Lamont Anderson: Fine Tuning the Temple Square Organs
For 34 years, Lamont Anderson has scaled ladders and squeezed in between pipes—11,623 of them—to tune the famed Tabernacle organ. In addition, his responsibility as a keyboard technician extends to keeping in tune all nine of the organs on Temple Square from the historic Tabernacle instrument to the imposing organ in the Conference Center, as well as those in the Assembly Hall and the Joseph Smith building.
These organs are recognized for their towering pipes, large consoles, pedalboards, with their magnificent, at times even thunderous, sound. They are, however, instruments with thousands of organ pipes that require delicate, fine tuning.
“Pipes have personalities,” Anderson says. Some don’t want to stay in tune or “sound right” all of the time. It isn’t the size of the pipe that’s the challenge. Certain pipes are just more “fickle” than others. Tuning a pipe organ means adjusting the pitch of each pipe so they are all in tune with each other. It is a “one step forward, one step back” process with a lot of little adjustments in between. Collars, slides, scrolls, caps, stoppers, and tuning wire can be changed, slightly adjusting the length of the pipe until it is playing the right pitch.
The organ wanders sharp or flat depending upon the temperature inside the hall and changes in the ambient temperature outside. For years when the temperature fluctuated, the tuning of the Tabernacle organ did too. The renovation of the Tabernacle from 2005-2007 and the introduction of a cooling system mitigated some of that swing. The temperature in the Conference Center, on the other hand, is rock solid so that organ stays better in tune.
The work can be “tedious,” but Anderson likes repairing parts that have broken or need to be replaced, and is adept at woodworking. He and Robert Poll—who trained him on the job—often find themselves making new parts or creating new tools to make the adjustments to get the different organs in their care in tune.
In addition to tuning the organ, Anderson and Poll also make other adjustments to the consoles and pedals. For example, Tabernacle organist Richard Elliott is known for his rousing organ numbers at concerts in the Conference Center. To help him, these two technicians have taken the pedals apart, “tweaked and sanded down the wood” in certain places, so that Elliott could play “as fast as his feet like to go.”
Anderson didn’t set out to work with organs. A trumpet player by training, he graduated in music education and taught school band for three years and then began looking for something else. He was working in the Tabernacle when a job opportunity tuning the organ came up. “The Lord put you here,” the building manager said. That was in 1986 and he has plied his craft now for 34 years. He retired on September 4, 2020.
His mother sang in the Choir from the time he was two until he left to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When he went to work tuning the organs, the building and the music—and the organ in particular—became an even more important part of his life. His rare combination of skills and experience will be hard to replace but his contribution to the musical experience on Temple Square will live on.