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Alexander Schreiner (1901-1987), Salt Lake Tabernacle Organist. Born in Germany, Schreiner came with his family to Utah in 1912. He studied with Tabernacle Organist John J. McClellan and was appointed to the Tabernacle staff in 1924. In 1925 he studied with Charles-Marie Widor and Louis Vierne in Paris, France. From 1930 to 1939 he served as University Organist at UCLA, returning to Salt Lake City during the summers. Until his retirement in 1977 he accompanied the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, toured internationally, and composed music. He was primarily responsible for the present design of the Tabernacle Organ. Courtesy Utah State Historical Society.

by Michael F. Moody

From the early decades of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, LDS composers, conductors, vocalists, and instrumentalists have helped to shape the Church's distinctive musical heritage. Some of these musicians have made their mark on the larger musical scene, while numerous others have focused their talents for the direct benefit of the Church.

Volunteer musicians—music chairmen, organists, pianists, music directors, choir directors, and Primary music leaders—serve in the Church's weekly worship services. These musicians are called by priesthood leaders and serve without pay in the particular ward or stake in which they live. Contributing time and talents is an expected and rewarding part of Church membership, and both the highly trained musician and the beginner offer their talents as called upon. Wards require from fifteen to twenty-three musicians to fill outlined music positions, with twelve to twenty-four or more needed to sing in the ward choir.

Each ward and stake is responsible for providing the needed training for its own musicians with regard to their Church callings. In addition, since 1978 Brigham Young University has presented an annual Church Music Workshop, where many receive training in music skills.

Converts from the British Isles had a strong influence on music in the early Church. John Tullidge, an accomplished church musician from Weymouth, England, arrived in Salt Lake Valley in 1863. A singer, composer, arranger, teacher, and music critic, he edited the first Latter-day Saint hymnbook that included both words and music. Other musically trained English converts included C. J. Thomas, David Calder, Ebenezer Beesley, and George Careless. John Parry, born in North Wales, led a choir in Salt Lake City that was the precursor of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Evan Stephens, from South Wales, brought the latter choir to wide recognition during his twenty-seven years as conductor (1889-1916).

Many influential Church musicians have been associated with the Tabernacle Choir. Almost half of the musical settings of the hymns in the 1889 Psalmody were composed by directors George Careless, Ebenezer Beesley, and Evan Stephens, or by Joseph J. Daynes, the first Tabernacle organist (from 1867 to 1900). Alexander Schreiner, who served for fifty-three years (1924-1977) as Tabernacle organist, was highly involved with musical affairs of the Church and endeared himself to audiences throughout the world. Other Tabernacle organists to 1989 have included John J. McClellan, Edward P. Kimball, Tracy Y. Cannon, Frank Asper, Wade N. Stephens, Roy M. Darley, Robert Cundick, John Longhurst, Clay Christiansen, and Richard Elliott, with Bonnie Goodliffe and Linda Margetts as associate organists.

During the late nineteenth century many musical performing groups and societies were organized among the Saints (see Music). Behind every such effort was at least one motivated musician and often a supportive Church leader. President Brigham Young often sent such a musician to a particular settlement to promote the instruction and performance of music to enhance pioneer life.

Through the years, many Latter-day Saints have excelled in musical creativity and performance attested by the names in the next three paragraphs. For example, Emma Lucy Gates Bowen, a coloratura soprano, performed widely throughout the United States and Europe. Her brother, B. Cecil Gates, organized the McCune School of Music and Art in Salt Lake City in 1919. Together they formed the Emma Lucy Gates Opera Company in the 1920s.

Currently many accomplished Latter-day Saint musicians are affiliated with institutions of higher learning as composers, conductors, performers, historians, and theorists. Historically these have been concentrated in the music faculties at the University of Utah and, more recently, at Brigham Young University.

[See Daily Living home page; The Arts home page.]


Davidson, Karen Lynn. Our Latter-day Hymns: The Stories and the Messages. Salt Lake City, 1988.

Durham, Lowell M. "On Mormon Music and Musicians." Dialogue 3 (Summer 1968):19-40.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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