While I still get a lot of grief about why I visited Salt Lake City last September, I try not to pay too much attention. After all, I got to hear a Mormon Tabernacle Choir performance in person not once, but four times, during my stay.
One of those performances was a free 30-minute organ recital in the Tabernacle that was given by Richard Elliott, the choir’s principal organist. After demonstrating the Tabernacle’s exceptional acoustics, Dr. Elliott sat down at the famed Salt Lake Tabernacle Organ and played six memorable pieces. Some showcased the organ’s stops, while others highlighted the ancestral heritage and patriotic zeal of the Mormon pioneers who made their historic journey from Illinois to the Salt Lake Valley, but they all demonstrated the fact that Mr. Elliott is one gifted musician.
So when I heard that Dr. Elliott was going to give a free recital in Capital University’s Mees Hall exactly one year after I heard him in Salt Lake City, I knew that Friday, September 13 was going to be a very lucky day.
During the recital that was sponsored by the Columbus chapter of the American Guild of Organists, Dr. Elliott played a 2005 Schantz organ that has 70 ranks spread across three manuals.
Conveying just what I felt about the opportunity to sit in the front row for this affair, Dr. Elliott began his program with Le Rejouissance (“The Rejoicing”), from George Frideric Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks. He welcomed the crowd, then launched into Johann Sebastian Bach’s Toccata in F Major, BWV 540 and O Lamm Gottes unschuldig, BWV 618, from the Orgelbüchlein. After executing an incredible extended pedalwork sequence in César Franck’s Final in B-flat major (Op. 21) from Six pièces, Dr. Elliott concluded the first half of the concert with Prelude and Fugue in G Minor, Op. 7, No. 3, by Marcel Dupré.
O My Father, an improvisation on a Mormon hymn, started the second half of the recital, followed by Robert Cundick’s Three Impressions: Memories, Southern Song, and March. Then, Dr. Elliott put away his fluorescent orange and green-dotted sheet music and played by heart his own arrangement of George Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm, which he wrote for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s 2011 concert tour. This piece, which also includes strains from two other Gershwin themes and a well-known college fight song, was part of the choir’s repertoire when Dr. Elliott and the group made a quick visit to Columbus for their June 11, 2013 concert at Nationwide Arena. He wrapped up the recital with Richard Wagner’s The Ride of the Valkyries, from Die Walküre, also with no music.
During the evening, Dr. Elliott shared some inside information about how he creates the organ’s signature sound for Music and the Spoken Word, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s weekly program that I watch on BYUtv every Sunday. The stops involved in this technique involve the tremulant Vox Humana and flute and string Celestes.
A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Dr. Elliott earned a bachelor of music degree from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and master’s and doctoral degrees from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He also served for several years as the assistant organist at Philadelphia’s famed John Wanamaker Department Store, home to the world’s largest functioning pipe organ. Click here to watch an interview with him.
If you’re interested in learning more about the organ, attend Pedals, Pipes and Pizza, the Columbus chapter of the American Guild of Organists’ event on Saturday, October 26, from 10 am to 1 pm at the Broad Street United Methodist Church in downtown Columbus. The free program is designed to introduce six-year-olds through early teenagers to the pipe organ, but adults are welcome too. It features demonstrations that will show how an organ works, hands-on activities, performances by young organ students, touring pipe chambers, watching a short film, and a special presentation of “Dinosauria,” an entertaining series of brief organ pieces for narrator and organist. Participants will also be invited to play a short piano piece on the organ and join the group for a pizza lunch. It sounds like so much fun that if I’m not representing Sweet Briar College at the inauguration of Kenyon College’s new president, Dr. Sean M. Decatur, that day, I’ll be there!