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PIPE ORGANS OF
TEMPLE SQUARE

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH


About the Conference Center

[Photo of Conference Center]
Aerial view of Conference Center

[Photo of Conference Center]
View of Southeast corner of
Conference Center

[Photo of Conference Center]
View of Conference Center from Temple Square

Fast Facts:

  • Announced: April 6, 1996, by President Gordon B. Hinckley
  • Ground broken: July 24, 1997
  • Dedicated: October 8, 2000, by President Gordon B. Hinckley
  • Location: Covers most of the block directly north of Temple Square, bounded by North Temple, West Temple, 200 North, and Main Street
  • Architects:
    • Primary architectural firm: Zimmer Gunsul Frasca, Portland, Oregon, USA
    • Local architects:
      • Lee Gray, N.C.A.R.B., Church Architect
      • Kerry Nielsen, A.I.A., Project Architect
    • Project Manager: Thomas Hanson
    • Structural engineers: KPFF, Portland, Oregon, USA
    • Mechanical/Electrical engineering: CHPA, Houston, Texas, USA
  • Exterior materials: south and west faces of 1½"-thick panels of granite (quartzite) quarried from Little Cottonwood Canyon; north and east faces of ashlar granite, also from Little Cottonwood
  • Dimensions: approximately 1.4 million square feet of floor space
  • Seating capacity: 21,333 in Conference Center; 905 in Little Theatre on northwest side of building. (By comparison, Madison Square Garden's main arena seats around 20,000, and the Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City can hold up to 20,400, although these are sports arenas. It is believed that the Conference Center is the world's largest theater-type building.)
  • Primary uses of building: General Conferences of the LDS Church, held every six months on the first weekend of April and October; other uses to be determined, although President Gordon B. Hinckley has stated that possible uses include religious pageants and community cultural events
Other interesting facts:
  • Nearly 750,000 cubic yards of dirt were excavated during construction
  • The building and grounds cover 10 acres or one city block--the same area as all of Temple Square.
  • The building incorporates 15,000 tons of concrete reinforcing steel and 10,000 tons of structural steel.
  • The roof will incorporate between 3 and 4 acres of landscaping, with meadows, trees, and fountains.
  • The building incorporates over 50,000 miles of wire--enough to encircle the globe twice. (And that doesn't include any of the organ's own wiring!)
The Conference Center Organ
 

[Photo of Conference Center Organ]
Conference Center Organ Façade

On April 6, 1996, President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the LDS Church's plans to construct "another dedicated house of worship on a much larger scale that would accommodate three or four times the number who can be seated in [the Tabernacle]." The Tabernacle organists, Tabernacle Choir staff, and Tabernacle organ curator immediately went to work to assess the musical functions of the planned structure and to determine how to best fulfill those functions. As a result of extensive research and discussion, it was determined that an electronic instrument would not satisfy all of the requirements, and that a pipe organ would be the best choice, despite the challenges of placing a pipe instrument in such a huge and acoustically untried space.

The primary reasons for the choice of a pipe organ over an electronic instrument were twofold:

  • Sonic: Not only will the organ be used for the general conferences of the Church, in which members from all over the globe gather to receive instruction and inspiration from the Church's general authorities, but it will also accompany the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in their annual Christmas concerts and other miscellaneous performances.  All conference sessions and many Tabernacle Choir functions are recorded for release on CD and videotape, making it all the more critical that the organ be a world-class musical instrument.
  • Visual: It was felt that a pipe organ facade would visually underscore the message that the Conference Center is a house of worship rather than a civic structure.

It should also be mentioned that all parties involved agreed that the organ should be an all-pipe instrument rather than a pipe-electronic hybrid incorporating digital ranks imitating pipe sounds.

Once it was resolved that a pipe organ would best fulfill the building's musical functions, Mormon Tabernacle Choir President Wendell M. Smoot and Senior Tabernacle Organist John Longhurst went to work to secure approval and funding. With that job completed (and with a generous pledge from the Tabernacle Choir), the organists set out with Tabernacle Organ curator Robert Poll in search of a builder not only capable of tackling such a huge project, but also able to deliver the instrument on a very short timetable. (By that time, the target date of completion for the building had been announced as April 2000, leaving approximately three years for design, construction and installation.)

After visiting a number of worthy instruments by respected builders, and having avoided any discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the various installations, the Tabernacle organists and organ curator tipped their hands and were delighted to find that they were unanimous in their desire to award the contract to Schoenstein & Co. of San Francisco, California. Among the many reasons cited were the company's recent developments in the area of symphonic organs (which are well-suited to the needs of the Conference Center organ); the high quality of workmanship evidenced in their recent installations; and their strong track record and familiarity with the Temple Square music program as a result of the renovation of the Tabernacle's Æolian-Skinner organ in 1988.

Following months of meetings, conference calls, and individual reflection, the organists and organbuilder arrived at a specification for an organ of five manuals and 130 ranks across six divisions. Of special interest is the 32' Diaphone stop in the pedal division, which was originally installed in the Forum and Wiltern theaters in Los Angeles, California. On-site installation of the Schoenstein organ began in late 1999. In April 2000 the building was given a temporary occupancy permit for the LDS Church's 170th annual world general conference, at which time the facade and case were essentially complete (with, coincidentally, 170 pipes in place). Following the conference, the building was again closed to the public, and the installation of the organ proceeded at a steady pace until its formal inauguration in the summer of 2003.

In response to numerous questions regarding the philosophy behind the organ's tonal design, Senior Tabernacle Organist John Longhurst formulated a "Rationale for the Tonal Design of the New LDS Conference Center Organ" that details the thought process behind the organ's design. Those interested in finding out about the many entities which contributed to the construction of the organ should see the listing of Firms Involved in the Conference Center Organ.  And, for those who believe that "a picture is worth a thousand words," a photo gallery gives an inside peek at the early stages of the organ's installation.


This site is maintained by Richard Elliott, who is solely responsible for its content.
This is not an official publication of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
©2000 Richard Elliott
(This page was last updated on 04 November 2008 )

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