"9/11 | Coming Together" 20th Anniversary Special

The Tabernacle Choir Blog

Frequently Asked Questions: The Conference Center Organ

The Building

The Conference Center, with seating for 21,000, is among the world’s largest theater-style auditoriums. Completed in the year 2000 and located adjacent to Salt Lake City’s historic Temple Square, the Conference Center is home to the semi-annual general conferences of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints held each April and October, as well as to the annual First Presidency Christmas Devotional, and Christmas and Pioneer Day concerts presented by the Tabernacle Choir, Orchestra, and Bells. Each summer, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the weekly broadcast of Music & the Spoken Word originates in the Conference Center, in order to accommodate the larger summertime crowds. Also, during the summer months, organ recitals are given at the Conference Center at 2:00 each afternoon Monday through Saturday, in addition to the daily organ recitals presented in the Tabernacle.

The Organ

The Conference Center organ contains approximately two-thirds the number of pipes as in the Tabernacle organ, yet is housed in a room some six times larger than the Tabernacle. When the organ is heard in recital, no electronic amplification is needed. Crowds of the size normally attending an organ recital, seated in the “heart” of the auditorium, hear the instrument at what might be considered normal volume. During conferences or large musical events, the organ sound is picked up by the same microphones used to reinforce the choir, enabling the music to be heard at a comfortable volume throughout the auditorium.

Who Built the Organ?

The Conference Center organ was built by Schoenstein & Co. of San Francisco, California. That same firm, in business since 1877, also renovated the Tabernacle organ in the 1980s. The contract for the Conference Center organ was signed in 1998, the installation began in late 1999, and the instrument was completed and officially inaugurated in June 2003.

How Does It Compare with the Organ in the Tabernacle?

While the organ in the Conference Center is extremely versatile in both solo and accompanying roles, its use as a complement to choral and congregational singing was uppermost in the mind of its designer. Some extremely specialized and seldom-used sounds that are found in the Tabernacle organ are omitted in the Conference Center instrument. The fact that the Conference Center organ “speaks” in a gigantic room containing padded seats, carpeting, and sound-dampening walls, all of which “soak up” sound, was compensated for by employing comparatively higher wind pressure and larger pipe scales (the ratio of a pipe’s diameter to its length). The console (from which the organist plays) was purposely designed with the same basic layout as that of the Tabernacle organ in order to make it easier for the organists to move from one organ to the other.

 

 Conference Center

 Tabernacle

 Tonal style

 American Romantic

 American Classic

 Number of pipes

 7, 708

 11, 623

 Number of ranks

 130

 206

 Number of voices

 103

 147

 Manuals (keyboards)

 5

 5

 Departments

 7

 8

 Longest pipe

 about 40' speaking length

 32' speaking length

 Lowest note

 GGGGG#

 CCCC

 Number of 32' ranks

 7

 5

 Number of pipes in 64' series

 8

 0

 

What Materials Were Used in the Organ’s Construction?

Pipe organs are custom-built, utilizing a wide variety of materials—including metal, wood, and leather. The majority of pipes are made of metal—most often an alloy of tin and lead. The pipes in the Conference Center organ’s façade are made of zinc and have been painted with an automotive finish to appear gold. (In contrast with the Tabernacle organ, where only the ten largest façade pipes “speak,” 148 out of the 170 pipes visible in the Conference Center organ’s façade are functional.)   Wood of various species is used in the construction of some of the pipes and for the wind chests. The organ’s case, console, and bench are covered in the same cherry veneer used for the rostrum of the Conference Center. The natural keys are covered in bone; the sharps are made of ebony. Stop knobs are fashioned of polished ebony or walnut with ivory resin faces.

How Are the Sounds Produced?

The Conference Center organ is a pipe organ. Except for the organ’s percussion voices (Chimes, Harp, and Cymbelstern) the sounds are produced when wind is blown through metal or wood pipes arranged in rows atop wooden, pressurized wind chests. The 7,708 pipes could be thought of as either whistles (flue pipes) or party horns (reed pipes) and range in speaking length (the distance from a pipe’s mouth to the top of the pipe) from more than 40 feet to three-fourths of an inch. This represents a tonal spread of some 9½ octaves—beginning 13 half-steps lower than the lowest note on a piano. Six electric fan-type blowers totaling 39.7 horsepower deliver air via wind lines to several dozen wind chests upon which the pipes stand. The wind pressures (measured by water column) range from 5½ to 25 inches. In comparison, most pipe organs operate on 2½ to 5 inches of wind.

Additional Information on the Conference Center Organ:

To learn more about the Conference Center organ, the book Magnum Opus: The Building of the Schoenstein Organ at the Conference Center by John Longhurst, former Tabernacle organist, can be ordered from our website.

Go to Organs and Organists on Temple Square to find videos and detailed specifications for each organ.