The Tabernacle Organ

“The Tabernacle Organ,” Friend, Oct. 1989, 8


The Tabernacle Organ

Praise the Lord with … music (D&C 136:28).

Joseph Daynes helped his father unload the small pump organ from their wagon. It was June 1862, and they had just arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. Their family and friends wanted to celebrate. They wanted some music, and Joseph, although just eleven years old, had been asked to play.

As Joseph began playing, people from all over camp came to listen. In the middle of a song, Joseph stopped playing when he noticed that the crowd was turning toward a man who had just stepped down from his buggy. It was President Brigham Young! He had come to greet the newest pioneers in the valley.

President Young walked over to Joseph and asked him to keep playing. Greatly impressed with the boy’s musical ability, he may have wondered, Could this be the person whom the Lord is providing to be trained to play the great pipe organ that Joseph Ridges is building for the Tabernacle?

President Young didn’t forget young Joseph’s musicianship. In 1864 he asked Joseph’s parents if they would allow their son to study with Professor Raymond, a fine musician from the East, who was now living in the Salt Lake Valley. Joseph’s parents agreed.

After considerable musical training, Joseph Daynes became the first Tabernacle organist. For many years he gave organ recitals and accompanied the Tabernacle Choir. He also wrote a number of hymns that were sung regularly in Church meetings.

More than 125 years later, a Valiant B class from the Salt Lake Canyon First Ward Rim visited Joseph Daynes’s great-grandson, Skip Daynes, to learn more about his famous ancestor. The class was studying about valiant people of the past and learning how to be valiant themselves.

After Skip had told the children the story about how Brigham Young had heard Joseph playing for the pioneers and had arranged for him to learn to play the big organ in the Tabernacle, he told them another story about his great-grandfather.

“In those days,” he began, “there was no electricity to run the organ. To force air through the bellows so that the organ could be played, the builders connected the bellows to a treadmill that men ran on. Before Joseph started a concert, he would look down through a little trapdoor and ask the men if they were ready to start. The men that pumped the organ were strong. Their only job was to climb down under the organ, run on the treadmill, and keep the air pressure up so that the organ could be played.

“People came from all over to hear Joseph play. One day after he had played a wonderful concert, the audience clapped and clapped. He played several encores. Then he sat down to play one last piece. He pulled out the stops and arranged everything perfectly. But when he touched his fingers to the keys, nothing happened! He tried again—still nothing.

“It finally dawned on him that he didn’t have any pumpers. He opened the trapdoor and asked the men to climb out. They were all sweaty because they had been running so long and hard on the treadmill. Joseph had them take a bow. Then they crawled back down to the treadmill, got it going, and Joseph played his final encore. After the concert, everyone clapped, realizing that it wasn’t only Joseph who made the organ work.”

After talking with Skip Daynes, the class walked to the Tabernacle on Temple Square. They were anxious to see the big pipe organ up close. Robert Cundick, one of the present-day Tabernacle organists, showed it to the young visitors. They found out that now there is a big electric fan to blow air into the pipes instead of men running on a treadmill.

Brother Cundick showed them how some bass notes were so low that their vibrations were felt rather than heard. The highest notes were so soft and high that their ears could barely hear them. He also showed them how to make the notes louder by pressing a pedal on the organ instead of pressing the keys more firmly with his fingers as on the piano.

After playing a hymn for the class on the big organ, Brother Cundick gave them a hint about becoming a valiant person. “Anything you want to do really well you have to work hard at,” he said. “You can’t just try it one afternoon. You have to do it every day for years.”

Photos by Jed Clark

1. Tabernacle organ’s five keyborads keep an organist’s hands busy.

2. (l to r) Bradley Abrams, Kevin Humberstone, and Bryan Allen touch the little organ that Joseph Daynes brought across the plains.

3. (l to r) Kristy Ernstsen, Emily Parking, and Erin Herzog outside the tabernacle

4. Tabernacle organist Robert Cundick demonstrates what the organ can do.

5. (l to r) Kevin Humberston, Kristy Ernsteen, Emily Parkin, Erin Herzog, Aaron Brough, Bryan Allen, Neil Wurston, Brad Abrams, and Adres Colderon

6. Joseph J. Daynes, first Tabernacle organist

Photo by Welden Andersen