The Tabernacle Choir Blog

Taking Famous Instruments for a Drive

Daily Tour Diary 9

By Rick Elliott

Organists win the prize when it comes to taking busman’s holidays. Perhaps no other musician spends more of their travel time checking out and playing instruments. While choir tours keep the Tabernacle organists very busy—we are usually the first performers on the scene at each concert venue on tour, since we have to do an organ sound check before the choir and orchestra arrive at the hall—we almost always try to visit and play at least one significant pipe organ while traveling. 

The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City is the largest Gothic cathedral in the world (the nave is the length of two football fields). Prior to this summer’s tour, I made arrangements with the organ curator and the music staff at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine for the three of us (Clay Christiansen, Andrew Unsworth, and myself) to get up close and personal with the world famous organ at the cathedral.

The organ has much in common with the organ in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, having been rebuilt in the early 1950s by the same firm that rebuilt the Tabernacle organ in 1949. Like the Tabernacle organ, it is also blessed with very sympathetic (albeit very different) acoustics.

The organ’s curator, Douglass Hunt, and the cathedral’s associate organist, Raymond Nagem, shared with us their deep knowledge of the instrument’s history and tonal capabilities. We were particularly glad to hear about the superb work that was done on the organ between 2001 and 2008 following a fire in the cathedral’s north transept that caused extensive damage to the instrument, building, and artwork.

To conclude our visit, each of the three Tabernacle “busmen” had a chance to take the organ for a drive around the block—a very, very long city block!