A History of the Provo Tabernacle Organ
The first organ
A picture once hung in the back halls of the Provo Tabernacle showing a small organ with attached keyboard. According to H. Ronald Poll & Associates, Inc., it was either a large reed organ, a (mechanical action) tracker or a tubular pneumatic action pipe organ. Our written record indicates that it was a two-manual reed organ. (Christiansen, p.)
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.
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 according to Memories That Live. 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.
The second organ
Funds were raised to purchase this organ as evidenced by this photo of some pipes leaning up against a corner (inside one of the North Park pioneer structures?) 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 neeting $133.05, and Willard Andelin on 3 February 1907 who gave a share of the proceeds to the fund.
The organ cost $9,450.
As chronicled in the minutes of "Utah Stake Organ Fund Committee, 1907-1907," on file at the Church Historian's Office, on 3 June 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 five to donate $500 each, ten for $100, fifty for $35, one hundred for $25 and two hundred for $10.50. (A total of $9,850.)
Apparently, the committee felt confident enough in its fund-raising to let out for bids and, on 29 August 1904, the W. W. Kimball Company of Chicago, Lyon and Healy of Chicago, the Hastings Company of Boston, and the Hastings-Votey Organ Company also of Boston submitted bids ranging from $12,000 to $18,000. On 31 October 1905, the committee entertained new bids by Kimball and also the Austin Organ Company of Hartford. Negociations continued.
Finally, on 3 February 1907, it was decided to adopt the Austin bid for $9.450. The First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints agreed to appropriate $4,000. Apparently, the subscription list would raise the lion's share, but not reach its goal. On 6 February, secretary Holt notified Austin of the committee's desire that the organ be delivered by 15 June and installation finished by 10 July including its casing to be cut from walnut. A few days later, photographs and blueprints of the organ emplacement were sent. C. W. Reid, Tabernacle organist, was tapped to provide Austin with any necessary specifications beyond the mere physical.
On 6 June 1907, L. R. Cheney, Austin's tresurer wrote Holbrook that the organ had been shipped, that $4,725 were due on on delivery and that a supplement of $260 was being imposed for the extra Gamba stop Reid required.
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 17 August 1907 the committee demonstrated the instrument at a concert. Entry was charged 50 cents with children entering for half-price.
Accumulated from various wards, some still not reporting by late August, were $322 and the committee authorized the draft of the final check to Austin as soon as the amount the Church promised had been received. This was done, however, at a meeting on 3 September, the committee was still in debt for $2,588.71 and a discussion ensued between the bishops present as to how to make up for the shortfall.
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. The Church Operations and Maintenance Department made some repairs and modifications just to keep it working.
For some 20 years thereafter, what to do about the organ was a topic of some exploration and debate. Proposals were delivered by various organ builders, repairment and even electric instrument manufacturers.
The modern organ
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. In 1992, H. Ronald Poll & Associates, Inc. was engaged to rebuild the organ. During some of this time, an electronic instrument was used for stake conferences and other occasions. By 1996, a new organ of forty-nine ranks was designed and built using some restored or rebuilt pipes from among those of the earlier organ. Of those, a nine-rank Postiv was not installed due to budget contraints.
In November, 2001, the nine-rank Positiv was added using space and mechanical systems prepared in the previous rebuild for that purpose.
Some of the pipes were from the semi-original Austin organ and twelve ranks were entirely new. The façade pipes were at first those of the 1907 build. The console boasted 3 manuals and a pedal. As the console was electronic, control and switching were provided by an all solid-state muliplex system designed and built custom for this organ.
Finally, the original façade pipes were replaced with new ones in September, 2003. These and other, more technical details are had in the attachment to a letter from M. Timothy Poll to this writer establishing the exact state of what was one of Utah's most magnificent and under-recognized instruments at the time it was destroyed in the great fire of 2010.
Christensen, N. LaVerl, Provo’s Two Tabernacles and the People Who Built Them, 1983, the Provo East Stake, Provo, Utah.
Memories That Live, ?
Letter from H. Ronald Poll & Associates, Inc., Organ Builders, P.O. Box 651012, Salt Lake City, Utah, 84165. 801 474-2400. To study this document, click here.