Courtesy of Meredith Campbell

“We were incredibly impressed by her great musicality, her spirituality, her obvious devotion and commitment to the mission of the Orchestra at Temple Square,” he says, noting that her tone, phrasing, nuance, and style all made an impression. “Her superb leadership and ability was evident from the very beginning, and so there was no question that she [should be] brought in.”

So Meredith became an original member of the Orchestra at Temple Square, which she says was a small operation at first and performed just a handful of times a year. But gradually, it started developing a reputation, and the Orchestra played in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games with Grammy Award-winning clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and opera singer Frederica von Stade.

Meredith was named concertmaster of the Orchestra in 2003 and has filled that capacity ever since. Audiences may recognize concertmasters first and foremost as the first-chair violinist who leads the orchestra in tuning before a concert. But Jessop explains that the role of concertmaster is much more than that.

“There are times when the concertmaster is leading every bit as much as the conductor, sometimes in certain passages maybe even more,” he says. “So there’s a real partnership between a concertmaster and a conductor. There has to be a real trust and an understanding and respect for the different roles they play.”

Her superb leadership and ability was evident from the very beginning.
Craig Jessop

During a concert, Jessop says the other string players look to Meredith to see what she’s doing and how she’s doing it.

“A concertmaster has to lead. The entire string section follows her, but [she] also [has] to blend and fit with the ensemble as well. It’s a unique role, and a conductor relies so heavily upon the concertmaster for the ensemble of the orchestra, particularly the string section of the orchestra. And she’s a fabulous leader, a fabulous concertmaster.”

Meredith’s other responsibilities as concertmaster of the Orchestra include helping Mack Wilberg, music director of The Tabernacle Choir, and Ryan Murphy, associate director of The Tabernacle Choir. She collaborates with the conductors and writes the bowings—music markings that help the strings know when to use certain techniques with their bows—for the songs. Since the pandemic, Meredith estimates that she’s assisted with 17 pieces of new music, and that’s not even counting the conductors’ other special projects.

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Meredith Campbell, concertmaster of the Orchestra at Temple Square, and Mack Wilberg, music director of The Tabernacle Choir.
Courtesy of Meredith Campbell

Because playing in the Orchestra at Temple Square is a church calling, Meredith isn’t paid for her efforts. But for her it isn’t about the money; it’s about the music. For instance, her husband Clark recalls that when the Orchestra played Handel’s Messiah in the past, Meredith enlisted the help of a violinist who was better skilled at baroque music. She then asked him to sit in her first chair while she took a place in the back.

“I don’t know anybody in all of my associations … who has the kind of confidence she has to do what she does, yet at the same time the humility to step aside,” says Clark. “She does not need the limelight.”

A Blessing Fulfilled

Although being the concertmaster of the Orchestra is enough to keep anyone busy, Meredith has simultaneously freelanced as a violinist since she decided to stop performing with the Utah Symphony to spend more time with her children.

Of course, life as a freelance musician has its own unique set of challenges. Meredith says singers who come to town typically just do a sound check with orchestras and don’t rehearse with them (although Michael Bublé, she says, is a welcome exception). And special effects such as laser beams, flashing lights, and flame-shooting pyrotechnics add a whole other dimension, like when she’s performing with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

“It is funny because they tell you the pyro is not going to affect you, but in the more than 20 seconds that these flames shoot up, you think, ‘OK, my face is melting, have I singed my hair, and what on earth is going on with the varnish on my instrument?’” Meredith says. “There are experiences on stage performing with some of the artists when you do think you’ve taken your life into your hands. Or you wonder, ‘Are they going to turn the lights on in time for me to see this music?’”

In addition to freelancing, Meredith is a music contractor in Utah and hires orchestras for musicians who come to Salt Lake City on tour, one of the most recent being Andrea Bocelli’s October 2021 concert. For that event, she scouted out freelance musicians who could play complicated opera music from as far north as Jessop’s American Festival Chorus and Orchestra in Logan (of which she’s been concertmaster since 2008) to as far south as Provo. But even when she’s the one hiring an orchestra and keeping track of everything backstage, she also somehow manages to play in the concert.

