Clay Christiansen: Living a Life of Music
How do you say goodbye to a good friend? Clay Christiansen, a Tabernacle organist for nearly 36 years, recently announced he will retire from his full-time position at the end of April 2018. On Sunday, April 1, after playing the organ during Sunday morning’s Music & the Spoken Word broadcast and the general conference session, Clay Christiansen received a standing ovation from the Choir and others in the Conference Center. Christiansen acknowledged the applause by raising his arms in gratitutde and nodding a silent “thank you,” first to the Choir and then to the audience.
“I’m going to miss being in the best seat in the house to hear that marvelous sound,” Christiansen remarked. “It’s all a great labor of love, and I feel like the most blessed man on the face of the earth to have been a part of it for over 35 years.”
Through the years Christiansen has become a familiar face at the Tabernacle organ as organist for regular Mormon Tabernacle Choir performances and weekly broadcasts of Music & the Spoken Word. He has accompanied the Choir in recordings and performances as they toured around the country and the world.
“I always loved music,” Clay said. “Somehow, I was always particularly drawn to the sound of the organ and to the sound of a choir—and particularly to the sound of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—from the time I would hear it over the radio and occasionally over TV as a boy.”
A devoted husband and father of 13 children, Clay Christiansen was born in the small town of Emery, Utah, and played his first piano solo, “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet,” in church at the age of six. He learned to play by ear until he was eight years old, when he had his first official piano lesson. At the young age of eleven, he became the accompanist for his church Sunday School and priesthood meetings and the substitute ward organist. Christiansen received an undergraduate degree in organ performance at Brigham Young University and received a PhD in music composition from the University of Utah, where he studied under former Tabernacle organist Alexander Schreiner.
“There is something about the sound [of music] that attracts.” Christiansen once remarked, “I think it’s because it tugs at the heartstrings. There is a unity in beautiful harmony that I think reminds us of the harmony of heaven, from where we all came—our heavenly home. Music reminds us of home, I think.”
While retiring from his full-time position, Christiansen will continue playing the organ so he can “stay in shape.” He is getting an organ for his home and has many out-of-town organ performances scheduled for the coming year.
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir organization musicians and singers, staff and volunteers will all miss his immense musical talent, his calming smile, and his gentle disposition. “We have all come to love and admire this great musician,” said Choir president Ron Jarrett, “as a man who loves the Lord and is able to share his testimony of the Savior through his music.”
“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Clay is ‘Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!’” said Richard Elliott, principal Tabernacle organist. “One couldn't ask for a better colleague and friend. His faith in God and his devotion to his church and family come through loud and clear in his music and his actions. And one gets the distinct impression from his playing that, after all these years, he is still a ‘kid in a candy store’ (even though Clay doesn't indulge in real candy!). He has never lost his passion for the pipe organ and its music, nor has he lost his passion for the gospel of Jesus Christ. While he will be greatly missed on the broadcasts and at general conference, we are fortunate that he will continue to play the daily organ recitals from time to time. Our prayers go with him and his family as he enters a new chapter in his life.”