By GREG BENNETT
With the start of the 170th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the familiar sound of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has been heard by members of the church throughout the world.
This conference signified the long-awaited opening of the Church’s new 21,000-seat Conference Center located a block north of Temple Square in Salt Lake City.
However, the familiar music performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as well as others at the conference were without one of its most famous past participants — the Tabernacle organ.
The Tabernacle organ, located in the Tabernacle on Temple Square, will stay in its current location and will continue to be used for recitals and performances including the weekly Mormon Tabernacle Choir
The Conference Center will be equipped with a new 7,667-pipe organ currently being constructed by Schoenstein & Co. of San Francisco. The organ was not installed in time for this weekend’s conference, but it is scheduled to be heard at the October conference six months from now.
“The organ is right on schedule,” said John Longhurst, a senior Tabernacle organist. “They can’t install the new organ until the Conference Center is finished and clean. After this conference the organ will begin to be put in place and should be ready for October’s conference.”
The organ, which will be played from a five-manual console, will take several months to install. After the October conference, finishing touches will be done to the instrument with completion scheduled for April 2001.
Longhurst said that the Conference Center organ will not attempt to replace the Tabernacle organ, but will serve a different function altogether.
“President (Gordon B.) Hinckley’s desire is not to eclipse the Tabernacle organ in any way,” Longhurst said. “The Conference Center organ will be used for church meetings. We won’t use it for recitals or other concerts. It has been designed to play beautiful music at church meetings held in the Conference Center.”
The new organ will have one-third less pipes than the Tabernacle organ but will be required to fill a space that seats 21,000 people. Longhurst said the organ’s ability to fill the vast space of the Conference Center with fewer pipes is made possible by three things.
First, the pipes that were eliminated in the design of the new organ were the pipes that made the softest sounds that would not be audible in the Conference Center.
Secondly, many of the specialized sounds that are present in the Tabernacle organ and that are used in recitals and concerts were eliminated because they are not needed.
Lastly, Longhurst said the new organ will be regulated with a more “full-throated sound” enabling the sound to carry.
“The pipes that have been eliminated are the pipes that wouldn’t be used in the Conference Center,” Longhurst said. “The Tabernacle organ will be the one we use for recitals.”
In the meantime, the Conference Center has been equipped with an electric organ to be used during this week’s conference. However, traces of the new organ will be apparent at the April conference.
“The fa?ade is in place and looks beautiful,” Longhurst said. “It is impressive to see.”
Longhurst and the other musicians involved with the new instrument are anxious for the organ to be completed.
“We’re very, very excited,” Longhurst said. “We are looking forward with great anticipation to the completion of that instrument. We are even more excited now we’ve had a rehearsal in the new Conference Center. That organ is going to sound like a million dollars.”