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Meredith Campbell, concertmaster, practices backstage before performing with The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California, on Monday, June 25, 2018.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Still, while she may have played in countless orchestras for world-famous musicians, Campbell has found that one of the most unique opportunities she’s had is being heard worldwide with the Orchestra at Temple Square. She also believes it’s the fulfillment of a promise made to her years ago.

“I actually do have a statement in my patriarchal blessing about [how] my talent would open doors throughout the world that would be closed to others. And [my husband and I] used to puzzle about that, thinking, ‘How is that even possible?’ … Then if you look at the website of The Tabernacle Choir organization and where it’s listened to—and not that people are paying attention to me—but there I am and my visage, so to speak, is going with that orchestra and that choir around the world. I never would have thought by the time I was in my 50s and 60s that there would be an answer to that statement that was in my patriarchal blessing,” she says.

Clark adds that considering there are millions of members of the Church, it’s remarkable Meredith has been in the Orchestra for over two decades, and he believes she was always meant to be in this position.

“Meredith’s fulfilling a calling that she was foreordained to do, and she’s filling it until she can no longer do it. She has a season of service. And I am the general Church ‘violin-toter.’ That’s what I do,” he jokes, saying that others typically recognize him first and foremost as being Meredith’s husband and the one who carries her violin around for her—which he’s delighted about.

While on tour with the Choir and Orchestra, Campbell has loved interacting with Latter-day Saints around the world. She recalls some of the conversations she’s had with audience members who have been blessed by the Choir and Orchestra’s music.

“People will stop you … and start telling you stories of ‘My aunt had passed away, and I had never listened to the Tabernacle broadcast and when I turned on the radio … it wasn’t that the sadness left, but I felt so warm and comforted that I was nowhere near as sad as I’d been,’” she says.

Church members often sacrifice to see the Choir and Orchestra on tour, traveling long distances to attend concerts. Meredith says some even wait by tour buses while the musicians board in order to express their appreciation. The Latter-day Saints’ presence at the shows also makes a spiritual impact on the Choir and Orchestra as they perform, Meredith says, helping them to feel the Spirit on stage and making each concert a wonderful experience.

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Members of The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square line up by buses to take them to dinner after sound check at the Green Music Center in Rohnert Park, California, on Wednesday, June 27, 2018.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Practicing for Perfection

While the Orchestra’s concerts may come across as flawless, what many people don’t realize is the amount of work behind the scenes that the musicians put into each and every performance: The Orchestra rehearses with the Choir two and a half hours every Thursday evening, plus another hour on Sunday mornings before the Music & the Spoken Word broadcast.

“Everybody will say, ‘Oh, you’re so talented!’ And I want to say, ‘No. No. I’ve been practicing my whole life,’” Meredith says.

The violinist, who practices every day, says she is always thinking of ways to improve her technique and analyzes every measure of music to make it the best it can possibly be. She even follows musicians on Instagram that have tips on playing and compares the continual work she puts into the violin to be “an ongoing learning process, just like studying the scriptures.”

“In truth, I’m always trying to be perfect. I’m always trying to never miss a note, do everything that Mack has asked us to do. Every little mark that’s on that page I’m trying to accomplish, and if I don’t get it done then I try harder the next time. … You know if I ever walked away with [a] 100 percent experience, I think I’d be translated,” she jokes. “But you can’t give up. You can’t not do it.”

In addition to preparation, Meredith believes the Spirit is an important part of the Orchestra’s performances. “Your testimony adds to your ability to play as long as you’re striving to do your best,” Meredith says. “If we’re lucky, and we’ve done our right work with our prayers and our searching, we might also have the Spirit to be with us [to] carry us to a better place.”

The Gospel in the Music

Meredith also enjoys having an impact as a private teacher. But she doesn’t just teach the notes—she also teaches gospel principles.

“I love to involve scriptures in my teaching. You know, ‘The natural man is an enemy to good violin playing.’ Because what you want to do naturally is not what makes beautiful music. And then we talk, ‘What is it the Lord wants from us? What’s he asking? Yeah, he’s asking you to change! Well, I’m asking you to change!’” she laughs. “‘You can’t play like that anymore because you have to play in tune.’”

