Clay Christiansen’s Final Solo as Tabernacle Organist
For more than 35 years, Clay Christiansen has been a familiar face to fans of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. In 1982, he was appointed as a Tabernacle organist, where he has become a familiar face to countless viewers of Music & the Spoken Word. Throughout the years he has recorded many Choir albums; performed in general conferences, Christmas concerts, and other special concerts; toured the world; and published compositions for chorus, string quartet, woodwind trio, and chamber and symphony orchestra.
On Easter Sunday, April 1, 2018, Christiansen performed in his final Music & the Spoken Word broadcast. The broadcast featured “Morning Mood,” from Peer Gynt—a piece by Edvard Grieg, transcribed by Clay Christiansen. Music director Mack Wilberg chose this particular organ solo for the final broadcast because he felt like it was Christiansen’s signature piece and wanted to hear it one final time. “His transcription of Grieg’s ‘Morning Mood’ epitomizes his great skill. I am so pleased he agreed to play this piece on his final broadcast,” said Wilberg.
Christiansen has loved the piece since childhood but made the transcription in preparation for the 1994 album Organ of the Mormon Tabernacle. “To make the transcription I went to Grieg’s original orchestral score and transcribed it as closely as possible with the orchestral scoring, including instrumentation as I could duplicate it with the registration on a large and colorful organ with four or five manuals, such as the Tabernacle and Conference Center organs,” explained Christiansen.
Throughout the years, Christiansen has witnessed many changes in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir—including the addition of the 80-plus member Orchestra at Temple Square in 1999. He was around when the Choir lowered the minimum audition age from 30 to 25 the same year as the Orchestra was added. He also would remember a time when the Choir sat in mixed vocal sections when they sang.
In his more than 35 years of playing for Music & the Spoken Word, Christiansen has many fond memories of his time at the Tabernacle bench. One of the most memorable was a unique experience that happened while Jerold Ottley was conducting the Choir and the power in downtown Salt Lake City was out prior to a broadcast. Christiansen recounted, “The Tabernacle’s auxiliary power was harnessed; however, it was not enough to run the blowers of the Tabernacle organ! So we rehearsed with the piano and anticipated that the broadcast would have to be performed live with the piano if the power did not come on. I remember well that barely 20 minutes before 9:30, the electricity came back on and with essentially no rehearsal that morning with the organ, we went on the air after all with the Tabernacle organ accompanying the Choir.”
Enjoy Clay Christiansen’s final solo as an organist with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir: