The Tabernacle Choir Blog

Meet a Young Descendant of Tabernacle Organ Builder Joseph Ridges

In a recent video by the Family History Guide, a young girl named Claribel discusses her ancestry and how she got her name. She even had the unique opportunity to play the organ with principal Tabernacle organist Richard Elliott.

As the video opens, the young girl confidently announces, “Hi, I’m Claribel. I’m named after a very important organ stop. My great-great-great-great-grandfather Joseph Ridges built the original Tabernacle Choir organ.”

While giving her a personal tour of the Tabernacle organ, Elliott shows Claribel the organ stop that she is named after, which is called  the “Claribel Flute.” She mentioned that her favorite part of the experience was to get to blow into the original wooden Claribel Flute, describing it as “really cool!” 

When Elliott asked Claribel what she knows about her ancestors who had a connection with the organ, she replied, “Joseph Ridges lived in England as a boy, and his friend’s dad was an organ builder. And the factory that the organs were made in was right across from his own house, and so he spent a lot of time there watching—and he was self-taught because he was allowed to go into the factory.”

She continued to explain how Ridges relocated from England to Australia in 1852, where he shipped timber, mined for gold, and worked on building an organ in his spare time. When Ridges finished the organ, it contained 7 stops and approximately 300 pipes. Ridges set it up at his house and was once quoted as saying, “As the tones filled the house and floated into the street, men and women came out of their home and stopped on the street saying, ‘Great God, there is a church organ in there, and we have not heard one for years.’”  

As word of the organ spread, an elder from The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints, which Ridges had recently joined, asked him to send the organ to Utah. Ridges’ family, along with 120 Mormon immigrants and the carefully packed organ, left Sydney, Australia, in May 1856 and arrived in August. “And then they had one wagon and four oxen pull it all the way to Utah,” explained Claribel. 

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When Ridges arrived in Salt Lake City, plans were already underway for the new Tabernacle. Brigham Young approached Ridges about building a similar organ, but on a much bigger scale to fit the new building. Although it would prove to be a challenge due to lack of railroad transportation and resources, Ridges responded by saying, “Yes, we can; we can do anything we put our minds to.”

The Tabernacle organ as we know it today was the result of a trip Ridges took in 1863, while traveling to Boston to purchase metal pipes and various parts that were not available in Utah. While in Boston, he witnessed the organ that was being installed in Boston Music Hall, which influenced the design for the wooden casing of the now famous Tabernacle organ.

Claribel discussed ancestors who shared her first name, including Ridges’ daughter Claribel, who was very musical and performed in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as a soprano in 1891. She also mentioned her great-grandmother Claribel Farr. Of her experience in the Tabernacle, Claribel described seeing the organ as “really cool,” and she feels that she loves her ancestors even more after learning so much about them.

Pictured below is the the “Great Organ” when it was installed in the Boston Music Hall. This organ design inspired the organ in the Salt Lake Tabernacle.

The “Great Organ” is now housed in Methuen Memorial Music Hall.