New Book on Tabernacle Organ
August 1990

“New Book on Tabernacle Organ,” Ensign, Aug. 1990, 75

New Book on Tabernacle Organ

Barbara Owen, internationally known organ historian, has compiled a definitive history of the organ in the Tabernacle on Temple Square.

The Mormon Tabernacle Organ: An American Classic is available from the Organ Historical Society, Box 26811, Richmond, VA 23261; Deseret Book stores; and the Museum of Church History and Art.

“The story is all here—the builders, the musicians, and the history—captured in words as well as in outstanding photographs,” says Robert Cundick, Tabernacle organist since 1965.

Author Barbara Owen, director of Church Music at the First Religious Society (Unitarian) of Newburyport, Massachusetts, since 1963, is also a teacher, lecturer, and recitalist. She often serves as a consultant to churches, educational institutions, and museums on matters pertaining to the organ.

The story of Joseph Ridges, the builder of the original Tabernacle organ, begins the organ history. As a boy, Joseph Ridges lived across the street from an organ factory in London and dreamed of understanding the mysteries of organ building. Eventually, he traveled to Australia, where he developed his craft. He then emigrated to Salt Lake City with his first precious pipe organ.

In 1883, Niels Johnson was commissioned to enlarge the Tabernacle organ. In August, ten crates of “Organ Ware” weighing almost 6,000 pounds arrived in Salt Lake City. Nearly 1,200 pipes were eventually added to the organ, and the interior parts were almost entirely reconstructed.

The next major rebuilding of the organ took place between 1900 and 1901. The Kimball Company of Chicago made the changes using new pipes, windchests, actions, console, framework, and other parts. Fourteen years later, however, the Kimball organ had deteriorated in Utah’s dry climate. Between 1914 and 1916, the organ was once again rebuilt and enlarged, this time by the Austin Organ Company. During this period, the organ’s fame became firmly established in musical circles throughout America. Details of all the changes made by Kimball and Austin are contained in this history.

Following World War II, major changes were again made to the organ. Firsthand accounts by G. Donald Harrison and Alexander Schreiner tell how they collaborated to produce the unique Æolian-Skinner organ of 1948. It was declared “an artistic as well as a mechanical masterpiece.” Between 1984 and 1988, state-of-the-art technology was added to the organ. These additions are fully documented in the first appendix.

Photographs include early black-and-white ones of the organ at different stages of its development and photographs of the organists, past and present. Magnificent present-day color photographs of the Tabernacle organ add to the beauty of this book.

Six appendixes provide more details, such as an annotated stoplist; a list of the Tabernacle organists; a selected discography of recordings by Tabernacle organists; and a general bibliography.

The history of the Tabernacle organ and its technical features are covered in the new book. (Photography by Jed Clark.)