The natural man is an enemy to good violin playing.
Meredith Campbell

Even if students have a different religious background, Campbell likes to incorporate other universal truths in her lessons and enjoys seeing the way music influences her students’ lives. And Meredith has changed many students’ lives over the years. Sarah Blomquist, who went on to play as a violinist in the Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra, once endorsed Meredith for a Best of State nomination and spoke about the great impact her teacher had on her.

“I came to her when I was a young girl simply seeking violin lessons. She taught me much more than to play the violin,” Blomquist said in her endorsement. “I clearly remember my first lesson with her. Rather than giving orders like a lot of teachers I have had, she made me think.”

Similarly, Grammy-nominated violinist Jenny Oaks Baker has been impacted by Meredith’s positive influence and example. Though Baker wasn’t formally one of Meredith’s students, she attributes much of her musical and personal success to her; Meredith often hired Baker to play in recording orchestras that were important to Baker’s development as a violinist.

▶You may also like: Watch: Condoleezza Rice, Jenny Oaks Baker perform stirring medley of spirituals

“I have been so grateful for her wise counsel on balancing family and musical pursuits. She has done it all masterfully, and I trust her completely,” Baker said in her Best of State nomination. “Her vast experience in all aspects of the classical music world, her ready willingness to share musical and professional advice with her colleagues, and her warm and engaging personality have made Meredith one of the most respected and influential musicians in Utah.”

“Get Out There”

When she isn’t playing the violin, there’s one other place where Campbell is often found: the Jordan River Utah Temple.

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Meredith Campbell stands outside the Salt Lake Temple at 4:00 a.m. Meredith served in the Salt Lake Temple for 10 years before it closed in December 2019 for renovations.
Courtesy of Meredith Campbell

Over 10 years ago, Campbell had the impression that she and her husband needed to get to the temple more. She remembers praying fervently one Sunday night for more opportunities to do so, and then two days later they were called to be workers at the Salt Lake Temple. The fact that Meredith already had a calling as a member of the Orchestra was in her opinion a minor detail because she felt that “this was too good a blessing to pass up.”

So for 10 years, Meredith attended rehearsals with the Orchestra on Thursday nights and then woke up at 4:00 a.m. for Friday-morning temple shifts with her husband. And when the Salt Lake Temple closed for renovations, the Campbells began working as sealing coordinators at the Jordan River Utah Temple, where they still serve today. Recently, Meredith also coordinated music for a temple devotional for workers before they started their shifts, arranging the songs and recruiting members of The Tabernacle Choir to sing for the program. And on top of that, of course, there’s the occasional musical number she plays in her ward.

But while it might sound overwhelming to work in the temple, be the concertmaster of two orchestras, perform freelance, teach the violin, and hire musicians—all while being a mother to seven and a grandmother to 28—well, Meredith isn’t complaining.

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The Campbell family.
Courtesy of Meredith Campbell

“We should have something to do every day, right?” she says. “Get going and get out there.”

And when she’s out there with the Orchestra, Campbell has discovered one blessing that is especially beautiful to her—and that is the gift of individual revelation. Sometimes that inspiration might come from participating in the weekly Music & the Spoken Word broadcasts and feeling uplifted by the program. But then there are other times that she hesitates to talk about—not all members can have the experiences she’s been privileged to have—but when she’s on stage and can see the leaders of the Church up close, there’s something undeniably special about those moments. And the ways those moments have shaped her testimony have been life-changing.

“To sit in the background and watch the Brethren come in, and see their faces and the visages and the light that comes from our leaders—male and female—is a great blessing,” she says. “When President Nelson stood up the first time the Orchestra was doing anything with him as a prophet you could literally feel the Spirit come back and hit you, so to speak, as you were sitting in that seat. It was an incredible blessing.”

Reflecting on her years of service in the Church, Jessop adds that Meredith’s faith is just as remarkable as her talent.

“To really understand what makes Meredith Campbell tick—you have to know that it begins with her absolute, total commitment to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and her fervent testimony in the Savior and in the Restoration of the gospel, through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Her entire life is centered on that,” he says. “I think her biggest means of service to the Church, and an expression of her testimony, is through her music. … Her portal to Deity, to her Father in Heaven, often is music. Music is like a prayer, and an expression of love and adoration, and worship … and it is her faith, combined with her great musical artistry, that brings us all together.”

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