About Utah: Singing for a roof over their heads

Published: Sunday, June 29 2014 2:50 p.m. MDT

What was once a spacious chapel in the old LDS 24th Ward building could be the new home of the Salt Lake Choral Artists.

Lee Benson

SALT LAKE CITY — Brady Allred is nervous. That’s obvious, not to mention unusual. Being in front of people is generally no problem for him. No problem at all. It’s what he does. He’s an entertainer. As conductor of the celebrated Salt Lake Choral Artists and Salt Lake Vocal Artists singing group, he’s performed on stages and comfortably talked to people the world over.

But being in front of people and asking for money?

Clearly, he’d rather be having his teeth drilled.

But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

Here’s the deal: While from all outward appearances the award-winning Salt Lake Choral Artists organization that Brady directs looks prosperous and completely squared away, they have a rather significant problem.

They’re homeless.

They’ve been homeless for years. Ever since Brady took over leadership of what was then known as the Legacy Chorale in 2004, they’ve been homeless. Before that, when they were known as the Jay Welch Chorale, they were homeless.

For years the singers have bounced from one venue to another, renting some spaces, accepting the generosity of free rent at others, but they’ve never had a permanent spot where they could practice and perform.

Now, however, they have a chance.

There’s a building on the corner of 700 North and 200 West in Salt Lake City that could be theirs.

It used to be a Mormon ward house. It was built in 1907, custom designed in a Victorian Romanesque style by the architectural firm of Young and Young — Brigham Young’s descendants — to fit the sloping triangular corner site on the west side of Capitol Hill.

Church services were held in the Salt Lake 24th Ward until the 1970s, when the 24th ward moved into a new model.

A preschool rented the building for a few years and, in the 1980s, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sold the building to Cooper/Roberts Architects, a Salt Lake firm that specializes in historic building restoration.

Not only did Cooper/Roberts expertly restore the building, the firm moved in, using the old 24th ward as its headquarters for a number of years.

But eventually the architects also moved on, leaving the building vacant and for sale.

Enter Bryson and Jan Garbett. They are big fans and great supporters of Salt Lake Choral Artists. Jan sang in the concert choir and once sat on the board of directors.

When the Garbetts realized the old 24th ward building was available, they arranged to rent the building for the Choral Artists through their nonprofit foundation, the Benjamin Foundation.

Better yet, they pledged a challenge grant of $500,000 toward the purchase price — half of the $1 million asking price — on the condition that additional donors pledge the remaining $500,000.

Three other civic-minded groups immediately stepped up. The Eccles Foundation pledged $150,000, the Larry H. Miller Foundation pledged $50,000 and an anonymous donor pledged $25,000.

The building is almost 75 percent paid for.

But there’s another $275,000 to go.

Still not ashtray change.

So Brady, a Doctor of Music who has a wall full of international awards honoring his conducting, is now leading the fundraising charge.

“it’s never easy asking for money,” he says, “but this would be a dream come true.”

The building would provide ample room, he points out, to headquarter all seven choirs that the more than 300 members of the Salt Lake Choral Artists comprise: the concert choir, the women’s choir, the chamber choir, the children’s choir, the youth honor choir, the men’s choir and the top-level Salt Lake Vocal Artists who travel around the world.

“This would be such a great fit for us,” the conductor says, standing in front of the building he hopes to permanently call home. “We can practice here, we can record here, we can offer voice training, conductor training, hold musicianship classes, and give recitals.”

Just the thought of the possible idyllic future conjures up images of the not-so-idyllic past.

“If you could see where we’ve practiced,” he says, “poor lighting, cramped spaces, inadequate seating. We’ve seen it all.”

They’ve rehearsed and performed in churches, schools, civic auditoriums, you name it … but never in their own home.

For information on the building and how to donate, go to saltlakechoralartists.org or call 801-232-7521.

Ask for Brady.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: benson@deseretnews.com

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