Tabernacle organ unique in its era

Published: Tuesday, March 29 2011 6:00 a.m. MDT

In 1860, the Old Tabernacle was reconstructed, followed in 1861 by a further remodeling that added an extension to the west that became housing for the organ. Brigham Young ordered a unique feature to the building with the addition, a dome roof that appears to have been a prototype for the ultimate fully domed building that is familiar to today's Utahns and many visitors. President Young may have used the remodel to experiment with principles of sound, which ultimately made the Temple Square Tabernacle an acoustical marvel, Henrichsen said.

The remake of the Old Tabernacle was followed in short order — a year later, in fact — by plans for a newer, larger replacement. Original plans for the building did not place the organ at the front of the hall, but revisions were made to build seating for a choir and to accommodate an enormous new organ that President Young asked Ridges to design.

The project, even with several people involved, took more than 10 years. In 1863, Ridges went to Boston to purchase materials related to the project and returned to Utah Territory with an enlarged vision of what the new organ should look like. He visited the Boston Music Hall and its organ, which had been designed and manufactured in Germany. It was undoubtedly the finest then in America and the country's first concert organ.

Could LDS craftsmen replicate such a fine instrument in the frontier West, still isolated from the rest of the country?

They could, and they did.

Photographs of the Boston organ, now located in Metheun, Mass., and the Salt Lake Tabernacle organ show unmistakable likenesses in the arrangement of the visible pipes and in the ornate carved casings of both instruments.

One of the important chapters in the evolution of a world-class organ in Utah Territory was the arrival of a musician to match the instrument.

Joseph Daynes, a musical prodigy, came across the plains in 1862 in the company of a harmonium. He was among those expected to walk but could sometimes cadge a ride on a wagon by playing a tune for its owners. When Brigham Young heard young Daynes, then 11 years old, play, he exclaimed, "We have found our Tabernacle organist." Daynes was, in fact, the primary organist for more than 30 years. His compositions added to the catalog of beloved church music.

The Tabernacle organ was and remains a drawing card for multitudes of visitors to Utah. Its towering pipes soon became a recognized icon, more a symbol of the church even than the Salt Lake Temple, which was still in the building stages long after the organ had become a magnet for visitors.

"People were amazed to find an organ of its stature among those 'pagan Mormons,'" Henrichsen said. "And they still come. They feel the music."

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