Magazine article The Tracker

Magnum Opus: The Building of the Schoenstein Organ at the Conference Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Salt Lake City

Magazine article The Tracker

Magnum Opus: The Building of the Schoenstein Organ at the Conference Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Salt Lake City

Article excerpt

BOOKS

Longhurst, John, Magnum Opus: The Building of the Schoenstein Organ at the Conference Center of The Church offesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City: Mormon Tabernacle Choir, 2009. 210 pp ; CD demonstration recording included; $32.99. Available from www.ohscatalog.org. Salt Lake City, Utah, has long been a destination for tourists, and those interested in music have been particularly attracted to the city by opportunities to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Aeolian-Skinner organ in the Tabernacle. Considering its long tradition of musical excellence, it is not surprising that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints chose to furnish its new Conference Center in Salt Lake City with an appropriate pipe organ. Magnum Opus by John Longhurst is the story ofthat organ: an instrument of 130 ranks built by Schoenstein & Co., and inaugurated in 2003.

Having served in the position of Tabernacle organist for 30 years, Dr. Longhurst was well qualified to write an insider's view of the organ project. Not only was he involved in all aspects of the project, but he also had access to many documents related to the organ, as well as personal recollections from others who participated in various phases of the project.

Soon after plans for the Conference Center were announced, organists and organ technicians of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir staff were given the task of determining the type of instrument most appropriate for a new building of monumental size (seating 21,000). Early in the process, the organists agreed that a pipe organ would be a more suitable instrument than either an electronic instrument or a combination electronic and pipe organ.

The next step was to select a tonal ideal. The organ staff found the tonal model they were looking for in an organ built in 1910- 11 by Los Angeles organbuilder Murray M. Harris. Longhurst commented: "Here was the warmth, color, and nobility we felt were needed for our organ!" (p. 58) Following an extensive investigation, during which the instruments of various builders were compared, Schoenstein & Co. was selected to build the Conference Center organ. Similarity between the firm's tonal orientation and the Murray M. Harris style was a significant factor in this choice.

Potential builders of the new organ had been sent guidelines developed by the organ staff. These clarified practical considerations as well as musical goals. They stipulated that the organ should have four or five manuals, and about 125 ranks of pipes. It should be an eclectic organ, tonally centered at 8' pitch, with "breadth, richness, and nobility in keeping with the scale of the room." (p. 82) The organ's primary use would be to accompany the choir and congregation in religious services and large-scale concerts, but it should also be an appropriate instrument for organ solo repertoire.

The guidelines recognized that music and speech would both require amplification to reach the far corners of the vast auditorium: "It is our intention that the organ be scaled and voiced to balance with the choir, and that no attempt be made to design an organ of sufficient power to fill the room with sound unaided." (p. 82) An organ large enough and loud enough to fill the entire space was judged neither practical nor desirable. Ultimately, the organ proved to be entirely adequate without amplification for recital authences of several thousand, seated in the central part of the auditorium. …

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