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

The American Organist, February 2010 | Go to article overview

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


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, John Longhurst. Salt Lake City: Mormon Tabernacle Choir, 2009. xi, 210 pp., ill. + CD. ISBN 978-1-60641-1995. $32.99. Available from the publisher at Monnontabernaclechoir.org. Major new organs are often recorded for posterity, but it is rare that a comprehensive book is written about such an instrument. John Longhurst, recently retired after 30 years of service as organist at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, finds that the "ideal time" to tell the story of an important organ is "while those who were principally involved are still alive and able to provide firsthand information and while the all-important paper trail is still accessible" (p. x). The subject of his attention is the Schoenstein organ in the Conference Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints. There are three reasons why this new instrument deserves study: it is large (five manuals, 130 ranks); it represents Schoenstein's distinctive "American Romantic" style of organbuilding; and it is found within the vast space of a 21,000-seat auditorium. Such a combination easily qualifies this installation as unique and worthy of a monograph as distinguished as this one.

The first three chapters provide background to the new Conference Center organ. Chapter 1 introduces the LDS Church and offers an overview of early Mormon history, with special attention to the facilities constructed for large meetings of church members. "A glimpse at music in the LDS Church" and "The organs at Temple Square" are the subjects of the next two chapters. While some readers may be impatient to learn about the Conference Center and its new instrument, the background provided in the first three chapters is appropriate, because it helps us understand what was really at stake when a huge new auditorium was announced in 1996.

The remaining chapters tell the story ofthe new organ for the Conference Center. As described in Chapter 4 ("A new edifice - A new organ"), the author's surprise at hearing the announcement of the new building was immediately tempered by concerns: "How far had the planning progressed, and had any thought been given to an organ?" (p. 43). Soon, discussions with architects were under way, and presentations about the need for a pipe organ made. It was not a foregone conclusion that a pipe organ would be chosen for the Conference Center. Although we now know that a traditional instrument with pipes was selected, the reader will share Longhurst's anxiety as he did his due diligence and educated the ecclesiastical decision-makers about the merits of a pipe organ - not knowing whether his recommendation would ultimately be accepted.

Chapters 5 through 10 recount the history of the instrument from its inception to completion: "In search of a builder," "The facade," "Refining the stoplist," "The console," "Installation and tonal finishing," and "The finished organ." Jack Bethards of Schoenstein & Co. of San Francisco served in two roles: as a consultant in the early stages before it was known whether a pipe organ would be selected, and as the organbuilder responsible for the new instrument. Builders foreign and domestic were investigated before three bids were solicited from American builders and Schoenstein's proposal to construct the organ was accepted. After the selection of the builder, the facade was designed by a committee. Fortunately, this was not the "disaster" (Bethards's word; p. ix) one would normally expect, but a collegial and constructive process. The unknown acoustics of the vast space also concerned Bethards and others, but the finished room had "the sound you'd expect in a very nice modern symphony hall: a pleasant resonance, good sound transmission, and a smooth frequency response," according to the organbuilder (p. …

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