SALT LAKE CITY — Michael Moody, the former chairman of the General Music Committee for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, recalls writing to his friend and colleague Crawford Gates after Gates moved from Utah to Beloit, Wisconsin.
“I remember saying in a letter … something like, ‘Here you are so talented, to be doing what you did at (LDS) Church headquarters and now you’re way up in Wisconsin,’” Moody remembered. “He wrote back and said, ‘I’m happy to brighten the little corner of the world wherever I am with my talents.’”
Fortunately for Utah, Gates spent many of his 96 years of life sharing his musical talents with the Beehive State. In the wake of his death on June 9, 2018, friends and collegues recall the man who made an unforgettable impact on the state’s music scene and on the musical traditions of the LDS Church. As the composer of the musical score for the Hill Cumorah Pageant in upstate New York and several LDS hymns, including “Our Savior’s Love,” Gates was integral to the LDS music world. But he was also deeply embedded in Utah's classical music community — both as a conductor and composer for the Utah Symphony, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Ballet West, the Utah Orchestra and The Oratorio Society of Utah.
Discovering the notes
Born the only child of Gilbert Marion Gates and Leila Adair in San Francisco, California, on Dec. 29, 1921, Gates' parents named him after Arthur Crawford, his father’s champion debate partner, according to crawfordgates.com. After moving the small family south to Palo Alto, Gilbert Gates worked as an accountant and office manager and Leila Gates worked in business to help the family through the lean years of the Great Depression.
Although neither of Crawford Gates' parents had formal music training, Leila Gates grew up in a home in Widtsoe, Garfield County, with a piano — a rare luxury in those days. She could play the piano by ear and carried a lifelong appreciation for the arts, leading to 8-year-old Crawford Gates sitting down at the piano and playing “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” by ear one day. He did not discover the notes one by one but rather two by two with corresponding harmonizing notes, making a "primitive kind of harmony" he said, according to crawfordgates.com. He would go on to graduate from Palo Alto High School at 16 before studying music at San Jose State University.
During his time as a missionary in the Eastern States Mission from 1940 to 1942, Gates became the director of the Mormon Male Chorus of Philadelphia. Under his leadership, the choir performed pieces arranged by Gates on a weekly radio broadcast for NBC. Upon returning home from his mission, Gates enlisted in the Navy and was later stationed in Pearl Harbor but never sent into combat.
As the centennial celebration of the pioneers arriving in the Salt Lake Valley approached, Gates, who was then just 25 years old, received the task of composing the music for “Promised Valley.” The musical commemorating the significant occasion continued to be performed for decades.
After receiving degrees from San Jose State University (B.A.), Brigham Young University (M.A.) and Eastman School of Music (Ph.D.), Gates worked as a member of the music faculty at BYU, where he met his wife, Georgia Lauper, a talented accompanist and singer. The two married in 1952 and are the parents of four children.
'He gave the credit always to the Lord'
Gates worked at BYU for nearly 20 years — six of those years as chairman of the university's music department. He then spent over 20 years as a professor of music and artist in residence at Beloit College in Wisconsin. During his time in the Midwest, he served as music director for multiple symphonies.
Bonnie Goodliffe, a Temple Square organist since 1979, was just 8 years old when she first met Gates, who was marrying her older sister, Georgia.
“He seemed like such a glamorous figure to me at the time, and he was,” Goodliffe said. “He was a very handsome man, very accomplished.”
While Gates worked as the music department chair at BYU, Goodliffe was a student, and she said he had a significant influence on her time at school. She also began to notice something each time she was with Gates in public.
“Invariably, someone will come up to him and say, ‘Dr. Gates, you probably don’t remember me but …’ and then they’ll list their interaction,” Goodliffe said. “It’s either they sang in one of his choirs at BYU or that they were in (his musical) 'Promised Valley' at some point in time. … Every time we go anywhere, somebody would come and say, ‘Thank you so much. You had such a positive influence on my life,’ and I thought, ‘Wow, it’d be nice to be remembered that way, wouldn’t it?’”
However, Goodliffe noted that Gates' first priority even as his health declined was always his family. In an interview with the Gazette Extra, a Beloit newspaper, Gates’ son, David, said that the family held family home evening every Monday and his father was always present. “That time was sacrosanct,” David Gates told the Gazette Extra.
Writing of his experience composing the music for the Hill Cumorah Pageant, Gates wrote, “I do not wish to inflate my own service as a composer of music, but I have to humbly admit that I find great personal joy in knowing that the Lord invited me, through his servants, to provide this accompaniment to his message and that this music had an apparent value toward that objective. One naturally hopes that others will find meaning and value in one’s deepest efforts.”
Susan Goodfellow, an emeritus professor of flute at the University of Utah and friend of Gates, says these words emobody Gates perfectly.
“I think if you took that quote and just put a bouquet of flowers around it, you have just the quintessence of him,” Goodfellow said. “He never was self-inflating or trying to aggrandize his own position, even though his own position was very high. … All of his music has been very much acclaimed and yet, he never took the credit. He gave the credit always to the Lord.”
The pieces Gates composed were renowned for their difficulty, but Goodfellow noted that when he wrote LDS music, he “looked first through spiritual eyes.” She said she hopes that from Gates, LDS musicians seeking to write music for worship will do the same — a timely suggestion given the recent call for hymn submissions.
“I would hope that (Gates’ legacy) would be that LDS musicians need to look at what they do through spiritual eyes rather than through professional eyes,” Goodfellow said.
Goodliffe believes Gates’ influence will live on through the pieces he composed.9 comments on this story
“Crawford’s influence continues as a composer on all of the current generation that is composing, and I think that’s a wonderful legacy — not just in performances where he was the conductor, (which has) been huge — but also the ongoing influence of his religious compositions, I think, is just remarkable,” Goodliffe said.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on June 23 at the Monument Park Stake Center, 1320 S. Wasatch Dr. There will be a viewing Friday, June 22 from 7 -9 p.m. at the LDS Chapel, 2255 S. Wasatch Drive East.