An Australian Connection to the Salt Lake Tabernacle Organ

An Australian Connection to the Salt Lake Tabernacle Organ

News Release

Internationally acclaimed Australian organist Thomas Heywood delighted the audience in the Mormon Tabernacle at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah with his October 10th performance on its celebrated organ. This October marks the 150th anniversary of the Salt Lake Tabernacle organ,  which was built by Australian, Joseph Ridges.

Joseph Ridges emigrated to Utah from Australia in 1856. He was asked by Church President Brigham Young if it would be possible to build an organ for the new Tabernacle under construction on Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Brigham Young engaged Ridges for the task which kept him occupied for the next 15 years. 

Ridges brought with him to Utah a small organ he had built in Australia, which was used in the “old” Tabernacle until the new one was completed. The new Tabernacle and the yet unfinished organ with just 700 pipes were first used for the October 1867 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Ridges and his assistants continued to work on the organ until 1872. It was expanded to some 2,000 pipes and three manuals plus pedalboard. Ridges once remarked, “[The] organ will continue to stand as a memorial of the trials and difficulties that were overcome by the pioneers, breathing out strains of sweet music to delight future generations.”

The organ has been expanded over time to 11,623 pipes, 147 stops, and 206 ranks, with four ranks of Ridge's original pipes still in use. The Tabernacle organ's warm and rich sound, the result both of the organ itself and the remarkable acoustics of the Tabernacle, is thus well-known worldwide.

Heywood had planned a West Coast concert tour in the States for the fall of 2017, and was invited to Salt Lake City with an offer to play the Tabernacle organ. Richard Elliott, Principal Organist at the Tabernacle was well acquainted with Thomas Heywood's illustrious career and responded enthusiastically to the opportunity to have Heywood perform, especially in light of the 150th anniversary commemoration.

With the assistance of his wife Simone at the console, Heywood performed favorite classical music mostly based on transcriptions from well-known composers such as Beethoven, Rossini, Rachmaninoff, Verdi, Lemare, and others. His warm and engaging personality as well as his impeccable playing brought enthusiastic applause and standing ovations from the appreciative audience.

Andrew Unsworth, Tabernacle Organist for the past ten years said, “Mr. Heywood's recital was nothing short of spectacular. Not only was his technique outstanding, we were all thrilled to witness how thoroughly he exploited the colours of the Tabernacle organ in his exciting and innovative program.”

Heywood summarized his experience by saying, “What a wonderful space and acoustic! It's a fabulous organ—probably has been heard by more people than any other organ in the world, given the daily recitals and the weekly broadcast of Music and the Spoken Word, an ongoing program since 1929. I have never seen a cleaner pipe organ. It looks as good on the inside as it sounds on the outside.”

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