Organists Coming Full Circle
When he was 17, Joseph Peeples—then living in Southern California—traveled with his family to Salt Lake City where an acquaintance arranged a visit with Tabernacle organist Clay Christiansen. Joseph had been serving as his Latter-day Saint ward (local congregation) organist since he was 15. At the age of 17, he also began serving as one of the organists for his stake (a church unit made up of local congregations). His Salt Lake visit was his chance to actually see and learn more about the iconic organ in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on Temple Square.
Joseph remembers Clay Christiansen playing the organ and explaining the features which made the Tabernacle organ unique. Because Clay knew of Joseph’s background with organ performance, he allowed Joseph to sit at the organ to play a hymn as Clay showed him the use of the different stops and sounds or “voices” that could be utilized.
Fast forward almost 15 years to August of 2019. Following an extensive audition process, Joseph Peeples, now with a master’s degree in organ performance from BYU and completing coursework for a doctorate at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, was announced as the newest Temple Square organist.
“My life has changed considerably in the past twelve months. Being able now to sit at the Tabernacle organ every day where there is such a spirit and the memory of the organists who have preceded me is such a blessing. My experience as a Temple Square organist can be described in one word—surreal,” remarked Peeples.
In October 2019, Peeples performed in the Cathedral of the Madeleine as part of Organ Fest XII, the annual organ concert which features all of the members of the Tabernacle organ staff as well as the organist from the Cathedral of the Madeleine. (The concerts alternate yearly between the Salt Lake Tabernacle and the Cathedral of the Madeleine.) At this concert, to honor retiring organist Bonnie Goodliffe, each organist was asked to perform either a piece by Bach or music composed or arranged by a past or present Tabernacle organist.
For his performance at Organ Fest XII, Joseph Peeples chose to perform Suite, a new organ composition written by Clay Christiansen. Before the performance, Peeples asked Christiansen if he would be willing to help him prepare. Christiansen graciously met with Peeples at the Cathedral offering his guidance and support. Here is where the organists came full circle. Just as he had so many years before, Clay Christiansen was there to mentor Joseph Peeples, the younger organist—now playing the organ as his chosen profession just as Christiansen had done.