Conference Center Organ
Number of Pipes: 7,708
Number of Voices: 103
Number of Ranks: 130
On April 6, 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the Church’s plans to construct “another dedicated house of worship on a much larger scale that would accommodate three or four times the number who can be seated in [the Tabernacle].” The Tabernacle organists, Tabernacle Choir staff, and Tabernacle organ curator immediately went to work to assess the musical functions of the planned structure and to determine how best to fulfill those functions. Following extensive research and discussion, it was determined that an electronic instrument would not satisfy all of the requirements, and that a pipe organ would be the best choice, despite the challenges of placing a pipe instrument in such a vast and acoustically untried space.
Once approval and funding had been secured (the latter having been greatly bolstered by a generous pledge from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir), the Tabernacle organists and organ curator set out in search of a builder capable of not only tackling such a huge project, but also of delivering the instrument on a very short timetable. (By that time, the building’s target date for completion had been announced as April 2000, leaving approximately three years for the design, construction and installation of the organ.)
After visiting a number of worthy instruments by respected builders, and having avoided any discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the various installations, the Tabernacle organists and organ curator were delighted to find that they were unanimous in their desire to award the contract to Schoenstein & Co. of San Francisco, California. Among the many reasons cited were the company’s recent developments in the area of symphonic organs (which were deemed well-suited to the needs of the Conference Center organ); the high quality of workmanship evidenced in their recent installations; and their strong track record and familiarity with the Temple Square music program as a result of their 1984-88 renovation of the Tabernacle’s Æolian-Skinner organ.
Following months of meetings, conference calls, and individual reflection, the organists and organbuilder arrived at a specification for an organ of five manuals and 130 ranks totaling 7,708 pipes laid out across six divisions. On-site installation of the Schoenstein organ began in late 1999. In April 2000, the building was given a temporary occupancy permit for the Church’s 170th annual world general conference, at which time the façade and case were essentially complete (with, coincidentally, 170 pipes visible in the front pipe display). Following the conference, the building was again closed to the public for a few months while finishing touches were completed. Installation of the organ continued and proceeded steadily until its completion in June 2003, in time for a formal inauguration during the combined convention of Regions VIII and IX of the American Guild of Organists.
The tonal design of the organ is referred to by the builder as “American Symphonic.” With its higher wind pressures and larger pipe scales, the instrument strives for increased expressiveness and a wide variety of tonal color—characteristics of the symphony orchestra as applied to the organ. The instrument includes two pedal stops that descend by four notes (to GGGG#) into the 64' series: a 64' Trombone, and a 64' Gamba. Of special interest is the 32' Diaphone stop in the pedal division, which was originally installed in the Forum and Wiltern theaters in Los Angeles, California. View the current specification of the Conference Center organ.
For detailed information regarding the history and construction of the Conference Center organ, interested persons might wish to read Magnum Opus: The Building of the Schoenstein Organ at the Conference Center of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Tabernacle Organist Emeritus, John Longhurst. In addition, an interesting and illuminating article about the Conference Center Organ from the builder’s perspective was published in the January 2004 issue of The American Organist magazine.