A History of the Provo Tabernacle Organ

This article originally appeared in Vol.58 No.2 (2011) issue of Pioneer Magazine

A picture once hung in the back halls of the showing a small organ with attached keyboard. According to H. Ronald Poll & Associates, it was either a large reed organ, a (mechanical action) tracker or a tubular pneumatic action pipe organ. Records indicate that it was a two-manual reed organ. 

Funds for the tabernacle organ were raised separately from the building itself. A series of unspecified entertainments were proposed and planned by James E. Daniels and H.E. Giles, Provo, Utah, stake chorister and organist, to raise monies. 

Stake President Reed Smoot announced that “when the people are ready to go on and put the finishing touches on the building and install an organ,” he would put up $1,000 in cash. At this meeting, the motion to build an organ carried. 

Purchase of organs 

By the time of the tabernacle’s dedication, insufficient funds had been raised and so the first organ brought in, by D.O. Calder, was a Mason and Risch Vocalion two-manual reed organ whose bellows were filled by means of a large lever. This organ was moved to the old Provo Third Ward building on First North and Fifth West in 1907 when the proper pipe organ was installed. 

Funds were raised to purchase a second organ, as evidenced by photo (right) of some pipes leaning up against a corner with a ticket to a fund-raiser attached to it and photographed some time after the event. The ticket reads “Grand May Day Festival in the Utah Stake Tabernacle at Provo, May 1st, 1889, in aid of the stake tabernacle organ fund. Admit One. General Admission, 25 cents.” 

When it came time to install a more definitive instrument, fund-raising concerts were scheduled to include J.R. Boshard and A.C. Lund in 1904, vocalist Marie Trout, who received 60% of the gate with the fund-raising committee meeting $133.05 and Willard Andelin on Feb. 3, 1907, who gave a share of the proceeds to the fund. 

As chronicled in the minutes of “Utah Stake Organ Fund Committee, 1907” (on file at the Church Historian’s Office), on June 3, 1904, a committee was appointed with Lafayette Holbrook as chairman, E.H. Holt, secretary/treasurer and seating also R.R. Irvine, John R. Twelves, Hugh Clayton, J.H. Frisby and L.L. Nelson. Later, L.O. Toft and George A. Startup (of candy fame), were added. Leading Provo musicians J.R. Boshard, C.W. Reid and A.C. Lund also lent assistance. 

Ultimately, this committee relied on a “subscription” list as its main source of funds. Holbrook led the list of 5 to donate $500 each, 10 for $100, 50 for $35, 100 for $25 and 200 for $10.50. (A total of $9,850.) 

On Feb. 3, 1907, it was decided to adopt the Austin bid for $9.450. The First Presidency of the Church agreed to appropriate $4,000. C.W. Reid, tabernacle organist, was tapped to provide Austin with any necessary specifications beyond the mere physical. 

On June 6, 1907, L.R. Cheney, Austin’s treasurer, wrote Holbrook that the organ had been shipped. This instrument would be opus 191 for the Austin Organ Company. It had three manuals and a pedal with 30 ranks of pipes. 

Installation went according to schedule and on Aug. 17, 1907, the committee demonstrated the instrument at a concert. Entry was charged 50 cents, with children entering for half-price. At the time the Austin organ was installed, the façade that would forever be seen in front of the pipes was created. 

The organ over the years 

Some additions to the original definitive organ were made including the installation of a new console in 1927. A stopped diapason, chimes and a harp stop were added. Other mechanical improvements were made. 

Parts of the Austin organ remained in the Tabernacle throughout various updates including remodelings (1927, 1962) and enlargements (1927) until the most recent remodel in the mid-1990s. 

In 1962, a partial rebuild of the organ was undertaken by Wayne Carrol of Salt Lake City. The console was redone, the blower replaced, 13 ranks of pipes and chests were added and about 7 other ranks were replaced with new pipes. 

However, by 1973, much of the original organ’s moving parts were worn and deteriorated to such a point as to render the organ very unreliable. 

Finally, in 1991, the Office of the Presiding Bishop contracted the services of H. Ronald Poll and Steuart (sic) Goodwin to survey the state of the organ and make recommendations. By 1996, a new organ of 49 ranks was designed and built using some restored or rebuilt pipes from among those of the earlier organ. 

Finally, the original façade pipes were replaced with new ones in September 2003—one of Utah’s most magnificent and under-recognized instruments at the time it was destroyed in the great fire of 2010. 

See N. La Verl Christensen, Provo’s Two Tabernacles and the People Who Built Them (Provo: Provo East Stake, 1983); letter from H. Ronald Poll & Associates, Organ Builders; and http://www.provotabernacle.org/organ.html. 

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